To win its first regional championship last season, the Olentangy Liberty High School football team had to beat a community rival and a pair of opponents located about two hours away.
The task of repeating could end up being even tougher this fall.
Based on the latest regional alignments released by the Ohio High School Athletic Association on June 6, the Patriots will be joined in Division I, Region 2 by five new teams, two of which went a combined 17-5 last fall.
Liberty, which was the top seed in the region, beat eighth-seeded Olentangy Orange, fifth-seeded Medina and third-seeded Lorain to reach a state semifinal.
Dublin Coffman and Upper Arlington, which went 9-3 and 8-2, respectively, last season, along with Gahanna, Delaware and Thomas Worthington have joined what is now a 19-team region. Coffman and UA both have made 16 playoff appearances and Gahanna has been to the postseason 12 times since 1972.
Region 1 now will have 17 teams while Regions 3 and 4 will have 18 apiece. The top eight teams in each region makes the playoffs.
The four teams that left Region 2 — North Royalton, Parma, Strongsville and Westerville South — went a combined 11-29 last season.
“(The new teams to the region) will all make it more competitive,” Liberty coach Steve Hale said. “It should be a good challenge. That should create some good matchups.”
Based on the regional map put together by the OHSAA to divide the 72 teams in Division I, Coffman coach Mark Crabtree wasn’t surprised that his school moved to Region 2. There, it joins sister school Dublin Jerome, which was the No. 2 seed last fall.
“We kind of expected it if you look at the map,” Crabtree said. “Olentangy Liberty proved to be a really good team, Olentangy Orange had a good season last year, Upper Arlington is consistently good and Gahanna looks like they’ll have a good team next year. I don’t think there’s any doubt (it will be a strong region).”
Region 3 also will have a new look, with Coffman, UA, Gahanna and Thomas among teams that have moved.
Miamisburg, which was the Division II, Region 8 runner-up and went 10-3 last season, now will compete in Region 3. So will Clayton Northmont and Centerville, which went 4-6 and 5-5, respectively, last season.
The other newcomer to the region is Groveport, which finished 6-4 and 14th in Division II, Region 7.
Of the six schools that are dropping from Division I to Division II, five are in northeast Ohio while the six that are moving up from Division II to Division I are from southwest and central Ohio.
This prompted the regional map to shift toward essentially splitting the Central District in half, with 12 schools in Region 2 and 11 in Region 3.
“If we’re fortunate enough to make the playoffs, it will be good to see some different teams than what is in (the OCC-Ohio Division),” Gahanna coach Bruce Ward said. “(We) still have a tough schedule to even make it that far, but (it) would be good to see someone different come week 11. Most of the teams in Region 3 we have played in some capacity throughout the years. Region 2 still has some unfamiliar opponents for us, so that’s exciting.”
Earlier this spring, the OHSAA announced the 2017 divisions for each of its 719 football teams.
With the establishment of competitive balance, combined with changes in enrollment, Hartley now is competing in Division III, Region 11 after winning the last two Division IV state titles and Ready now is in Division V, Region 19 after previously competing in Division VI, Region 23.
For the 22 teams that are holdovers in Division II, Region 7, their hopes of making the playoffs next fall might have gotten a boost based on the new regional alignment.
The biggest change is that Massillon Perry, which was the No. 1 seed and went on to a state runner-up finish, now is in Division I, Region 1.
Dresden Tri-Valley, which went 9-1 and was edged by Uniontown Lake for the eighth and final playoff berth, has dropped to Division III, Region 11.
Two other teams that posted winning records, Mansfield Senior (6-4) and Groveport, now are competing in Division III, Region 10 and Region 3, respectively.
The other team that is no longer in Region 7 is Delaware, which was 4-6 last season.
There are five new teams in Region 7, including a pair of playoff qualifiers in Ashland (7-4 while competing in Region 10) and Whitehall (8-3 while competing in Region 11).
The other newcomers are two teams that went 5-5 last season in North Canton Hoover (Region 1) and Whetstone (Region 11), and Westerville South, which was 1-9 while competing in Region 2.
for first four rounds
At its board of directors meeting June 1, the OHSAA voted 9-0 to hold all playoff games on Fridays for each of the first four rounds.
Last fall, Divisions I, II, IV and VI were held on Fridays and Divisions III, V and VII were played on Saturdays.
Several coaches, including Hale, Hartley’s Brad Burchfield and DeSales’ Ryan Wiggins, said they are happy with the change.
“I think it’s a great move,” Burchfield said. “Ohio is high school football on Friday, college football on Saturday and the NFL on Sunday. It’s who we are. As a coach, Saturday playoff games are brutal. You really lose the weekend to prepare for an upcoming opponent.”
During state championship week, Division I, II, V or VII will play its title game Thursday, Nov. 30, with the other three being held Friday, Dec. 1. Divisions III, IV and VI all will be played Saturday, Dec. 2.
The state finals will be held at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton.
According to OHSAA assistant commissioner Beau Rugg, the increase of Saturday night college football games and declining attendance at Saturday high school playoff games were among the factors leading to the change.
“I prefer Fridays,” Wiggins said. “We play the majority of our games on Fridays, so I like that routine.”