The Licking Valley High School football team has won nine consecutive games and is playing its best at the right time.

Nearly the same can be said of Rayland Buckeye Local, which will visit the Panthers in a Division III, Region 11 quarterfinal Saturday. Buckeye Local has won five of six games after opening 2-2, including Martins Ferry's only loss (21-14) in the opener Aug. 22. Martins Ferry went on to earn the top seed in Division IV, Region 15.

"They've beaten some good teams and right now are really playing well," Licking Valley coach Randy Baughman said.

Like Licking Valley, Buckeye Local prefers to run the ball first. Four of its running backs have topped 200 yards in a game this season, including Brandon Bartrug. Quarterback Joe Rine has a stable of other backs behind
him, including Kevin Calhoun and Bobby Spence. Freshman Josten Dear is another player to watch.

Licking Valley, meanwhile, likely will get Ohio State-recruit Storm Klein more involved on both sides of the ball. He's been spelled frequently at both running back and linebacker, leaving him with fresh legs for the postseason. He's rushed for 1, 321 yards and 18 touchdowns, averaging 8.1 yards per carry.

The Panthers reached the state final a year ago and this season are more athletic at quarterback. Drew Ryan has thrown for 954 yards and 14 touchdowns and rushed for 625 with 13 touchdowns. He's a threat to take it all the way on kick returns, too.

The Panthers are making their eighth playoff appearance this decade and 12th overall, also finishing as the Division IV state runner-up in 2001. Buckeye Local, which was the Division II state runner-up in 1994, is in the playoffs for the first time since 2005 and sixth time overall.

The winner advances to a regional semifinal Nov. 8 against Licking Valley or Rayland Buckeye Local, meaning a fourth meeting in two seasons between the Blue Aces and Panthers is possible. The Panthers have won the other three, including 49-21 in a regional quarterfinal last year, and have won six consecutive games in the series overall dating to 2003.