Injuries have prevented the Marion-Franklin High School football team from looking as fluid as coach Brian Haffele would like, yet it continues to find ways to win.
During the Red Devils' 20-19 victory over Brookhaven in a Division III, Region 9 semifinal Nov. 15 at Gahanna, senior running back Jhulyis Monroe became the go-to member of the offense and rushed for 132 yards, while quarterback Justin Tyler scored the winning touchdown on an 8-yard run early in the fourth quarter.
Senior Landon Yeartie, who leads the team in rushing attempts and has 11 touchdowns, played sparingly because of an injury.
The Red Devils' next task is top-seeded Athens, which they will meet for the regional championship Friday, Nov. 22, at Logan. The winner plays Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary or Hubbard in a state semifinal Nov. 29.
Second-seeded Marion-Franklin is 11-1 and in a regional final for the third consecutive season.
"(Yeartie) can't run," Haffele said. "He tried to go (against Brookhaven), which showed what kind of kid he is. (Monroe) stepped up. (Monroe) got hurt at the end of the Dover game (which Marion-Franklin won 34-14 in the first round of the playoffs Nov. 8) and made some big plays. We're down to our fourth-string running back and are just getting really banged up."
Athens beat Dresden Tri-Valley 55-52 in overtime Nov. 15 in a regional semifinal to improve to 12-0.
The Bulldogs feature junior quarterback Joe Burrow, who has completed 190 of 257 passes for 3,374 yards with 46 touchdowns and five interceptions.
Junior running back Trae Williams has 1,690 yards and 31 touchdowns rushing. Junior Ryan Luehrman (49 catches for 1,194 yards, 16 touchdowns) and sophomore Heath Wiseman (53 catches for 733 yards, 14 touchdowns) are the top wide receivers.
"They score a ton of points," Haffele said. "I know they've got a really good quarterback whose father (Jimmy Burrow) is the (defensive) coordinator at (Ohio University).
"We have to prepare in practice. If you don't prepare well and have a good practice week, emotionally you're going to struggle."
Bearcats season ends in semifinal
Brookhaven's loss to Marion-Franklin was the final game for 20 seniors, including Division III district Defensive Player of the Year Ne'Tronne Backus (OL/DL).
The Bearcats, however, expect to return several key players, including sophomore quarterback Macyah Fleming, junior running back David Peoples and junior linebacker Takeyvion Simmons.
Brookhaven went 9-3 overall and 7-0 in the City League-North Division to win its first league title since 2009. The Bearcats also earned their first postseason win since 2009, defeating sixth-seeded Chillicothe 29-27 in the first round Nov. 8.
Marion-Franklin ended Brook-haven's season in the playoffs for the third time in five years.
"I'm so proud of these kids," coach Trevor White said. "It started right at that Northland game (which Brook-haven won 29-28 in overtime Sept. 20). If you'd have told me we'd (finish) 9-3 after week three, I would have suggested you check your blood level."
Brookhaven went 1-2 in its non-league schedule, including losing to Marion-Franklin 27-2 on Sept. 6, but won its final seven of the regular season to earn the third seed in Region 9.
Fleming finished 48-for-104 passing for 1,070 yards with 15 touchdowns and six interceptions and was second-team all-district at punter.
Peoples rushed for 1,019 yards and 10 touchdowns and was second-team all-district.
Senior Terry Barker (WR/DB) was special mention all-district with 27 catches for 584 yards with 10 touchdowns. Senior Keandre Powell (WR/DB) had 16 catches for 408 yards and six scores.
Simmons was first-team all-district, while senior Steffen Banks (OL/DL) made second-team all-district on offense and seniors Josh Glaze (OL/DL) and Khaleal Weeks (OL/DL) were second-team all-district on defense.
Juniors Asan Crego (WR/DB), Anton Payne (RB/LB) and Steven Pelletier (OL/DL) are others eligible to return.