A little more than three years ago when they began their varsity football careers as two-way starters for Genoa High School, Jacob Plantz and Andrew Bench arrived with sizable physical presence but a lot to learn.
Now seniors, Plantz and Bench have become the pillars of a program that has risen to a level that rivals the best teams in the school’s history.
Genoa (11-0), Ohio’s top-ranked Division V team, faces its next challenge at 7 p.m. Saturday when it kicks off against 12th-ranked Elyria Catholic (9-2) at Bellevue.
The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Plantz has started at cornerback for four years. He has been the starting quarterback the past three years after splitting time there and at receiver as a freshman in 2015.
Bench, 6-5 and 225 pounds, has started at tight end for four years and has been a four-year defensive starter as well, moving from defensive end to his current linebacker position.
“Both have versatility and athleticism,” fifth-year Comets coach Paul Patterson said. “It’s rare you find a kid at the Division V level that has a Division I tight-end body like Andrew, and a big-body quarterback and defensive back [Plantz].
“Those two kids, with their athletic ability alone, allow us to do a lot of things offensively and defensively. We put them in good spots to be successful for us.”
Last season, when Northern Buckeye Conference champion Eastwood was ranked No. 1 in D-V and on the way to a 14-1 record and a state runner-up finish, Plantz was unable to play in Genoa’s 38-31 loss to the Eagles, who rallied from a 14-point, fourth-quarter deficit. He was lost for the season after an early knee injury.
Injury also took Bench out of the Comets’ final two 2017 games, including a playoff loss to Marion Pleasant that ended their season at 8-3.
Both have been at full strength for this season, which has served as the fulfillment of the dreams these best friends have shared since enrolling at Genoa after junior high school.
Plantz already was in the Genoa school system and Bench open-enrolled from nearby NBC rival Woodmore.
While in eighth grade they — along other promising athletes in a circle of friends from three NBC junior high schools — were considering possibilities at schools like Central Catholic, St. John’s Jesuit, and St. Francis de Sales.
Plantz decided he wanted to try to make good in his hometown, and Bench came on board to join him.
Lake’s Jase Bowen, along with Woodmore’s Andrew Parker and Justin Schiets, all opted for Central Catholic, and each is a high-profile third-year starter for the Fighting Irish, who currently are 11-0 and ranked No. 2 in Ohio in Division II.
The high school choices obviously have worked out well for all five.
Plantz and Bench, also varsity basketball starters since their freshman year, will begin their quest for a third consecutive NBC title in that sport once football ends, something the seniors hope is not for awhile.
“We met in fifth grade and we pretty much knocked it off from there,” Plantz said of his journey with Bench. “We’ve been best friends ever since.
“I remember when we were deciding where we were going to go to high school. We talked about it and I said, ‘Hey, I’m going to stay home. You should come over here.’ He fell in love with the idea, I fell in love with the idea, and we came here and both have had a lot of success.”
Plantz, a three-time first-team All-NBC basketball player and conference player of the year as a junior, has committed to Division II Notre Dame College in northeast Ohio to play that sport. He carries a 3.6 grade-point average.
Bench, who has a 3.5 GPA, has received Division I football recruiting interest from Toledo, Cincinnati, Iowa, Rutgers, Louisville, Wake Forest, and Tulane. Some project him at tight end, others at defensive end.
“Fifth-grade year, I met Jake trying out for his AAU team in Toledo in a little church cafeteria gym,” Bench said. “We talked about our rivalry game from Pee Wee football, with me at Woodmore and him at Genoa.
“I [still] talk about the one time beating him as a Wildcat. That was like the best feeling ever. But ever since I’ve been with him, it’s been like the best time. He has my back and I have his. We just know what we want, and we’re always on the same page.”
In the Panthers (9-2), Genoa will face its greatest obstacle in a quest to match or surpass the best playoff run in school history. The 2008 Comets of head coach Mike Vicars finished 13-1 with a loss to eventual state champion Kettering Alter in a Division IV semifinal.
Elyria Catholic’s’ first-round win came against Anna, a team that defeated powerhouse Midwest Athletic Conference foe Coldwater, a perennial state title contender in Division VI, on the road in Week 8.
Whatever challenge Elyria Catholic presents, Plantz, Bench, and the rest of the Comets will be seeking the simple objective they have chased all season long — “just go 1-0 every week.”
In 11 games, Plantz has completed 70 of his 111 passes for 1,332 yards and 17 touchdowns with no interceptions, and has rushed 88 times for 554 yards and 13 scores. On defense, he has made 51 tackles and grabbed seven interceptions, which he has returned for a total of 296 yards and three scores.
For his part, Bench leads Genoa with 93 tackles, including 16 for loss, and nine sacks. He also has an interception. Offensively, he has 24 receptions for 465 yards and six touchdowns.
“Drew and Jake, since their freshman year, have been main contributors to our football team,” Patterson said. “They came in with good size right from the get-go, and as good athletes.
“On both sides of the ball, they’ve been big-time pieces for what we do around here. This year, both of them are having their best years, and it comes from their hard work. They’ve worked extremely hard to get to this point, and with their leadership they’ve put us in this position, where we are right now.”
The Comets’ other two-way leaders include three third-year varsity starters. Junior running back-linebacker Daniel Novotney, a 5-11, 220-pound bruiser, has rushed for 19 touchdowns and made 40 tackles. Senior running back-defensive back Jacob Bradfield has rushed for six scores and has seven pass breakups, while senior tight end-linebacker Nate Lewis has 29 receptions and six touchdowns along with 40 tackles and two interceptions.
On the season, Genoa has outscored foes 414-138 (38-13 per game), with only one game — a 34-27 contest in Week 4 vs. Lake — being decided by single digits.
On Saturday, Patterson again will be counting on his pillars.
“To date, this season has gone exactly along with what our expectations were,” the coach said. “In two-a-days we talked about getting the league championship, and making it to Week 12. These guys had not made it past Week 11 in their career, and we’re at that point now.”
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