The postseason appears to be bringing out the best in the Marion-Franklin High School football team.
Although the Red Devils earned the third seed for the Division II, Region 7 playoffs and won a share of its ninth consecutive City League-South Division championship, they hardly resembled the team that got by Independence, Walnut Ridge and Eastmoor Academy by a combined 13 points in a 46-14 victory over visiting Licking Heights on Nov. 2.
Marion-Franklin, which improved to 10-1, has a chance to prove that its postseason opener against the previously unbeaten Hornets is indicative of what it is capable of when it plays seventh-seeded Canal Winchester in a regional semifinal Friday, Nov. 9, at Hamilton Township.
"We got a little complacent in the regular season," coach Brian Haffele said. "These guys expect to be in these games. This is what we want. (The Licking Heights game) was the last game at home for our seniors."
The Red Devils, who possess central Ohio's longest current streak of consecutive playoff appearances at nine, dominated Canal Winchester 28-3 on Sept. 7.
Senior quarterback Corry Benson led the way, passing for 222 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for 71 yards and one score. Wide receivers Jaron Dukes (6 catches, 92 yards, 1 touchdown) and Landon Yeartie (5 catches, 105 yards, 2 touchdowns) also had strong performances.
Benson battled shoulder injuries throughout the rest of the regular season but had a big game against Licking Heights, rushing for 111 yards and four touchdowns on 15 carries and completing 26 of 30 passes for 366 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.
Also against the Hornets, Joe Alverson scored two touchdowns and had 10 catches for 122 yards, Darien Williams had seven catches for 114 yards and Dukes had five catches for 66 yards and one score.
Canal Winchester beat second-seeded Zanesville 21-16 in its playoff opener Nov. 2 to improve to 9-2. The Indians have won eight consecutive games, with their last loss coming against the Red Devils. Their only other loss came against Dublin Scioto, 48-21 on Aug. 24. Scioto made the playoffs in Division I.
Marion-Franklin held Canal Winchester to 88 total yards, including just 16 yards rushing on 25 carries in the earlier matchup. Indians quarterback Isaac Pifer was just 2-for-14 passing for 61 yards.
Against Zanesville, Canal Winchester got a pair of touchdown runs from running back Jaquan Ransome and a scoring run from running back John Franklin as it scored seven points in each of the final three quarters and held off a late rally by the Blue Devils.
Franklin, who has 867 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns, missed the first matchup with the Red Devils with an injury.
"Our kids have progressed and we're a much better team than we were in week three," Indians coach Shawn Hinkle said. "Our quarterback and wide receivers are a lot better than they were then, and having our 220-pound tailback (Franklin) healthy for this game should help, too. I'm sure that Marion-Franklin has improved since then, too, so it will be interesting to see which team has improved more."
Football season ends for Beechcroft
The fifth-seeded Beechcroft football team lost to New Albany 25-6 in the first round of the Division II, Region 7 playoffs Nov. 2 to finish 8-2.
Senior Maurice Hale completed 21 of 36 passes for 222 yards and a 27-yard touchdown to Dalaun Young but was intercepted twice. Beechcroft trailed 18-0 at halftime and was held to just 47 yards rushing.
Khaleed Franklin had five catches for 53 yards, Rayshawn Norah had three receptions for 55 yards and Adonis Davis had 19 yards rushing on four attempts.
"Every time we face a three-man front, we just can't get it going," coach Bruce Ward said. "We killed ourselves a lot with turnovers and misplays. That's one of the best teams in the region, so we had to play our best and we didn't. ... We came out real slow, gave them a couple opportunities and they capitalized."
Beechcroft loses 11 seniors, including Hale, who passed for nearly 2,000 yards with 25 touchdowns and seven interceptions and rushed for nearly 1,300 yards with 15 touchdowns this season.
Other key seniors included Franklin (WR/DB), Young (WR/DB), Antonio Davis (OL/DL), Darius Ford (WR/DB) and Redghi Remy (WR/LB).
Franklin finished with more than 800 yards receiving and 10 touchdowns on 41 catches.
Adonis Davis, who was the team's second-leading rusher with more than 300 yards and also plays linebacker, is a junior who is expected to return. Junior Landers Cox (WR/DB) also should be a key returnee.
Beechcroft went 7-0 to win its third consecutive City-North championship, finishing ahead of Brookhaven (6-1), Mifflin (5-2), Northland (4-3), Whetstone (3-4), Columbus East (3-4), Centennial (1-6) and Centennial (0-7).
It marked the second consecutive season that the Cougars lost in the first round of the Region 7 playoffs, as they fell 14-7 to Big Walnut a year ago.
