SHADYSIDE - It will be a battle of the Tigers at 7 on Saturday night at Shadyside's Fleming Field, as seventh-seeded Wellsville travels south down Route 7 to take on No. 2 seed Shadyside in a first-round Ohio Division VI, Region 23 battle.
Coach Mark Holenka's Belmont County squad capped a fine 7-3 regular season with a 26-8 victory against Barnesville last Friday, the Tigers third consecutive victory.
Meanwhile, Coach Dave Skinner's Wellsville club downed Jackson-Milton to finish 5-5 and sneak into the postseason after winning three of its final four.
It will not be the first meeting in the playoffs between these two teams, though. While this will be the 11th trip in the last 12 years for Shadyside, the Columbiana Countians have not played a game 11 since 2001.
In their last playoff encounter Wellsville took Shadyside all the way to the wire in the Region 23 semifinals before dropping a heart-breaker at Harding Stadium. The Tigers went on to win the regional championship game in another thriller against Danville the following week.
That year also brought a pair of upsets for eighth-seeded Wellsville, including a first-round stunner over powerful Newark Catholic at White Field.
This time around, Skinner's Tigers will have to do what 10 other teams have been unable to do, beat Shadyside on the road in a first-round playoff game. Actually, Holenka's team is making its 13th trip to the postseason and is an amazing 12-1 in first-round games, losing only to Woodsfield in St. Clairsville in 1991. And they have won 11 openers in a row.
''Shadyside is a tradition-rich program down there and we are well aware of that,'' Skinner said. ''But our attitude going in is to treat it like another game. It is going to be business as usual for Wellsville.''
Wellsville has the ability to mix it up with quarterback Jake Reed and sophomore sensation Marcus Moxley at running back. Reed has thrown for nearly 1,000 yards while Moxley has rushed for more than 700 on minimal carries.
Ricky Brightwell is the Tigers' leading tackler and will try to make life miserable for the opposition.
''They are a football team that will spread the field until they get into your territory, then they change it up a little and start playing smash-mouth,'' Holenka said. ''We know that this is a little bit of a different situation for them, but sometimes that can be a positive also and we have to be aware of that.''
Shadyside has turned to the rushing attack for most of the 2011 campaign with junior Brooks Ramsey leading the way having rushed for 810 yards and six scores.
Junior Alex Quinn, sophomore Chris Littell and quarterback Chase Kinemond are also dangerous when they get the ball in their hands. Kinemond ran for 64 yards and a score a week ago against Barnesville.
Kinemond can also be dangerous with his arm, tossing three touchdown passes to junior Cody Hudson in the victory against the Shamrocks.
''Shadyside is very athletic, strong and fast,'' Skinner added.
''They are not the biggest team, but there is no question they are quite a handful.
''This is two years in a row that we have finished strong, but we had a lot of injuries early this season and we are finally starting to get healthy. It is a resilient bunch that has come together as a team and really peaked at the right time.
''The kids are very excited and the atmosphere should be great. We found out (Monday) that the game will be on television so that means something to us. I know that they are a little more used to all of this than we are, but we will come out, battle and give it a try.''
For Holenka and his Tigers, it is business as usual for a team that has played nine home playoff games since 2000 and advanced to a pair of state championship games, including last year.
''Yeah, we have done this before and we know a little bit about what to expect, and it is new territory for Wellsville.
"But we know they will come ready to play,'' Holenka said.
''We don't play every often, but they are an OVAC team also and actually one of the few teams in Region 21 that we know anything at all about. And whether they respect us or not, they know a little bit about us also.
''In all we know a little about Wellsville, Mogadore and Malvern in this region, but have never seen the other five teams in the region and don't know what to expect there.
''But it is so nice to be at home and a big reward for the kids and the community.
"There aren't many turf fields in Division VI, so you really don't know what to expect with field conditions this time of year when you hit the road. But we know what we have here and we are used to playing on it.
''The only bad thing is that sometimes I wonder if the playoffs have not become old hand for us. I have heard people saying that they will just wait and go to the second-round game, but we want the stands full here.
"That 12th man can be a difference maker and we really want everyone in the community to come out and support us in any playoff game we are involved in.''