The Canal Winchester High School football team will face one of the most potent passing offenses it has seen this season when it travels to Zanesville in the first round of the Division II, Region 7 playoffs on Friday, Nov. 2.
In a 39-6 win over Marietta on Oct. 26, Zanesville junior quarterback Thomas Wibbeler completed 17 of 21 passes for 269 yards and four touchdowns as the Blue Devils improved to 9-1. Among his targets were J.T. McFarland (4 catches, 76 yards, 2 touchdowns), Matty Lynn (4 catches, 62 yards, 2 touchdowns), Dar Stanford (3 catches, 51 yards), Brady Armstrong (3 catches, 40 yards) and Granger Long (3 catches, 40 yards).
McFarland, a running back, also rushed for a touchdown and tailback Jamal Gladden had a 9-yard touchdown run.
Early in the season, Canal Winchester's 3-5 defense struggled against teams that throw the ball effectively, as the Indians allowed 284 yards passing in a 48-21 loss to Dublin Scioto on Aug. 24 at home and 222 yards passing in a 28-3 loss at Marion-Franklin on Sept. 7.
But Canal Winchester, which has a seven-game winning streak, has given up only 23 points over its last four games, and senior nose tackle DeOntaye Cosby expects the Indians to be ready for the Blue Devils' offense.
The Indians won at Circleville 21-6 on Oct. 26 to improve to 8-2 overall and finish 7-0 in the MSL-Buckeye Division. They limited the Tigers to just 57 total yards through three quarters.
"We played a terrible game defensively against Dublin Scioto, but we've progressively gotten better since then," Cosby said. "Most teams in the MSL like to run the ball a lot, so we haven't seen an offense that throws the ball this well in a long time, but I think we'll be ready for them. Our backs need to stay deeper to defend their receivers and our defensive line will need to get to the backfield quickly so our linebackers will be free to make plays."
Senior right tackle Zach Morehead said the Indians' spread offense will try to establish an effective running game early to set up its short-route passing game.
Behind the blocking of Morehead, right guard Josh Miller, center Seth Wentzel, left guard Dalton McKee and left tackle Zach Huffer, running back Jaquan Ransome rushed for 118 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries against Circleville and running back John Franklin rushed for 60 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries.
Quarterback Isaac Pifer completed 11 of 20 passes for 66 yards against Circleville.
Zanesville allowed just 25 total yards in the first half against Marietta.
"Zanesville is big and physical up front, so it's going to be important for our offensive and defensive lines to be more physical than they are," Morehead said. "If they load the box, we'll need to pass the ball well. But it's our job up front to create holes because our running backs do a good job of hitting holes hard when we open them."
Coach Shawn Hinkle said his players are excited to reach for the playoffs after going 7-3 but missing the postseason last year. The Indians are the seventh seed in Region 7 and Zanesville is the second seed. The top eight teams in each region qualify for the playoffs, and last season Canal Winchester finished ninth in Region 7.
Canal Winchester is making its seventh playoff appearance, including its fifth appearance in the last six years. The Indians qualified for the postseason four consecutive years before falling short last season.
"It feels really good to be back in the playoffs," Hinkle said. "We had already won the MSL-Buckeye title outright (before defeating Circleville), but it feels good to go undefeated in our league, too."
Boys soccer team falls in district semi
The 16th-seeded boys soccer team lost to second-seeded Gahanna 5-0 in a Division I district semifinal Oct. 24 to finish 10-7-1.
"We ran into a buzzsaw in Gahanna and they finished every chance they had," coach Erik Feinstein said.
Gardner competes in regional meet
Freshman Wyatt Gardner of the boys cross country team finished 55th of 125 runners in 17 minutes, 15.33 seconds in the Division I regional meet Oct. 27 at Pickerington North behind champion Jacob Dumford of Westerville North (15:51.81).
The top 16 individuals advanced to the state meet Saturday, Nov. 3, at National Trail Raceway, with Watkins Memorial's Mikey McKean (16:16.27) securing the final state-qualifying spot.