Commentary

Area football squads set for battle in regional final

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Seven area high school football teams will be seeking regional championships and state tournament berths this weekend.

If you like offense, the most intriguing matchup pits New Albany against Marion-Franklin in the Division II, Region 7 final at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 16, at Gahanna. The Division I, Region 3 final between Pickerington North and Hilliard Davidson at 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 17, at Ohio Wesleyan University should be entertaining as well.

New Albany lost its first two games but is 10-2. The fourth-seeded Eagles outscore opponents by an average of 34.9 to 16.4 per game.

The third-seeded Red Devils are 11-1 and outscore opponents 37.7 to 15.6.

The Eagles defeated top-seeded and previously unbeaten Dresden Tri-Valley 42-35 in a semifinal Nov. 9 at Zanesville. The Scotties entered the game averaging 48.5 points and allowing 10.6, but New Albany used its quick-strike running game to score quickly and prevented Tri-Valley from long gains.

But now the Eagles will face an even quicker and more athletic offense guided by quarterback Corry Benson, who is healthy and looking like the player who led the Red Devils to state last season before they lost to eventual champion Trotwood-Madison 47-44 in a semifinal.

The Red Devils advanced by beating Canal Winchester 44-14 on Nov. 9.

"Great, that means I won't get any sleep again (this) week because I'm in charge of our defense," New Albany coach Mark Mueller said when he found out Marion-Franklin would be his team's next opponent. "Like I said, I lost 10 years of my life watching our defense play (against Dresden Tri-Valley).

"(Marion-Franklin has) some great athletes, a great quarterback, so we'll have to be ready to go."

Both teams have playoff experience. Marion-Franklin is playing in the postseason for the ninth consecutive season, and this is New Albany's third season in a row in the playoffs.

In the last two postseasons, the Eagles lost to Tri-Valley. Last season, Tri-Valley won 24-7 in a regional semifinal before losing to Marion-Franklin 48-42 in overtime.

New Albany and Marion-Franklin have not played a common opponent this season, but against Tri-Valley, the Eagles showed just how much they have progressed since last fall.

The Eagles scored on an 88-yard kickoff return and on five drives. The longest of those drives was three plays, and all five drives were concluded in 60 seconds or less.

Tri-Valley's prolific offense had one play result in more than 20 yards. And the Scotties had several chances for big plays, considering they held a 92-39 advantage in plays from scrimmage.

That being said, the Red Devils have a better mix of run and pass than pass-first Tri-Valley.

The winner could be the first one to 42 points.

*In Region 3, the first to double digits could be the winner.

Relying on seeding, the North-Davidson final seemed unlikely. However, the contest is not really surprising.

North was by no means only the fourth-best team in Region 3 and Davidson, once again, is Davidson after a sluggish start.

The seventh-seeded Wildcats have reeled off eight consecutive wins after opening 2-2 and are in the postseason for the fifth consecutive season.

North, which is in the playoffs for the second time, is having its best season and checked off several items from its wish list this season, like beating Pickerington Central for the first time -- and then beating the Tigers again to open the playoffs.

But Davidson, which advanced with a 29-14 win over Olentangy on Nov. 10, remains the program others would like to emulate.

The teams have played two common opponents, Hilliard Darby and Grove City.

Darby beat Davidson 17-3 on Aug. 31 and lost to North 24-14 in a regional semifinal Nov. 10. The Wildcats beat Grove City 26-14 in the opener Aug. 24, and the Panthers lost to Grove City 13-10 in the regular-season finale Oct. 26.

*The other area teams seeking state berths are Hartley, Johnstown and Newark Catholic. All will play at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 16.

Top-seeded Hartley (12-0) faces second-seeded Ottawa-Glandorf (12-0) at Piqua in Division IV, Region 14. Third-seeded Johnstown (10-2) plays top-seeded St. Clairsville (10-2) at Zanesville in Division IV, Region 15.

Second-seeded Newark Catholic (10-2) will play top-seeded Danville (11-1) at Westerville Central in Division VI, Region 23.

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