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New Albany faces defending champs in state semi

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JOHN HULKENBERG/THISWEEKSPORTS
New Albany's Mitchell Van Straten (facing) is all smiles following the Eagles' victory over Marion-Franklin.
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Darron Lee of the New Albany High School football team might have one regret about playing in a Division II state semifinal Friday, Nov. 23.

"I won't get to go shopping," the senior quarterback and defensive back said jokingly during the postgame huddle after the fourth-seeded Eagles defeated third-seeded Marion-Franklin 32-30 on Nov. 16 in the Division II, Region 7 final at Gahanna, earning a showdown with defending state champion Trotwood-Madison at Piqua.

Lee has himself to thank in large part for shopping not being on his day-after-Thanksgiving itinerary. He had an 82-yard punt return for a touchdown, threw two touchdown passes, ran for a 36-yard touchdown and intercepted Red Devils quarterback Corry Benson in the final minute to seal the Eagles' victory.

"Every coach will tell you big players make big plays in big games," New Albany coach Mark Mueller said referring to Lee, an Ohio State recruit. "We had a lot of big plays tonight and so did (Marion-Franklin). Darron came up at the end and made an Ohio State play."

The Eagles, who won their 11th consecutive game after a 0-2 start and claimed their first regional championship since 2006, trailed 16-6 within the first 4 minutes, 16 seconds. Benson had a 2-yard touchdown run, New Albany's Alan Watson answered with a 1-yard scoring run and Marion-Franklin's Darien Williams returned the ensuing kickoff 73 yards for a score.

But the Eagles didn't trail again. Lee threw a 39-yard touchdown pass to Carson Tunney with two minutes left in the first quarter, had his punt return after Marion-Franklin's next possession and threw a 48-yard touchdown pass to Joe Siegenthaler with nine minutes left in the first half for a 26-16 lead.

Lee ran for his score on the third play of the second half, but Marion-Franklin ran 30 of the game's next 36 plays, getting within 32-30 on Joe Alverson's 12-yard touchdown run and a 1-yard scoring run by Alijahwon Tarvin.

"We knew what we were getting ourselves into. It was a rollercoaster," Lee said. "We just had to stay together and hang as a team and we'd come out on top in the end."

In 2006, New Albany defeated DeSales 10-6 in the Division III, Region 12 final and lost to eventual state runner-up Kettering Alter 31-7 in a state semifinal.

Trotwood-Madison, which also is 11-2, won its third consecutive regional championship Nov. 16, beating previously undefeated Cincinnati Turpin 42-14 in the Region 8 final.

The Rams, who defeated Marion-Franklin 47-44 in a state semifinal last year and beat Avon 42-28 in the state championship game, flashed a deep supply of weapons against Turpin. Coach Maurice Douglass started freshman quarterback Messiah DeWeaver, and he threw two touchdown passes to sophomore receiver Ryan Lucas, who had two touchdown catches in the previous 12 games combined. Backup running back Breland Cospy, a sophomore, added a game-tying touchdown run in the second quarter.

DeWeaver is 51-for-99 passing for 759 yards with 11 touchdowns and three interceptions in 10 games. The offense, which runs about 70 percent of the time, is led by 5-foot-8, 202-pound senior running back Isreal Green (1,512 yards and 21 touchdowns on 204 carries) and junior running back Ashton Jackson (996 yards and 19 touchdowns on 116 carries). Senior tight end/linebacker Michael McCray, a Michigan recruit, has 18 catches for 362 yards and four touchdowns.

The Rams have four Division I recruits in cornerbacks Cameron Burrows (Ohio State) and Reon Dawson (Illinois), defensive tackle Jerrod Clements (Illinois) and McCray.

"They remind me a lot of Marion-Franklin, but the big difference is they'll run out of the 'I' (formation)," Mueller said. "They have good receivers if they need them. (Green) can run and he's so physical. They run so many athletes out there at you."

New Albany can rely on its own stable of athletes. Watson has 1,282 yards and 19 touchdowns rushing, Lee has 1,015 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground and junior running back Leslie Anokye has 1,020 yards and nine touchdowns.

The winner will play Aurora (12-1) or Toledo Central Catholic (12-1) in the state final at 7 p.m. Nov. 30 at Paul Brown Tiger Stadium in Massillon.

"We didn't play our best game against Marion-Franklin," Mueller said. "We got caught up in the emotion at times. We still have some things we can work on."

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