Behind a defense that continues to be solid, the Eastmoor Academy football team managed to navigate through three rounds of the playoffs despite being forced to overcome a series of injuries.
That unit figures to be tested in multiple ways Friday, Nov. 23, when the Warriors travel to New Philadelphia to face Chagrin Falls Kenston in a Division III state semifinal.
Kenston dominated top-seeded Canfield 33-7 on Nov. 16 to win the Region 9 championship. A strong ground game led by junior running back Jack Porter and steady passing from junior quarterback Jon Tomcufcik propelled the second-seeded Bombers.
Eastmoor, which like Kenston is 12-1, beat sixth-seeded Thornville Sheridan 20-14 on Nov. 16 at Lancaster to win the Region 11 title as the No. 4 seed.
This marks just the second state semifinal appearance for the Warriors. The other was in 2008, when they lost to Aurora 21-10 in the Division III state championship game.
The Eastmoor-Kenston winner plays Norwalk or Kettering Alter for the state title Nov. 29 or 30 or Dec. 1 at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton.
“This has always been one of our goals as a team,” senior defensive lineman and tight end Travis Clodfelter said. “This is special to us because we are the second team in our school’s history to make it to the state final four. This is a big accomplishment for us.
“We have a lot of depth on our team. When guys have gone down, we’ve been able to have guys fill in and still make plays for us, so that’s why we’ve been able to handle adversity despite the injuries.”
Clodfelter and seniors Josh Warren and Elijah Jennings have been mainstays on a defensive line that senior linebacker Miicah Coleman says has been overlooked.
“On defense, our coaches have done a good job at playing to our strengths with our line,” Coleman said. “To put it in perspective, it’s to the point where I can’t even get tackles (at linebacker) because they’re in the backfield so frequently. We have a lot of dynamic athletes that can play multiple positions, and one thing that we have continued to do is fly to the ball and be physical.”
The Warriors’ defense, which also features Roshaun Harper, Napoleon Harris and Kylan Birchmore in the secondary, limited Sheridan quarterback Ethan Heller to 7-for-24 passing for 74 yards.
The defense now will try to hold Tomcufcik and Porter in check. Tomcufcik has passed for more than 2,000 yards and Porter has rushed for more than 1,800 yards and was the Northeast Lakes District Offensive Player of the Year.
Senior wide receiver Bransen Stanley, who had 44 receptions during the regular season, also has been an offensive standout for a program that is in the playoffs for the 10th time but made its only previous state appearances in 1986 and 1995. It was runner-up both seasons.
Kenston also has size on its offensive line in senior Alex Robarge (6-foot-4, 315 pounds) and junior George Sell (6-5, 255).
Eastmoor is making its 11th postseason appearance. Before this season, it last won a playoff game in 2011 when it was a regional runner-up.
Senior running back Savon Edwards rushed for 131 yards and three touchdowns on 17 carries before leaving the Sheridan game late in the third quarter after re-aggravating a shoulder injury that occurred during a 19-14 victory over Hartley on Nov. 9. The Warriors also have two other running backs who have been banged up.
Birchmore and Coleman saw increased action at running back in Edwards’ absence the last two weeks and could do so again against Kenston depending on Edwards’ status.
Eastmoor also has a consistent quarterback in Marquise Laster, who has 21 touchdown passes and two interceptions.
Senior linebackers Matt Iklodi and Joseph Staudenbauer lead a Kenston defense that is coming off its best performance of the postseason as it limited Canfield to 197 yards, including 29 passing.
“On offense, our team has done a great job with running the ball,” Clodfelter said. “We have a lot of weapons we can utilize in our backfield, so even if one guy is out, there is somebody else that can make plays. Our quarterback has been a playmaker for us all year as well, so teams have to respect our passing game.”