The ability to control the line of scrimmage helped the Hartley High School football team beat Liberty Union 14-7 on Nov. 16 at Bloom-Carroll and advance to a fourth consecutive regional final.
A similar effort Saturday, Nov. 23, against Wheelersburg would help the Hawks keep the ball away from one of the most versatile quarterbacks they will face this season.
Through 11 games, senior quarterback Eddie Miller III had completed 166 of 255 passes for 2,387 yards with 28 touchdowns and eight interceptions and had rushed 130 times for 1,090 yards with 17 scores.
Third-seeded Wheelersburg, which defeated second-seeded Martins Ferry 45-0 in a regional semifinal Nov. 16, and top-seeded Hartley both take 11-1 records into the Division V, Region 17 final at Nelsonville-York.
"They're a very skilled team with a lot of very good athletes," Hawks coach Brad Burchfield said of Wheelersburg. "Their quarterback is very good and they have a nice spread offense. They've got pretty good balance."
The winner faces Akron Manchester or Columbiana Crestview in a state semifinal Nov. 30.
Although Hartley never has played Wheelersburg, Burchfield coached against the Pirates in the first round of the Division V, Region 19 playoffs in 2005 when he was Centerburg's coach. Wheelersburg coach Rob Woodward was an assistant that season for the Pirates.
Miller's favorite targets are senior Dylan Miller, who had 72 catches for 1,008 yards and nine touchdowns, and senior Tyler Claxon, who had 57 receptions for 829 yards and 13 scores through 11 games.
Hartley held the ball for 36 minutes, 58 seconds against fifth-seeded Liberty Union and outgained the Lions 323-110 but committed two turnovers, preventing the Hawks from pulling away.
Running back Sam Mackowiak rushed 30 times for 118 yards and one touchdown and quarterback Jared Brandewie was 5-for-9 passing for 45 yards and one score.
Senior Alonzo Saxton (RB/DB) and junior Jalen Austin (DB) each had one interception, and Saxton added a second-quarter touc down catch.
Burchfield praised his defense as well as an offensive line that includes seniors Nick Boeriu, Austin Kirkbride and Max Steele and junior Ben Reis.
Steele is a three-year starter at center who will remember the Liberty Union win from a personal perspective as well. His first cousin, Chase Pettitt, started on the defensive line for Liberty Union.
Steele's mother, Laurie, is a Liberty Union graduate.
"I would call (the game) a good, old-fashioned slugfest," Steele said. "Someone described Liberty Union as small, fast and very angry. They played hard and I have so much respect for them. After the game, my cousin and I embraced and congratulated each other for a great game. I'm very proud to call him family."