Every fall, there are a handful of Northeast Ohio high school football teams that captivate their respective communities by putting together a season that will be remembered long after the current players hang up their shoulder pads and cleats for the final time.
One such team in 2011 resides at the corner of Cedar and Lee in Cleveland Heights.
The Cleveland Heights Tigers are in the Ohio High School Athletic Association football playoffs for the first time in program history, after posting a 9-0 (6-0 Lake Erie League) record under fifth-year head coach Jeff Rotsky.
The Tigers have come close to earning that elusive first postseason bid a few times in recent history, but each time, have found themselves on the wrong end of the season-ending number crunch that determines each region's playoff invitees and the order in which they're seeded.
Cleveland Heights assured itself that wouldn't happen again this season by capping its perfect season in style, snapping defending Division II state champion Maple Heights' 23-game winning streak and capturing the outright LEL crown in a 20-12 Week 10 road win.
The Tigers reward for their banner season? A first round home playoff tilt with St. Edward, the 2010 Division I state champs.
Kickoff between third-seeded Cleveland Heights and the sixth-seeded Eagles (7-3) in tonight's Division I, Region 1 quarterfinal matchup is set for 7 p.m.
Rotsky recently took time away from game planning for St. Edward to answer questions about the Tigers and their season thus far for WKYC's HighSchoolSports.net.
WKYC's HighSchoolSports.net: What has been your team's motto this season?
Cleveland Heights head coach Jeff Rotsky: Our kids wear it across the [front of their] shirts every day. It's "GFGF" - God, family, grades and football.
WKYC: What character trait(s) and/or attribute(s) does this year's team possess that has allowed it to achieve the most success in program history?
Rotsky: I think the kids care a lot about each other. I [also] think I'm blessed to have the greatest coaching staff in the state of Ohio who really cares about these kids. They've worked really, really hard. The fact that our kids know that when they're in a jam, they can call us at 12, 1 [or] 2 in the morning and know that they're gonna get a response.
WKYC: What are three adjectives that describe your team and/or its play this season?
Rotsky: I would say competitive, fun-loving - because they're still having fun out there - and close. They're very close; a close, tight-knit group.
WKYC: What has been your team's greatest strength this season?
Rotsky: I think our team's greatest strength is that we have no superstars. We've got a true team.
WKYC: What has been your team's greatest weakness this season?
Rotsky: Going into this game, I think it's that our kids have never been to the show before, but we know that we're playing on the corner of Cedar and Lee and that puts them in a strong comfort zone because we've had a lot of success there.
WKYC: What has been the high point of your team's season thus far?
Rotsky: There is a football one and a non-football one. The football one would certainly be beating Maple Heights, stopping their 23-game winning streak and winning the LEL championship for the first time in a gazillion years. Non-football related was seeing our coach [Mario Houston], who was sick and had a massive stroke about a month ago, being able to get up on his feet and attempt to walk. That, to me, was an amazing high.
WKYC: Who are your team's leaders? What do they bring to the team?
Rotsky: Kyle Dodson, our offensive tackle, is certainly our emotional and spiritual leader. He's one of the constants. He's wild and crazy, but a great young man. Terence Bailey, our other captain, is another hardworking, terrific kid.
WKYC: Who is your team's unsung hero? Why?
Rotsky: It's hard for me to say. I think the players that have surprised people the most are our two young running backs, Marcus Bagley and Braxton Gamble. They haven't played very much varsity football, but both have played really, really well.
WKYC: What must happen for your team to be able to defeat St. Edward and continue its storybook season?
Rotsky: We've got to run the football and stop the run. If we stop the run and run the football, we've got a chance.
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