A bit of levity helped the Johnstown-Monroe High School football team reach its first state semifinal.

A bit of levity helped the Johnstown-Monroe High School football team reach its first state semifinal.

Trailing by four points with a Division IV regional championship on the line and the Johnnies facing fourth-and-2 at the Coshocton 22-yard line, a clip from the movie "300" was played on the video scoreboard at Zanesville's John D. Sulsberger Memorial Stadium.

The movie recounts the battle of Thermopylae in which 300 Spartan warriors and a small number of allies faced the Persian army, which totaled more than 100,000. The Spartan general gives a rousing speech to his troops, ending with "... this is when we fiiiiight!"

As the rally cry blasted across the stadium, senior tackle Sam Filous looked at his teammates in the huddle and said, "Wait, didn't the Persians kill those guys?"

With the tension broken, the Johnnies broke their huddle. Center Justin Campbell snapped the ball to quarterback Matt Smith, who tucked it into the arms of Ross Franklin. The senior running back burst through the line and went nearly untouched to the end zone for the decisive score with 5 minutes, 20 seconds to play in a 27-24 victory Nov. 19.

"Everyone knows the Spartans lose that battle," Filous said. "I knew that if the game came down to one play, we could make it."

The sixth-ranked Johnnies advanced to play in a state semifinal against Creston Norwayne on Nov. 26 at New Philadelphia. The Johnnies were 13-0 and Creston Norwayne was 12-1.

The winner plays in the state championship game at 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 3, in Massillon Paul Brown Tiger Stadium against Kenton or Clarksville Clinton-Massie. Top-ranked Kenton was 13-0 and Clinton-Massie was 11-2 before their semifinal Nov. 26 at Piqua.

The program's first regional championship was an emotional experience for the Johnnies.

"We told the kids to enjoy it as long as they could, because at 3 (p.m.) on Monday (Nov. 21), we were getting back to work," coach Mike Carter said. "You have to get past that win and work toward the next."

Senior Tyler Deal stood on the goal line of the west end zone at Zanesville, tearing up as he held the regional championship trophy in front of him.

"It was really an emotional moment for all of us," said Deal, who suffered a season-ending concussion during a 62-20 win over East Knox on Oct. 21. "I just wanted to take it all in. It's an amazing feeling to get this far."

Senior tight end and defensive end Harley O'Flaherty said the Johnnies had high expectations, but it still seemed "surreal" to be practicing this far into the season.

"When you think about it, all of the teams in Licking County are done except for us and there are only two other teams left (in the Central District)," he said. "Now we're still out here when it's cold, rainy and windy, but it's fun. We have to keep going and keep playing hard not only for our teammates, but for our coaches, for our school and for our community."

Junior defensive back Nick Sadinsky had an interception in the end zone on Coshocton's opening drive. He said he likes playing in the cold conditions that come with November football.

"I've never played football in weather like this before, but it's a lot of fun," Sadinsky said. "Coach Carter said at the beginning of the season that we would be practicing on Thanksgiving and we're going to be doing that. It's an amazing feeling."

But getting that amazing feeling wasn't easy.

On third down from the Johnstown 20-yard line with 2:30 remaining, Coshocton quarterback Brody Philabaum handed off to halfback Brandon Walker for a pass, but Franklin stayed at home from his defensive-back spot. That forced Walker to run and he was taken down by defensive lineman Joey Dismuke for a 7-yard loss.
That forced a 44-yard field-goal attempt by Evan Johnson, whose kick fell short and wide left with 1:55 to play.

"Coaches have taught us about discipline all year and that play was all about discipline," said Franklin, who rushed for 269 yards and four touchdowns on 38 carries. "I stayed at home and that opened things up for Joey to get to the ball carrier."

"I didn't know what happened," Dismuke said. "I think he was going to pass it and I just saw him run. I just went after the guy with the ball."

Johnstown dominated the first half as Franklin rushed for 173 yards on 21 carries and three touchdowns, but the Johnnies led only 20-10.

Coshocton (10-3) dominated most of the second half by scoring 14 points in the third quarter and keeping the Johnstown offense off the field. The Johnnies had the ball for only 2:30 in the third.

The Redskins scored on a 4-yard run by Brody Bresciani with 4:16 left in the third and Brock Bolden recovered the ensuing onside kick at the Johnnies' 49 to put Coshocton back in business. With 25 seconds left in the quarter, Philabaum hit Dylan Ogle with a 3-yard score to put his team up 24-20.

Johnstown followed with a 14-play, 71-yard drive that took 6:57 off the clock. The Johnnies had two fourth-down conversions on the drive, including Franklin's fourth-and-2 touchdown run from the Redskins' 22.

"We told the kids at halftime that there was going to be adversity and we faced that," Carter said. "We were able to reach way down and make the plays when we needed them most."