Things heat up in Eastern District as regional semifinals begin


Eastern District Football
Eastern district contributor Kurt Stubbs II checks in with a look at this weekend's regional high school football match ups. Dover and Tri-Valley take the field tonight, while Stebuenville's rematch with Canton Central Catholic headlines the docket on Saturday.

The Eastern District started with 16 teams, and after one week of the Ohio High School Athletic Association football playoffs, only six remain.

On Friday night, Dover (8-3) will tango with undefeated Canal Fulton Northwest at Massillon Washington’s Paul Brown Tiger Stadium. Tri-Valley will trek to New Philadelphia’s Woody Hayes Quaker Stadium to meet Louisville (9-2).

Saturday night’s card features three games with Eastern District flavor and atop the list is unbeaten Steubenville meeting Canton Central Catholic (10-1) in a rematch of their week 9 thriller at Austintown-Fitch’s Falcon Stadium. Also, unbeaten St. Clairsville will lock horns with Licking Heights (10-1) at Zanesville’s Sulsberger Memorial Stadium. In Division VI, Shadyside (10-1) will take on old rival and fellow district foe Hannibal River (10-1) at Martins Ferry’s Purple Rider Alumni Field.

Other big news around the district is Union Local senior Zach Gust being invited to this week’s Ohio State game against Illinois in Columbus. This is quite an honor and very well deserved.

Division II, Region 7:

The Scotties of Tri-Valley will try for another upset bid this week against powerful Louisville. The Scotties upset third seed Logan (31-26) in thrilling fashion, while the Leopards avenged an early season one point loss to Uniontown Lake (34-21).

Tri-Valley used a Cam West to Wade Warner 32-yard touchdown strike on 4th down and nine to outlast the Chieftains. The score came with 57 ticks on the clock. West, who is the Division II co-offensive player of the year in the district, was phenomenal with 183 yards rushing on 31 totes and two scores, while completing 12 of 20 passing attempts for 246 yards and two six-pointers. Warner was outstanding as well catching three balls for 135 yards including two scores. The other TD catch came on an 86-yard play. The Scotties out gained Logan 465 to 233 in the total yards department.

On the season, West has accumulated 925 yards rushing including 13 TDs, while throwing for 2,568 yards and 28 TDs to just eight INTs. Warner, who is a big play threat to say the least, has hauled in 41 pigskins for 1,108 yards and 10 scores.

The Scotties will be without receivers Taylor Trout (illness) and Ryan Householder (broken ankle).

For Louisville, just like Tri-Valley, it all starts with the quarterback. Junior Neal Seaman has been outstanding. The talented Seaman has racked up 989 yards on the ground and 1,773 yard via the pass.

What to look for:
Both teams run the spread-option offense, and both run it extremely well. Louisville has lost two games this season by a total of two points, and avenged on one of those last week against Lake.

Speaking of Lake, the Blue Streaks defeated Tri-Valley in week 10 on a rainy night, 42-0. Don’t look for those numbers to mean anything in this contest.

Louisville has faced six playoff teams thus far including a one-point loss to unbeaten Northwest. Tri-Valley is coming off a huge win for its confidence. Head coach Justin Buttermore of Tri-Valley knows all about Louisville playing against them in his high school years at West Branch.

This game should be a shootout. It may be one of the most entertaining games of the night, but look for Louisville’s defense to come up big in the second half. I like the Leopards 35-28.

Canfield (10-1) versus Columbus St. Francis De Sales (11-0)
The Stallions are clicking on all cylinders and won’t lose this game to a very good Canfield team. De Sales 21-14 in a hard hitting contest.

Division III, Region 11

The Dover Tornadoes will put its eight game winning streak on the line this week against unbeaten Canal Fulton Northwest. The Tornadoes have not lost since a week 3 setback to Canton CC. Dover lost its first three games of the year, but avenged the opening game loss to Canton South last week in an 11-7 win over the Wildcats. The Indians rolled over Poland 32-8 in their playoff opener.

For the Tornadoes, it all starts with junior quarterback Corey Lisowski and senior receiver Matt Rinehart. The former threw for 226 yards last week on 20 of 23 passing. The junior has thrown for 2,367 yards through 11 games with 26 TDs. Rinehart has collected 72 balls for 856 markers and made big play after big play on both sides of the ball. He is also huge in the kicking game.

The Indians counter with quarterback Jimmy Shiplett, running back Danny Beers and utility man Teddy Robb. Shiplett has tossed for 1,958 yards including 15 touchdowns to just four picks. Beers is tough on the ground with 997 yards, while Robb has caught 48 passes for 867 stripes.

