Marion-Franklin up next for New Albany
The New Albany High School football team wanted a little time to celebrate finally defeating nemesis Dresden Tri-Valley 42-35 in a Division II, Region 7 semifinal Nov. 9 at Zanesville.
It wasn't long, however, before the Eagles found out they would get no respite in the regional final Friday, Nov. 16, at Gahanna.
Fourth-seeded New Albany, winners of 10 consecutive games after a 0-2 start, will take on a third-seeded Marion-Franklin team that also has won 10 in a row and whose offense averages 37.7 points.
"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. "Like I said, I lost 10 years of my life watching our defense play (against Tri-Valley).
"(Marion-Franklin has) some great athletes, a great quarterback, so we'll have to be ready to go."
The Eagles, who had been eliminated by top-seeded and previously unbeaten Tri-Valley the past two years -- 30-27 in double overtime in 2010 and 24-7 last year -- are just glad they're around to cope with the stress.
"They should be 12-0," Marion-Franklin coach Brian Haffele said. "They lost that overtime game to Westerville Central (23-20 on Aug. 31) and the Reynoldsburg game (10-9 loss Aug. 24) could have gone either way. They pummeled (Division I playoff qualifier) Olentangy (33-14 on Oct. 4) and pretty much ran through their league."
The Eagles went 7-0 in the OCC-Capital Division to win their fourth consecutive league championship.
New Albany hasn't advanced this far in the playoffs since 2006, when it won the program's first regional championship and lost to Kettering Alter 31-7 in a Division III state semifinal. That was the Eagles' third consecutive trip to the playoffs, and they didn't return until 2010.
Marion-Franklin is seeking its third regional championship in four years. Last year, the Red Devils lost 47-44 to eventual champion Trotwood-Madison in a Division II state semifinal.
The Eagles advanced to the regional final despite running only 39 plays to the Scotties' 92. But New Albany helped that disparity by needing only 35 rushes to amass 430 yards, 227 of those coming from senior running back Alan Watson on 14 carries. Watson scored from 71, 21 and 68 yards and added an 88-yard kickoff return to raise his season totals to 1,224 yards rushing and 21 touchdowns.
"We have a great trifecta back there and when the blocking is as good as it was (Nov. 9), things just open up," said quarterback Darron Lee, who also plays defensive back and is an Ohio State recruit.
Lee has 940 yards and nine touchdowns rushing, including scores of 85 and 61 yards against Tri-Valley, and has returned two punts for touchdowns. Junior Leslie Anokye has rushed for 950 yards and nine touchdowns.
"They have great technique and their offensive line blocks so well that they get on top of the defensive line quickly," Haffele said. "If they hit a few creases, good luck catching them."
The Red Devils' only loss was to last year's Division I state runner-up, Pickerington Central, 45-24 on Aug. 31. They have been on a roll since, the latest win being a 44-14 rout of seventh-seeded Canal Winchester in the other Region 7 semifinal Nov. 9 at Hamilton Township.
Marion-Franklin quarterback Corry Benson rushed for 112 yards and two touchdowns and was 12-for-20 passing for 133 yards and three scores. The Red Devils' defense capitalized on three Canal Winchester turnovers, blocked a punt and thwarted an attempted fake punt.
On the first play from scrimmage, Marion-Franklin's Joe Alverson, who has seen time at wide receiver, running back and quarterback, took a handoff from Benson, ran toward the right sideline and passed to Darien Williams for a 55-yard touchdown. Benson then ran in the two-point conversion.
Benson has completed 84 of 145 passes for 1,355 yards with 13 touchdowns and four interceptions and rushed for 632 yards and 11 touchdowns on 49 carries. Alverson has rushed for 618 yards and eight touchdowns on 67 carries and caught 19 passes for 338 yards and two scores.
Benson's other top receivers are Williams (24 catches, 508 yards, 7 touchdowns), senior Jaron Dukes (31 catches, 453 yards, 8 touchdowns) and junior Landon Yeartie (16 catches, 277 yards, 3 touchdowns).
The winner plays Cincinnati Turpin or Trotwood-Madison in a state semifinal Nov. 23 at a site to be announced.