The Marion-Franklin High School football team didn’t flinch against high-powered Athens in the Division III, Region 9 championship game Nov. 22 at Logan.
So who’s to say that the Red Devils will be overwhelmed when they face an Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary team that is the defending state champion and has a pair of Ohio State recruits leading the way?
On Friday, Nov. 29, at New Philadelphia, Marion-Franklin will attempt to show that its 38-7 shutdown of Athens -- which had been averaging 58.3 points -- was no fluke.
“We know what we’re up against this week, but we’re not going to be intimidated,” coach Brian Haffele said. “We’ve got some athletes that can hit people.”
“We’re feeling pretty good, and I feel like we’re ready for the next game,” junior linebacker Thomas James said.
While the Devils are 12-1 and are in a state semifinal for the third time in five seasons, St. Vincent-St. Mary beat Bellevue 42-21 for the championship last season and has made five consecutive playoff appearances.
The Irish also have won 19 consecutive games, including beating Hubbard 40-7 in the Region 7 final Nov. 22 at Ravenna.
Senior running back Parris Campbell and senior linebacker Dante Booker, who each have verbally committed to play for Ohio State, led the way against Hubbard. Booker had seven tackles and Campbell rushed for 205 yards and three touchdowns.
In the Northeast Inland District, Campbell was the Offensive Player of the Year and Booker was the Defensive Player of the Year.
Others who made first-team all-district for the Irish were senior defensive linemen Aaron Adkins and Tony Adkins, senior linebacker Newman Williams and junior punter Sean Devany.
Athens quarterback Joe Burrow entered the regional final after throwing for 46 touchdowns and more than 3,000 yards, but the Red Devils intercepted him twice and sacked him six times.
It was a much more satisfying finish for Marion-Franklin after it struggled to get by Brookhaven 20-19 in a regional semifinal Nov. 15.
“We were just way more focused in practice (heading into the Athens game),” James said. “I think (against Brookhaven) we just took it easy because we blew them away (27-2 on Sept. 6). I feel like we were very aggressive.”
Against Athens, senior running back Shannon Royster rushed for a season-best 101 yards with three touchdowns and senior quarterback Justin Tyler ran for a season-best 191 yards with two scores.
Senior Landon Yeartie, who has been used at running back, slot receiver and in the wildcat but battled injuries earlier in the postseason, rushed for 62 yards.
David Wellborn (LB) and Omar Alfred (DB) each had interceptions.
St. Vincent-St. Mary, meanwhile, scored 16 third-quarter points to pull away from Hubbard.
Senior quarterback Aaron Bushner completed seven of 14 passes for 100 yards. He complemented an offense led by Campbell, who rushed for 141 yards on 10 first-half carries.
The Irish finished with 367 yards of offense and forced two turnovers on defense.
“They’ve got a couple kids going to Ohio State, they’re undefeated and their No. 1 in the state,” Haffele said. “Our kids work their tails off in the offseason and expect to be playing this time of year. It’s kind of remarkable, especially with the resources we have.
“They’re winners and they believe in themselves. We’ve got some athletes that can hit people. We were just the more physically dominant team against Athens.”