Both teams have a plethora of options on the outside.

What to look for:
The magical ride stops here for the Tornadoes. It has been a great run the past eight weeks, but Canal appears to be a more complete football team. Is this finally the year for Head coach Vic Whiting and his Indians? Look for the Indian defense to create a couple big turnovers, and control the clock en route to a 21-7 triumph.

Beloit West Branch (9-2) versus Newark Licking Valley (10-1)
The Panthers ran for 365 yards last week against Granville without junior Storm Klein in the lineup. Klein, who earlier this season verbaled to Ohio State, should be cleared to play this week. Josh Bailey had 212 yards in his absence. They will be facing another spread offense team in West Branch, but the Panthers have yet to see a quarterback as good as Steve McNeely. The senior has thrown for 2,428 yards including 26 scores to just seven giveaways. With all that being said, this is Licking Valley’s year. The Panthers escape with a 35-34 win in perhaps the best game of the night.

Division IV, Region 13

Steubenville Big Red and Canton CC will meet for the second time in four weeks. The Red advancing to the second round via 28-10 win over Cuyahoga Valley Christian Adademy, while the Crusaders torched Tuscarawas Valley, 48-6.

Senior quarterback Joey Rhoads has thrown for 2,001 yards and 18 touchdowns, with 1,135 yards and 14 TDs to Rob Hoagland. Tailback Max Colaner has 1,080 yards and 19 TDs. Those are the big three on offense for the Crusaders. Hoagland certainly hurt the Red the first time catching 4 TDs.

For Steubenville, it’s sophomore quarterback Dwight Macon who can beat you with his feet or right arm. The ever-improving Macon has run for 837 yards this season at 7.4 yards per clip. Stevie Davis, who has hauled in 30 balls on the year, caught 11 passes for 153 yards in the first meeting. The big time playmaker, Davis, also had two pass thefts. Davis is the Division IV co-defensive player of the year in the district.

Big Red will use a plethora of running backs in the game to keep legs fresh. Included in that list will be juniors Branko Busick and Demetrius Benjamin.

In the last meeting, head coach Reno Saccoccia’s squad out gained the CC 531-323 in total yards. The Red ran 72 plays to Canton’s 41.

What to look for:
Many people are thinking this may be the end of the run for Steubenville having been pushed to the limit the first time by the Crusaders. I tend to look at it a little differently. Playing Steubenville already this year and so recently most likely hurt CC’s chance of an upset bid tomorrow night. Why? Nobody is better than Big Red’s staff at making adjustments and correcting mistakes. They know exactly what they are dealing with this time around, and that will make it that much harder to defeat them. Both teams can make big plays with Canton doing it on offense and Big Red using defense and special teams.

The question is will CC prove its 34-21 lead late in the fourth quarter in the first meeting wasn’t a fluke or will Big Red once again silence the doubters? Look for the Death Valley dwellers to answer the bell once again and come away with a 28-14 victory.

Akron SVSM (9-2) @ Youngstown Cardinal Mooney (11-0)
This is a mirror image of the Steubenville/Canton CC game. Trailing 17-0 in the fourth quarter, Mooney answered with three scores to earn a hard fought 21-17 victory. I see this rematch playing out the same way the above mentioned contest will turn out. The Cardinals will be a lot better this time around. This is a statement game for head coach P.J. Fecko’s crew. Look for Mooney to turn it up a notch for a 31-7 triumph. Statement made!

Division IV, Region 15

Unbeaten St. Clairsville will travel to Zanesville’s Sulsberger Memorial Stadium to take on once beaten Licking Heights. The Devils, who tied a school record for wins in a season last week with a win over Ironton Rock Hill (49-13), will be looking to make only their second regional final appearance in school history. The other coming in 1986 when they won the regional before falling to Kenston in the state semi-finals at the Akron Rubber Bowl. The Hornets, on the other hand, were involved in a shootout last week in a 42-34 win over Portsmouth.

The Red Devils have plenty of options on offense starting with senior quarterback Anthony Vincent. The slick signal caller has been getting the job done all season for head coach Brett McLean’s Red Devils. Vincent is a threat to run or throw with 943 yards passing including 14 scores to just four interceptions and 866 yards rushing with 15 TDs. The biggest playmaker may be senior Dustin Hynes, who has 532 yards receiving and 484 yards rushing including 16 total touchdowns. This was all in limited action as the Devil starters were off the field early most evenings. Another viable option is bruising tailback Kurtis Cullen who had 102 yards rushing on just nine totes in the win over Rock Hill. Cullen has 886 yards rushing for the year including eight scores.

