Worthington Kilbourne High School football coach Vince Trombetti knows his team faces a stern test when it plays undefeated Zanesville in a Division II, Region 5 semifinal Friday, Nov. 15, at Gahanna.
Zanesville is seeded third in the region behind top-seeded New Albany and the second-seeded Wolves but was ranked first in the final state poll. The Blue Devils opened the playoffs with a convincing 38-0 win over sixth-seeded St. Charles on Nov. 8 to improve to 11-0.
"The matchups are very, very intriguing," Trombetti said. "They put eight defenders in the box and we're running the triple-option. On the other side of the ball, they like to sling it around, but they run well, too, and they score in bunches. But our defense has been lights-out."
Kilbourne also rolled in its playoff opener, beating seventh-seeded Dublin Scioto 38-3 on Nov. 8 at home to improve to 10-1 and avenge its only loss. The Wolves, who finished 10th in the state poll, have won 10 in a row since losing to Scioto 22-21 on Aug. 30 in the "Battle of Hard Road."
Kilbourne's winning streak also includes a victory over New Albany. The Wolves defeated the Eagles 14-12 on Oct. 25 en route to winning the OCC-Capital Division championship.
New Albany was ranked first in the state at the time and slipped to seventh in the final poll.
"We beat the top team in the state poll and in our region a few weeks ago, so our kids won't be in awe of (Zanesville's state ranking)," Trombetti said. "Plus, we just avenged our only loss when we beat (Scioto) and we showed how much better we are, especially on defense.
"I did hear somewhere that Zanesville is predicted to win it all, so I guess if we beat them, we'll take over those expectations."
The semifinal winner will play New Albany (10-1) or fourth-seeded Mansfield Senior (11-0) in the regional final Nov. 22 at a site to be determined.
The Wolves are making their first postseason appearance since 2008, whereas Zanesville, New Albany and Mansfield Senior all made the playoffs a year ago.
Zanesville is averaging 51.4 points, having scored 70 or more points twice and 49 or more points eight times. Its two lowest point totals came against Division III playoff teams in New Philadelphia (28-14 on Oct. 11) and Dover (35-14 on Oct. 18).
The Blue Devils' offense is led by quarterback Thomas Wibbeler, who has completed 163 of 244 passes for 2,938 yards with 42 touchdowns and six interceptions. His top targets are wide receivers Dar Stanford (52 receptions, 959 yards, 12 touchdowns), J.T. McFarland (45 catches, 784 yards, 9 TDs) and Granger Long (26 catches, 510 yards, 13 TDs).
Running back Jamal Gladden has rushed for 1,113 yards and 17 touchdowns on 146 carries.
Against St. Charles, Wibbeler was 16-for-20 for 274 yards and five touchdowns. McFarland had 10 catches for 141 yards and two scores and Gladden ran for 103 yards on 24 carries and had a 24-yard touchdown reception.
The Blue Devils outgained the Cardinals 434-147 in total yards.
"Their quarterback does a great job getting the open guy the ball," Trombetti said. "He gets rid of the ball quickly, so it's hard to get pressure on him. The receivers run great routes. To combat that, we're going to have to mix our coverages and try to confuse them or at least make him hold the ball a little longer so our defensive line can create pressure."
Zanesville's defense, which includes Gladden, McFarland and Stanford in the secondary, linebacker Tristan Rock and linemen David Johnson and Long, is allowing an average of nine points and has posted three consecutive shutouts. The Blue Devils have not allowed more than 17 points in any game this year.
Kilbourne's defense, which includes linebackers Josh Happ, Daniel Stricker and Taylor Wilson, lineman Gavin Elifritz and defensive backs Chandler Bridges, Dominic Brown and Seth Hill, is holding opponents to 10.1 points per game.
The Wolves, who have allowed 22 total points over the last four games, held Scioto to 73 total yards and forced six turnovers, including five interceptions.
Wilson intercepted two passes, returning one 10 yards for a score and the other 50 yards to set up a touchdown. His first interception gave Kilbourne a 7-3 lead in the second quarter.
Bridges had an interception and forced a fumble that was recovered by Brown, who also had an interception.
The Wolves pressured Scioto quarterback Nathan Densel throughout the game. In addition to his five interceptions, Densel completed just five of 23 passes for 19 yards and was sacked five times.
Kilbourne, which is averaging 33.5 points, scored three touchdowns on offense against Scioto. Bridges caught a 5-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Griffin Dahn, running back Justin Stoner scored on a 3-yard run and running back Keaton Reinhart scored on a 40-yard run.
The Wolves also got a 34-yard field goal from Grant Chesser.
Stoner is Kilbourne's leading rusher with 940 yards and 15 touchdowns on 167 carries. Dahn has completed 60 of 128 passes for 998 yards with 11 touchdowns and six interceptions and has rushed for 604 yards and five scores on 138 carries, and Hill (15 catches, 267 yards) and Reinhart (13 catches, 267 yards, 2 TDs) are the Wolves' leading receivers.
Kilbourne had turnover problems of its own in its playoff opener, losing three fumbles.
"We won't be able to get away with three turnovers against Zanesville," Trombetti said. "That won't be acceptable this week. The good news is that our defense stepped up and only allowed a field goal when we lost one fumble deep in our own territory."