In its first 10 playoff appearances, the Johnstown-Monroe High School football team always seemed to run into a perennial power that would thwart its dreams of a state championship.
The Johnnies had one of the best running backs ever to come through central Ohio in Ross Franklin, who led them to a Division IV state semifinal in 2011 before eventual champion Creston Norwayne ended their title bid.
Four-time state champion Steubenville ended Johnstown’s season each year from 2014-16, and last season the Johnnies lost to eventual champion Wheelersburg in a regional final.
On Nov. 24, the Johnnies finally broke through — and got revenge to boot — with a 32-14 victory over Wheelersburg in a Division V state semifinal at Jackson to advance to their first state final.
The Central District had five representatives in the state semifinals, but only Johnstown survived that round. The Johnnies play Orrville at 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 1, at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton.
Pickerington Central and Olentangy Liberty in Division I and Eastmoor Academy in Division III all lost on Nov. 23, and Licking Valley in Division IV lost on Nov. 24.
Here are five things we learned from the state semifinals:
1. Johnstown has featured multiple options running the ball during its run to the state final.
Against Wheelersburg, running back Bryce Barasch rushed for 164 yards and two touchdowns, running back Luke Myers had 74 yards and two scores and quarterback Caden Calhoun added 111 yards on 23 carries as the Johnnies built a 32-7 lead on their way to improving to 13-1.
Orrville (12-2) qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 2011 but hasn’t looked overwhelmed. After surviving to beat Gates Mills Gilmour Academy 50-43 in triple overtime in a Region 17 semifinal Nov. 10, the Red Riders rolled to victories over Manchester (43-19 in the regional final Nov. 17) and Liberty Center (38-7 in a state semifinal Nov. 24).
The Johnnies’ biggest task will be in keeping Orrville running back Marquael Parks in check. Parks has rushed for 2,590 yards on 212 carries and has scored 53 touchdowns.
2. Central’s inability to consistently run the ball played a role in its season ending.
The Tigers put together one of the state’s all-time best offensive performances in a 56-28 victory over Mentor to win the 2017 Division I state championship as quarterback Demeatric Crenshaw rushed for six touchdowns.
In its bid for a second consecutive title, Central was outrushed 281-113 by Cincinnati Colerain during a 28-14 loss in a state semifinal.
Crenshaw threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Lorenzo Styles Jr. in the fourth quarter to get the Tigers to within 21-14 before Colerain closed out the game.
3. Liberty wasn’t able to avoid costly turnovers in its 42-16 state semifinal loss to Lakewood St. Edward.
During their run to a third consecutive Region 2 championship, the Patriots combined a strong defense with an offense that made few miscues to beat the region’s top two teams: Reynoldsburg and Dublin Coffman.
Liberty had three first-half turnovers against St. Edward that helped the Eagles build an early advantage.
Just getting to that level, though, was a feat for the Patriots following a 1-3 start.
4. Eastmoor’s ability to overcome obstacles ended in its 40-7 state semifinal loss to Chagrin Falls Kenston.
In their first appearance in a state semifinal since finishing as state runners-up in 2008, the injury-riddled Warriors trailed 26-0 at halftime and weren’t able to slow down the Bombers.
One thing that can be said is that Eastmoor maximized a senior-laden roster and doubled its win total from a season ago on the way to a 12-2 finish.
5. Licking Valley came up just short of giving Licking County two teams in the state finals.
The Panthers lost to Johnstown 10-9 on Sept. 7 to fall to 1-2 but rebounded to win six of their final seven regular-season games to make the Region 15 playoffs as the No. 7 seed.
Licking Valley showed that it belonged in the postseason by crushing top-seeded St. Clairsville 30-0 in the regional final Nov. 17.
The Panthers’ playoff run ended with a 53-48 loss to Girard in a state semifinal. They led 34-20 at halftime but were outscored 33-14 in the second half.
It was one of the best seasons in the outstanding career of coach Randy Baughman, who has guided the Panthers to 18 playoff appearances in 37 seasons with state runner-up finishes in 2001 and 2007.