All of those numbers would not have been possible if it weren’t for the boys up front. Senior tackles Jake Antolak and Anthony Skrabak have been dominating all season along with fellow classmate Cody McKeever and sophomores Trenton Soukup and Matt Shutek. Senior tight end Layne Mehl has also been stellar.

The Devil defense is nothing to sneeze at either only giving up 9.4 points per contest. The unit is led by a host of Devils including; Vincent and Hynes along with junior Brody Call in the secondary, Cullen and senior Johnny Earliwine at linebackers, and Zane Butler up front.

The Hornets counter with a very explosive offense as well led by junior quarterback Shawn Smith. The “now you see me now you don’t” Smith has passed for 1,364 yards including 13 TDs thus far in 2007, while running for 530 stripes and five scores.

Licking Heights, who had over 500 yards of total offense last week, uses a balanced running game led by junior Roy Bias and sophomore Dan Pennington. The former has churned out 443 yards and eight scores with the latter sitting at 607 lightings along with 11 scores. Senior Victor Stalling (245 yards) and junior Storm Timson (298 yards) can also get the job done.

When Smith goes to the air he will look for anyone of five options. Senior J.R. Forbes leads the way with 16 receptions for 321 yards and five scores. Bias, who is dual-threat, has snagged 19 aerials for 318 yards. Timson (232 yards) and junior Phillip Grizer (225 yards) are other candidates.

I saved the fifth and final player for last, but certainly not least. Senior Lenier Crawford may be the biggest playmaker on the entire roster. His touches don’t indicate so, but trust me on this one. Crawford has five carries for 142 yards (28.4 yards per carry) on the year, while hauling in seven balls for 113 markers (16 yards per snag). Devil fans, he will be number 12 in your program. He also can get it done on special teams.
Head coach Darren Waters, who is a Tri-Valley graduate, has a defense giving up 15.6 points per night. Sophomore Dan Pennington leads the way from his linebacker spot.

What to look for:
The Red Devils won’t be enamored by Licking Heights’ speed as they’ve seen a team with equal or more speed already this year in Union Local. However, the Jets were the one team all year to have the Devil defense on their heels in the second half. With that being said, the Devils are playing extremely well right now and have taken their game to another level starting in the second half of the Steubenville CC game. If the Red Devils don’t turn the ball over the offensive line should control the game. Look for St.Clairsville to own the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and move on to the regional final, 28-14.

Waverly (10-1) @ Westfall (11-0)
The advantage has to be in Westfall’s favor with the Tigers coming into the game with a plethora of injuries. However, Trevor Walls will be the best player on the field, but will that be enough to keep them in the game? Jake Gose for the Mustangs is outstanding at receiver, but Derek Roback should be able to neutralize him. Waverly may have the best player, but Westfall will have all its pieces and this is its time. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Tigers pulled the upset, but I’ll stick with my gut feeling on this one and take the Mustangs 24-17.

Division VI, Region 23

The explosive Shadyside offense versus the stout River defense. The Orange and Black enter the contest via 44-28 trouncing of Steubenville CC in a game that was never that close. Yours truly picked the Crusaders. The Pilots are coming off a hard-earned 20-14 win over previously unbeaten Beallsville.

The Tigers offense is led by senior quarterback Billy Merryman and Division VI co-offensive player of the year Nathaniel Haney. The latter electrified the home crowd last week on one more than one occasion, but one play in particular stuck out in my mind. Haney fielded a punt at midfield, took off to the left side, pulled a spin move, and proceeded to bolt down the left sideline for a Tiger score. Merryman, who is a three-year starter, thrives on throwing the deep ball to a number of playmakers. The senior threw for 230 yards and three scores last Saturday night. Along with the aforementioned Haney, senior B.A. Holloway (4 for 104 yards and 2 TDs last week), junior Nathan Butts, sophomore Dylan Kimble, and senior Ross Palicka are all reliable options.

Senior Dustin Sadlowski and junior Johnny Merryman have been carrying the load on the ground. Merryman finished with 125 yards a week ago, while Sadlowski ripped off 74 stripes.

The Tigers may be known for their offense, but the defense doesn’t fall too far behind. Led by the Division VI co-defensive player of the year in the district, linebacker Sadlowski, the Tigers have allowed 17.2 points per game. However, those numbers are a bit skewed with several points coming when the game was out of reach.

