Division III, Region 9

Marion-Franklin 38, Athens 7

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LOGAN — This was supposed to be the season Marion-Franklin had to rebuild its foundation after a great senior class left the building.

Even after a 10th straight City League South championship, some were predicting a short stay in the playoffs. But look who is holding a regional championship trophy for the third time since 2009.

Shannon Royster had touchdown runs of 40, 34 and 7 yards and the defense sacked Athens’ Joe Burrow six times and intercepted him twice as the Red Devils sailed to a 38-7 victory in a Division III regional title game in front of a crowd of approximately 2,500 last night.

Marion-Franklin (12-1) advanced to play Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, a defending state champion, in a state semifinal at a site to be determined.

Burrow had passed for 3,374 yards and 46 touchdowns in leading Athens (12-1) to an average of 57.5 points a game. But he seldom had time to throw against a tough, fast and athletic defense.

“That quarterback is legit — he throws it as good as anyone I’ve coached against — but we thought we could take away his wideouts,’’ Red Devils coach Brian Haffele said. “Our kids expected to be here. They expected to win.

“We won’t back down from anyone.’’

Quarterback Justin Tyler gave Marion-Franklin a 6-0 lead with 2:17 left in the first quarter on a 20-yard run to cap a seven-play, 83-yard drive.

Jhulyis Monroe and Tyler had 26- and 25-yard runs, respectively. The extra-point attempt was blocked.

The Red Devils made it 12-0 with a 90-yard drive in which they converted two third downs. The clincher was a 40-yard touchdown run by Royster up the middle. He slipped a tackle at the 15-yard line.

“We just had to make plays,” Royster said. “We had to put guys in the right spots. We practiced well all week for this. You practice how you play. We were a determined team.”

Burrow moved the ball a bit, but mostly was flushed out of the pocket by the front seven.

Linebacker David Wellborn ended one set of downs by leaping at the line of scrimmage and intercepting a pass in the first quarter.

The second interception, by cornerback Omar Alfred in the end zone with 8.7 seconds left in the first half, stuffed the Bulldogs after they had first-and-goal at the 4-yard line. Alfred took the ball away from receiver Ryan Luehrman.

“We were man-to-man across the board on that play,” Alfred said. “I took the ball away from him. We knocked the receivers off their routes all night. We played physical, too. That’s our motto.”

Defensive lineman Austin Dent batted down a pass on first down, Burrow was stopped for no gain on a draw on second down and a pass was incomplete on third down.

Dent thought Marion-Franklin could pressure Burrow because of its size and speed.

“It was talent, but we also had the will and dedication,” he said. “We knew we had to put pressure on him. He’s a good quarterback. I will say that. But we worked hard.”

Haffele said the groundwork was laid during the week in practice. The coaches challenged the players after what they thought was an uninspired performance in a 20-19 victory over Brookhaven.

“I’m so proud of our defensive players and coaches,” he said. “They had a heck of a game plan. I'm a big believer in practice. Our kids bought in.’’

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Team 1 2 3 4 Final
MARION-FRANKLIN 6 6 14 12 38
ATHENS 0 0 0 7 7

MF -- Taylor 20-yard run (kick failed)
MF -- Royster 40-yard run (run failed)
MF -- Monroe 4-yard run (Thomas kick)
MF -- Royster 34-yard run (Thomas kick)
MF -- Royster 8-yard run (run failed)
A -- Luehrman 19-yard pass from Burrow (Orr kick)
MF -- Taylor 20-yard run (kick failed)

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