Canal Winchester High School football coach Shawn Hinkle is optimistic that his team's spread offense will fare better against Marion-Franklin in the teams' second meeting this season than it did in the first.
The Indians and Red Devils meet in a Division II, Region 7 semifinal on Friday, Nov. 9, at Hamilton Township. Marion-Franklin won 28-3 on Sept. 7 at home, outgaining the Indians 372-88 in total yards.
Canal Winchester rushed for only 16 yards on 25 carries and quarterback Isaac Pifer was just 2-for-14 passing for 61 yards in that contest. However, the Indians played without one of their two top running backs in John Franklin, who missed the contest with an injury. Franklin, who has 867 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns, returned to the lineup the next game and the Indians haven't lost since.
Seeded seventh in the region, Canal Winchester extended its winning streak to eight games with a 21-16 win at second-seeded Zanesville on Nov. 2 to improve to 9-2. Franklin rushed for 86 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries and running back Jaquan Ransome ran for 77 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries.
Marion-Franklin, the third seed, rolled to a 46-14 win over sixth-seeded Licking Heights in its playoff opener Nov. 2 to improve to 10-1.
The semifinal winner will play top-seeded Dresden Tri-Valley (11-0) or fourth-seeded New Albany (9-2) in the regional final Nov. 16 at a site to be determined.
"Our kids have progressed and we're a much better team than we were in week three," Hinkle said. "Our quarterback and wide receivers are a lot better than they were then, and having our 220-pound tailback (Franklin) healthy for this game should help, too. I'm sure that Marion-Franklin has improved since then, too, so it will be interesting to see which team has improved more."
Pifer steadily has improved his accuracy, according to Hinkle, and Ransome has rushed for 1,029 yards and 16 touchdowns to give the Indians' running game a solid one-two punch.
Hinkle said the Indians will need to keep the Red Devils' defense off balance in order to be more effective than they were in the first meeting.
Marion-Franklin's defense, which has forced 24 turnovers, is led by lineman Shevone Hairston (6 sacks), back Jhulyis Monroe (4 sacks) and linebackers Thomas James (1 interception, 2 fumble recoveries) and Alijahwon Tarvin (2 interceptions, 1 fumble recovery).
"Defensively, they're very big up front and they're solid everywhere," Hinkle said. "This time around, we have to control the football with sustained drives. We did a horrible job of that the last time we played Marion-Franklin, but our entire offense has improved since then."
Nose guard DeOntaye Cosby said the Indians' 3-5 defense needs to put pressure on Red Devils quarterback Corry Benson, who has completed 58 of 115 passes for 987 yards with 11 touchdowns and three interceptions and has rushed for 526 yards and seven scores on 110 carries.
After being hampered by a shoulder injury for part of the season, Benson shined against Licking Heights, completing 26 of 30 passes for 366 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for 111 yards and four touchdowns on 15 carries.
Benson's targets include wide receivers Jaron Dukes (26 receptions, 387 yards, 7 touchdowns), Darien Williams (17 catches, 393 yards, 7 touchdowns) and Landon Yeartie (12 catches, 216 yards, 3 touchdowns).
Running back Joe Alverson is the Red Devils' leading rusher with 574 yards and seven touchdowns on 62 carries.
In the teams' first meeting, Benson completed 13 of 26 passes for 222 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 71 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. Dukes had six catches for 92 yards and a score and Yeartie had five catches for 105 yards and two touchdowns.
Against Zanesville, Cosby had three sacks, four tackles for loss and forced a fumble, as Canal Winchester forced three turnovers.
The win over the Blue Devils was just the second in eight playoff games for the Indians, who defeated Germantown Valley View 17-16 in the first round of the Division III, Region 12 playoffs in 2007.
"It feels great to finally win another playoff game because we've all worked hard for it," Cosby said.
Leading Canal Winchester's defense in the first meeting with Marion-Franklin were linebacker Nick Toledo (9 tackles), Cosby (8 tackles) and linebacker Lamont Martin (7 tackles, 1 sack).
"Benson is the best dual-threat quarterback we've seen all year," Hinkle said. "He's elusive and he can run as well as he throws, but we need to put pressure on him. We shut them out in the first half the last time we played them, but our offense didn't have the ball very long and we got worn down in the fourth quarter. As long as our offense performs well and gives us enough rest, I think we'll play well on defense, too."