New Albany High School football coach Pat Samanich needed only a few hours of film study to realize that Northland will be a formidable opponent in the first round of the Division II, Region 5 playoffs.
The top seed in the region, the Eagles play host to the eighth-seeded Vikings on Friday, Nov. 8, marking the fourth consecutive year that New Albany has had a home game in the opening round of the postseason.
The New Albany-Northland winner will play fourth-seeded Mansfield Senior or fifth-seeded Licking Heights in a regional semifinal Nov. 15 at a site to be determined.
"They're very athletic and can get their athletes good looks in space," Samanich said of Northland. "You have to get to them with 11 guys (defensively) and put your hats on them. They're quick and we have to be ready. That does sound like us somewhat, but they spread the field like Olentangy and make you defend everything. We have to be very careful with our responsibilities."
New Albany is coming off an up-and-down three-week stretch in which it went 2-1. The Eagles eked out a 13-10 road win over then-winless Big Walnut on Oct. 18 and lost to Worthington Kilbourne 14-12 on Oct. 25 at home before edging host Mount Vernon 17-14 in their regular-season finale Nov. 1 to improve to 9-1 overall.
The Yellow Jackets started 6-2 but lost their final two contests.
New Albany finished 6-1 in the OCC-Capital Division to place second to Kilbourne (7-0), but the win over Mount Vernon catapulted the Eagles to the region's top seed. The Wolves are the second seed.
Northland earned a playoff berth despite losing to City League-North rival Beechcroft 17-14 on Nov. 1 to drop to 7-2. The Vikings led 14-10 in the final minutes before giving up the winning touchdown on a 7-yard pass.
Versatile senior Jhustus Cornley had an 81-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and senior running back Nateshawn Hargrove scored on a 6-yard run to give Northland the lead in the third quarter.
"Whether it's in the college, high school or professional ranks, you have to know that you can do something great (a week after a loss)," Northland coach Kevin Tooson said. "We've just got to refocus and come out swinging. We just weren't in sync and Beechcroft had a little bit to do with that. When I went back to look at the film, I saw that it was missed assignments that contributed to us not moving the ball well. We didn't get as many offensive threats as we needed and we had two turnovers."
Northland, whose only other playoff appearance came in 2010, is averaging 39.8 points and allowing an average of 18.6. New Albany, which is making its fourth consecutive playoff appearance and seventh overall, is averaging 31.4 points and allowing 16.4.
According to Samanich, the Eagles will not have wide receiver and defensive back Joe Siegenthaler against Northland. He sustained a knee injury in the second quarter against Kilbourne and sat out the game against Mount Vernon.
Siegenthaler has been a key cog for New Albany all season, catching 26 passes for 510 yards and five touchdowns, rushing for 204 yards and two scores on 15 carries and making four interceptions on defense.
The Eagles' ground game is led by senior running back Trey Quillin, who has rushed for 626 yards and 12 touchdowns on 104 carries. There are eight players on their roster with at least 100 yards rushing.