The challenge will be great for the Bulldogs of Defiance on Friday night when they hit the road to take on unbeaten Kenton at 7:30 p.m.
The Wildcats (8-0, 7-0 WBL), who are the No. 1 ranked team in the state in Division IV, will be led by senior quarterback Maty Mauk (6-2, 195), who currently holds the national record for touchdown passes in a career with 189 and completions in a career with 1,191. With Mauk at the control of Kenton's five-wide, spread attack the last four seasons the Wildcats are 36-7, including three trips to the playoffs in D-IV.
For his career Mauk has put up some impressive numbers:
• He is 1,191-of-1,867 passing for 16,535 yards (Mauk trails his brother Ben by 829 yards for the state record).
• His 5,670 yards passing last season is second all-time in a season in Ohio (behind the 6,540 of brother Ben back in 2002).
• His 69 touchdowns a season ago is second all-time in a season in Ohio (behind the 76 of his brother Ben back in 2002)
• His eight touchdown passes in a game against Van Wert this season is one shy of the Ohio record of nine set by four players.
• His 1,867 pass attempts is just 38 shy of the national record of 1,905 set by his brother Ben during his career.
After losing the last three seasons to Kenton with Mauk at the controls, you don't have to tell Defiance mentor Jerry Buti about the challenge his team has ahead of it on Friday night.
"Here's the thing about Kenton's offense, they run it better than anybody else in the state in Ohio ... period," said Buti. "There's one reason why they run better than everybody and that's Maty Mauk. Before him it was Ben Mauk. The triggerman in that system is huge because if you're in the five-wide with a bad quarterback, guess what? You're bad.
"Maty makes everything go and here's the thing about him this season, he's really carried the load," continued Buti. "They started the season with some very young receivers so Maty has had to help them along and he's had to run the football a lot more this season. Every week he's had over 100 yards rushing and a running quarterback in this offense makes all the difference in the world. It's makes it that much harder for your defense."
This season Mauk is 220-of-323 passing for 3,016 yards, 38 TDs and eight interceptions. As a runner, the QB has rushed for 936 yards on 124 carries with 12 touchdowns. Justin Sawmiller (6-0, 160, soph.) leads the team with 88 receptions for 1,164 yards and 10 touchdowns, Matt Bahr (6-0, 180, soph.) has 27 catches for 454 yards and 10 scores and Zach Wolowicz (5-10, 165, junior) has 48 grabs for 396 yards and four touchdowns.
"We started the season with nine new starters on offense because we had a few players out, but really our quarterback and our center (Clint Brunow, 5-8, 220, senior) were the only experienced players we had back," stated Kenton head coach Mike Mauk, Maty's father. "We've been playing with very young players and we've gotten better, but we're nowhere near where we want to be as a team offensively."
So what's the key to stopping the Kenton offense?
"I've seen what O-G has done to them and I've seen what Coldwater has done to them ... we've done all of those things too," Buti said. "These are the things you can do, you can bring pressure and lock up in man on them, you can zone and no pressure except with your front three, or you can do a little bit of both. We'll try a little bit of all three and see what happens.
"I've heard people say, just drop 10 guys and don't let him throw it," continued Buti. "If you do that, Maty Mauk will run right past you, over you and around you. This kid ran the 200 at the state track meet, he long jumps over 22 feet and the bottom line he's just a great athlete. The other thing about Maty ... he's a winner and he's going to find a way to beat you."
The Defiance defense will be without the services of senior linebacker Nick Vittorio (60 tackles), who left last week's game against Shawnee with an apparent knee injury. The Bulldogs will of course be employing the servcies of at least five defensive backs, which could include freshman Wes Detter in the mix. Trey Guilliam leads DHS with four picks, while Austin Hancock has two.
Meanwhile, the Kenton mentor will be looking for his defense, led by linebacker Gabe King (6-1, 210, senior) and safety Brice Fackler (6-4, 215, senior), to play better against Defiance after watching Bath and Celina run 80 plays or more the last two weeks.
"That's going to be a big key for us this week, we haven't played well defensively the last two weeks and we have to play better. Bath ran 86 plays against us, and I think Celina ran more than that. Defiance has the potential to do that because they have a very good offense led by Nick Lopez. He's tough, he's quick and he runs hard. He's a great offensive football player.
"For us to be better defensively, we have to get back to the fundamentals," continued the Kenton coach. "That means working on our stance, our tackling and our technique. We know we've played against two outstanding players the last two weeks in Aaron Smith of Bath and Braden Billger of Celina, and we know that Lopez is another one of those types of players."
King is the leading tackler in the league for Kenton with 132 stops, while Fackler is third in tackles with 103. Strong safety Sean Kelly (6-0, 180, senior) checks in with 94 tackles and a WBL-leading six interceptions.
Lopez enters the contest having rushed for 949 yards on 205 carries with 12 TDs, while also catching 14 passes for 282 yards and three more scores. Quarterback Joe Keween has thrown for 1,218 yards on 79-of-148 passing with nine touchdowns and 10 picks. Guilliam (27 catches, 357 yards, 3 TDs) and Hancock (23 catches, 341 yards, 2 TDs) are his favorite targets, while Max Glassford (guard) and Shallus Beatty (tackle) anchor the offensive front.
"We're excited about the opportunity we have this week, we're not afraid to go there play them, we're looking forward to the challenge," concluded Buti. "You just don't get to play against a player the caliber of Maty Mauk very often. They're the No. 1 team in the state, they have the best quarterback in the country who has national passing records ... this is your chance to do something."