Eastmoor volleyball team again wins title
The Eastmoor girls volleyball team won its second consecutive City League title Oct. 31 when it defeated host Centennial 25-27, 26-24, 25-22, 25-19 in the championship match to finish 17-5 overall.
The Warriors went 14-0 in the City-South.
Coach Rhonda Peck said her players got a morale boost when more than 60 students from the school attended the match.
"It felt amazing," Peck said. "All of the girls worked really hard and they all played well. We had a huge fan bus and I think that helped a lot."
Senior Aaliyah Barnes, who the Division II state championship in the 100 meters and 200 as a sophomore and the 100 and 400 as a junior in track and field, led the way at middle hitter the last two seasons.
Other seniors included Jhane Gaines (outside hitter), Jamisha Miniefield (outside hitter) and Sonequia Spencer (defensive specialist).
The Warriors had run a 6-2 offense this season until one of their setters, junior Alona Kleckley, went down with a pre-match ankle injury against Centennial. Sophomore Alexis Crosby is the other setter.
Sophomore Anee Braswell (middle hitter) and freshman Amani Burke (right-side hitter) were other key players in the league championship match.
"All of them played so well," Peck said. "Aaliyah definitely controlled the play at the net. Every time she touched the ball, it was basically a side out for us. Jamisha had some critical play at critical times. We had great senior leadership."
Barnes, Gaines and Miniefield all were named first-team all-league, Braswell and Crosby made the second-team all-league and Spencer and senior Teah England, who did not play against Centennial, were honorable mention all-league.
"We're coming along," said Peck, who completed her fourth season leading the program.
Runner-up finish a highlight for 'Cats
The Brookhaven football team loses 18 seniors after going 7-3 overall for the second consecutive regular season under coach Trevor White.
The Bearcats lost to Beech-croft 20-0 on Oct. 19 and placed second in the City-North at 6-1. Brookhaven, which made the Division II playoffs and finished 7-4 overall a year ago, finished 10th in Region 7 this fall.
Among the seniors are Kevin Greenhow (QB/DB), Casey Gayle (WR/DB), Marquise Greenhow (RB/DB), Ramone Broomfield (WR/DB), Clevis Towns (WR/DB), Mike Fair (RB/LB), Josh Baker (WR/DB) and Lei'Tonn Backus (WR/DB).
Kevin Greenhow completed 57 of 149 passes for 1,056 yards with 16 touchdowns and five interceptions and rushed 153 times for 712 yards and 13 touchdowns. Fair had 158 yards rushing on 39 carries and Towns was the leading receiver with 19 catches for 322 yards and seven interceptions, with Backus and Broomfield adding 18 and 11 receptions, respectively. Gayle had two interceptions.
Senior Blake McEwen was expected to be the team's No. 1 running back, but he missed most of the season with injuries.
Sophomore David Peoples is expected to be among the team's top skill position players back next year after rushing 67 times for 415 yards and two touchdowns.
Juniors Ne'Tronne Backus (OL/DL) and Paul Hughes (RB/LB) and sophomores Anton Payne (RB/LB) and Takeveyon Simmons (RB/LB) are among others expected to return.
"It was a great group of kids that were hard-working kids, and we really developed some leaders," White said. "As disappointed as we are to not make the playoffs, it was a good year."
Vikings went 4-1 on road but .500 overall
The Northland football team struggled to a 1-4 mark at home and settled for a 5-5 overall finish.
The Vikings went 4-3 in the City-North but lost to the league's top three teams, Beech-croft (41-0 on Oct. 26), Mifflin (13-6 on Oct. 12) and Brook-haven (33-13 on Sept. 22).
"The weirdest thing about our season is that we were 4-1 on the road and only 1-4 at home," coach Kevin Tooson said. "That's just odd that we played better on the road. It was just an up-and-down year, mostly due to the fact that we had a sophomore quarterback. Our top two running backs are also sophomores, so the good thing is that we get two more years with these guys. That inexperience showed itself at times."
Sophomore quarterback Glenn Smith III was 51-for-121 passing for 753 yards with six touchdowns and six interceptions. He also rushed 72 times for 363 yards and seven touchdowns.
Sophomore Nateshawn Hargrove had 516 yards and six touchdowns on 86 rushes and classmate Abu Turay had 577 yards and four scores on 87 carries. Sophomore Sherman Watson was the leading receiver with 23 catches for 269 yards and one score. Junior Jhustus Cornley (WR/DB) is another key player expected to return.
Top seniors included Robbie Darnell (WR/DB) and Brandon Williams (TE/LB).