For the Pilots, it starts with co-offensive player of the year in the district, Troy Starr. The 6-foot-2 and 200-pound senior has been a workhorse all year on the ground for the Pilots. The senior has run for well over 1,000 yards on the season. However, it was fullback Jordan Clegg who sparked the comeback from 14 points down a week ago with a 66-yard TD run and 112 total rushing yards to lead the way for the Pilots.

Sophomore quarterback Dylan Potts, who has over 1,000 yards passing, has come along nicely. The youngster has several options including junior Daniel Starr, Jared Trifonoff, Taylor Potts, and senior Zac Hammond.

Junior D.J. Duke leads the Pilot defense. The Division VI co-defensive player of the year is just one part of a staunch Pilot defense giving up just 7.7 points per 48 minutes. Senior Harold Earley, Travis Wells, Daniel Starr, Hammond, and Brandon Sprouse also can get the job done on defense.

What to look for:
The Tigers and Pilots are old rivals, but this is a different era. Shadyside is hitting on all cylinders right now as they usually do at this time of the year, and this may end up being a shocking outcome to some. Look for the Orange and Black to roll up some big plays, and the defense to shut down the Pilot “O” en route to a 31-7 victory.

Danville (8-3) versus Newark Catholic (9-2)
Mark Nichols will be a common theme over the loud speaker this Saturday night. Nichols, a senior tailback at NC, has 2,100 yards rushing and 31 TDs. That is enough for me to like the Green Wave in this one 28-7 after getting a scare last week from Berne Union.

Going out with a bang:

Union Local dropped a heart breaking 27-21 verdict to home standing Waverly last Saturday night in Pike County. After leading 21-7, the Jets gave up 20 unanswered to fall to the Tigers in bitter fashion. However, senior speed merchant Zach Gust left his mark in a big way. Gust, who recently earned Division IV co-offensive player of the year honors in the district, hauled in eight balls for 221 yards with two scores including an electrifying 75-yard TD reception on the 3rd play from scrimmage. The senior, who will be an invited guest of the Ohio State Buckeyes this weekend, did his damage on a fractured foot and pulled hamstring.

Gust Land. His senior year came to a close with some staggering numbers including: 202 yards rushing and two scores, 59 receptions for 1,122 yards receiving and 10 scores, four kickoffs returned for six-pointers, two punts ran back for scores, and three interceptions with two of those taken to the house. Outstanding!

Senior Carl Perkins, who also earned co-player of the year honors on the defensive side of the ball, finished with 24 tackles for the Jets giving him 194 for the season. Pound-for-pound the toughest around.

Junior quarterback Jordan Barbina saved his best performance for last ending the night with 318 yards passing including three scores and two interceptions inside the red zone. Both interceptions were by Waverly senior Ramone Conley who made outstanding plays on both picks. Barbina closed out a fine year with 2,121 yards passing with 22 TDs and 617 yards rushing including 10 trips to pay dirt.

Ridgewood junior Derrick Young closed out a fine year with a 21 carry and 138-yard including one score performance in a 21-13 loss to Wheelersburg. Young finished the year with 1,266 yards rushing and 11 TDs.

Coshocton finished an outstanding campaign following a 30-6 defeat at the hands of the juggernaut known as Cardinal Mooney. Sophomore Marcus Johnston ran for 79 yards on 16 totes including a score, while junior Ian Chrisman churned out 65 hard-earned yards on 12 carries. The former finished the season with 1,175 yards rushing with the latter grounding out 995 yards. Throw in sophomore Dom McCluskey’s 477 stripes and the Redskins have an unbelievable nucleus returning for 2008.

John Glenn dropped a 49-22 nod to the explosive West Branch Warriors, but seniors Justin Gidcumb and Garrett Bennington closed out their prep careers with productive nights. Gidcumb ended the evening with 74 yards and a score (820 yards and 12 scores for the year). Bennington accumulated 69 yards rushing (674 yards on the year).

Take the Good with the Bad:

Zanesville’s Bryan Gaiters (Division II co-offensive player of the year in the district) didn’t close out his high school football career the way he may have liked with 10 carries for zero yards against a phenomenal De Sales defense. The senior closed out his 2007 chapter with 1,825 yards rushing with 26 trips to pay dirt. Gaiters will be playing on Saturdays in the future.

Steubenville CC’s Justin Kaufman finished last Saturday’s game with just 25 yards rushing on 12 totes including a score, but finished the year with well over a 1,000 yards.

Happy Trails to:

Zanesville, John Glenn, Tuscarawas Valley, Coshocton, Union Local, Ridgewood, Buckeye Trail, Malvern, Beallsville, and Steubenville CC.

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