Because DeSales missed the postseason this fall after reaching the playoffs each of the past 18 years, the Marion-Franklin High School football team now holds central Ohio's longest-running streak of consecutive playoff appearances at nine.
That's a fact that's not lost on coach Brian Haffele, particularly during a challenging regular season this fall.
The Red Devils are 9-1 overall and finished 7-0 in the City League-South Division. marking the ninth consecutive season in which they earned at least a share of the league championship. They had to overcome injuries to several key players and a young defense to accomplish those feats.
Marion-Franklin, which beat Columbus South 43-21 on Oct. 26 in its regular-season finale and has won 26 consecutive league games, is seeded third for the Division II, Region 7 playoffs.
The Red Devils open the postseason Friday, Nov. 2, against visiting Licking Heights, which is 10-0. The winner plays Zanesville or Canal Winchester in a regional semifinal Nov. 9.
"The kids have all matured a lot this year," Haffele said. "It wasn't the year we thought we'd have, but every team has a different identity. We've had to deal with the injury bug and some guys having to go two ways. We're starting to get there. They understand this time of year. Last year we didn't start to explode on offense until the playoffs."
Marion-Franklin went 13-1 a year ago and advanced to a state semifinal before losing to eventual champion Trotwood-Madison 47-44. The Red Devils averaged 42.5 points during their four postseason games a year ago.
A third-year starter at quarterback, Corry Benson was limited to seven games during the regular season. He is 58-for-115 passing for 987 yards with 11 touchdowns and three interceptions and has rushed for 526 yards and six touchdowns.
During his absence, Joe Alverson completed 10 of 24 passes for 252 yards with seven touchdown and four interceptions. Alverson is Marion-Franklin's leading rusher with 574 yards and six touchdowns.
Jaron Dukes, who has verbally committed to the University of Michigan, has 26 catches for 387 yards and six touchdowns. Darien Williams has 17 receptions for 393 yards and six scores.
Marion-Franklin's defense, which features senior lineman Shevone Hairston, sophomore linebackers Michael Champion, Alijahwon Tarvin and David Wilborn and sophomore lineman Shemar Moss, will try to stop a Licking Heights offense that is averaging 36.8 points.
Running backs David Lancaster and Josh Ausberry combined for about 200 yards rushing in Licking Heights' 53-0 win over Fisher Catholic on Oct. 26. Wide receivers Jake Foley and Luke Langkamp and quarterback Taylor Curtiss are other key players on offense for the Hornets, who posted their first undefeated regular season.
Curtiss, Foley and Chuckie Aitken all are key players on defense for Licking Heights.
"Corry and his class have played in a lot of playoff games," said Haffele, whose team played 10 playoff games the past three seasons, including four in both 2009 and last season. "We're starting a lot of young guys on defense and we're happy with how our defense is coming along. I've heard (Licking Heights likes) to play power football with a lot of double tight (end) formations and that they have a big offensive line. Everyone's good at this time of year, and they're 10-0, so that's better than us. It speaks to something they're doing."
Cougars win title, return to playoffs
Beechcroft was the only other City League football team to make the playoffs.
The Cougars are the fifth seed in the Division II, Region 7 playoffs and open Friday, Nov. 2, at fourth-seeded New Albany. The winner plays Dresden Tri-Valley or New Carlisle Tecumseh in a regional semifinal Nov. 9.
Beechcroft, which improved to 8-1 with a 41-0 win over Northland on Oct. 26, is in the postseason for the second consecutive season. New Albany is 8-2 and has won eight consecutive games.
In the first round of the Region 7 playoffs last season, the Cougars lost 14-7 to Big Walnut, which competes in the OCC-Capital Division along with New Albany.
Coach Bruce Ward hopes his team's experience from that game and its game against Dublin Jerome on Aug. 31 will help the Cougars in the postseason this year. Beechcroft beat the Celtics 18-10 in week two in what effectively was its opener after not playing in week one.
Even though it finished 4-6, Jerome lost its last two games in overtime and had one of the area's top running backs in Donovan Wilson, a Georgia Tech recruit.
"Most of the City teams are cut from the same cloth, and to experience playing OCC teams helps," Ward said. "To prove yourself against a team from the OCC is big for us. There were a couple games that Jerome could have won easily. We talk about how we can play with anybody, but it's big for our mental psyche because all you hear around central Ohio is 'OCC, OCC.'"
Beechcroft captured its third consecutive City-North championship with its win over Northland.
Khaleed Franklin had two touchdown catches and returned an interception for a touchdown, and quarterback Maurice Hale rushed for two touchdowns and threw for one against the Vikings.
Hale rushed for 243 yards and three touchdowns in a 20-0 win over Brookhaven on Oct. 19 but also has thrown for more than 1,600 yards.
"We've had some rough weather and we're a passing team, so it wreaks havoc with our game plan a little," Ward said. "We've been able to run the ball well. I'm happy with the way we've been playing. I can't complain. We'll see how far it takes us.
"I told Maurice (during the Northland game) that when it isn't raining too hard that we'd try to pass it more. The ball is slippery and heavy, which makes it tough. I think he only threw nine or 10 times against Brookhaven, but we did put a bigger emphasis on the passing game against Northland."
Seasons end for 14 City football teams
Walnut Ridge and Brookhaven finished ninth and 10th, respectively, in Region 7 to narrowly miss reaching the postseason, as the top eight teams in each region qualified for the playoffs.
Both the Scots and Bearcats finished 7-3, as did Mifflin, which was 14th in Region 7.
Beechcroft went 7-0 in the City-North, followed by Brookhaven (6-1), Mifflin (5-2), Northland (4-3), Whetstone (3-4), Columbus East (2-5), Centennial (1-6) and Linden-McKinley (0-7).
In the City-South, Marion-Franklin was followed by Walnut Ridge (6-1), Eastmoor Academy (5-2), Independence (4-3), Columbus West (3-4), South (2-5), Briggs (1-6) and Africentric (0-7).
Eastmoor and Independence both went 6-4 and placed 10th and 12th, respectively, in Division III, Region 10. East was 5-5 and placed 15th in Region 10.