Tygers (11-0) Eagles (10-1)
Trey Quillin of the New Albany High School football team has played some defense all season, but the senior fullback/end had his name called more than usual in the Eagles' 35-21 win over visiting Northland in a Division II, Region 5 first-round playoff game Nov. 8.
Jalen Ward has contributed as a cornerback, but he virtually sealed the win with a 38-yard touchdown run with 9 minutes, 23 seconds left. Quarterback Tanner Cline made a critical block at about the Vikings' 15-yard line to set Ward free.
A 67-yard run in the first quarter by senior Tyrell Howard, a cornerback who volunteered to play on offense, did not lead to an Eagles touchdown but helped set the tone as New Albany amassed 410 of its 415 total yards on the ground.
With injuries impacting almost every position on both sides of the ball, coach Pat Samanich is mixing and matching across the board as his team seeks to lengthen its season. New Albany, which is 10-1 and the top seed in Region 5, plays fourth-seeded and 11-0 Mansfield Senior at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 15, at Olentangy Liberty.
"It's all hands on deck," Samanich said. "Tyrell said he'd play receiver and just run down the field and do whatever we need. He's an amazing young man. O.B. (Oppong) stepped in and ran the counter really well."
Among the Eagles' injured players is senior receiver/safety Joe Siegenthaler, who Samanich hopes will return this week. Senior running back Leslie Anokye has seen limited time all year because of an ankle injury, and senior linebacker Hayden Hatten tweaked his ankle in the first half against eighth-seeded Northland.
"I know I'll have to play a big part on both sides of the ball, but whatever it is -- blocking, running the ball, tackling -- I'll do it to help the team to win," Quillin said. "I have to step up. I'll be ready."
Oppong, a senior running back and defensive back, had touchdown runs of 36 and 48 yards in the second quarter against Northland and finished with 110 yards rushing on just five carries.
The Eagles lost four of six fumbles, and Cline was intercepted once as Northland scored 21 unanswered points in the third quarter after trailing 28-0. Ward, a junior, gave New Albany much-needed breathing room with his long run.
"When my name is called to step up, I just step up and play," Ward said. "I just saw this wide-open hole, I took it and I was gone."
This will be the first meeting between New Albany and Mansfield, which defeated fifth-seeded Licking Heights 24-0 on Nov. 8. The winner plays second-seeded Worthington Kilbourne or third-seeded Zanesville in the regional final Nov. 22.
Samanich said previous games against Westerville Central, Olentangy and Northland will help the Eagles prepare for the Tygers' spread offense. Mansfield, which had its first undefeated regular season and is averaging 38.9 points, is led by senior quarterback Jalen Reese and senior receivers Robert Jones and Chekiah Washington.
Reese is the first quarterback in school history to top 2,000 yards passing in a season and Washington is the first receiver to surpass 1,000 yards in a season.
The 6-foot-7 Jones missed six weeks because of wrist surgery but returned against Licking Heights and caught three touchdown passes.
The Tygers held Licking Heights to 149 total yards in posting their third shutout of the season. Top defensive players include 6-0, 270-pound junior end Jacquile Fletcher, senior defensive lineman Traevon Dickerson and Washington, who also is a cornerback.
Samanich was an assistant at Mansfield in 1994, the year after Tygers coach Chioke Bradley graduated, but he saw Bradley play in several games in 1993 while former Eagles coach Mark Mueller was an assistant coach there.
"It's going to be a lot of fun going home, if you will," Samanich said. "Stan Jefferson, who is now at Ohio State (as the football program's director of player development), got me my first coaching job up there. That's a special place. And Chioke, ... he's a great coach and he has them playing lights out right now."