Throughout their run to a Division III state semifinal, members of the Marion-Franklin High School football team talked about how their leadership and attitude helped them to overcome obstacles week after week.
The Red Devils lost one of their emotional leaders when junior running back and linebacker Alijahwon Tarvin went down with a season-ending injury during a 27-2 win over Brookhaven on Sept. 6.
Marion-Franklin fell to Hartley 28-14 on Sept. 13 but won its next 10 games before losing to defending Division III state champion Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary 17-9 in a state semifinal Nov. 29 at New Philadelphia.
The Red Devils, who made their third state semifinal appearance in five years, finished 12-2.
"Every time (Tarvin) is out there with us, he's still telling us what we need to do," junior linebacker Thomas James said. "His leadership is still there."
The Red Devils, who have qualified for the playoffs and won at least a share of the City League-South Division championship each of the last 10 seasons, opened the postseason with a 34-14 win over Dover on Nov. 8 and defeated Brookhaven 20-19 in a regional semifinal Nov. 15 and Athens 38-7 in the Region 9 final Nov. 22 before falling to St. Vincent-St. Mary.
Marion-Franklin was ranked 11th in the final state poll. St. Vincent-St. Mary was first and Athens was fourth.
"Our kids had a wakeup call from the Brookhaven game," said coach Brian Haffele, who completed his ninth season leading the program. "We played to our potential (against Athens)."
Marion-Franklin drove inside St. Vincent-St. Mary's 20-yard line five times but came away with points only twice, getting a 35-yard field goal by Shawn Thomas in the second quarter and a 16-yard touchdown run by junior quarterback Justin Tyler in the third quarter.
The Irish, who got 181 yards rushing from Ohio State-recruit Parris Campbell, improved to 14-0 and will play Trotwood-Madison in the state final Thursday, Dec. 5, or Friday, Dec. 6.
Among the seniors Marion-Franklin will be losing are standouts Omar Alfred (WR/DB), Willie Barns (RB/LB), Devante Collins (OL/DL), Jhulyis Monroe (RB/DB), Martesse Patterson (OL/DL), Shannon Royster (WR/DB) and Landon Yeartie (WR/DB).
James, Tarvin, Tyler and juniors Shemar Moss (DL) and David Wellborn (RB/LB) are among the key players expected to return.