As they approach their meeting Friday in a Division IV state semifinal, the Hartley and Kettering Alter high school football teams have a lot in common.
Each team is 11-2 overall and prefers to run the ball.
Each team survived a close test in its respective regional final: Hartley beat Ironton 26-20 and Alter, the two-time defending Division IV state champion, rallied to defeat Kenton 35-32.
And each team's regional final opponent played a style different from what it'll see in Friday's game in Piqua.
The Hawks, who shut down Ironton's T-formation offense, will face the Knights' option-oriented attack. Alter, which last week opposed the state's most prolific passer in Kenton's Maty Mauk, now must try to stop one of the state's top running backs in Hartley's Noah Key.
Hartley coach Brad Burchfield believes the best way to stop Alter is to keep its offense from getting started.
"After watching them on film, I really didn't see any weaknesses," Burchfield said. "They run the option well and have tremendous talent. What we have to do is create bad situations for them.
"The key to this game is going to be how they play on first down. We need to get them into second-and-long situations. If they're constantly in the short-yardage situations, they're pretty tough to beat."
The Knights' option attack is led by quarterback Zane Pitzer, who has rushed for 1,218 yards on 159 carries with 15 touchdowns and completed 41 of 68 passes for 778 yards and three scores. Alter also has four backs who have rushed for more than 200 yards including Justin Winters, who has run for 705 yards and 13 touchdowns.
The Hawks' defense, led by lineman Evan Jackson and linebackers JaWaun Woodley and Jarrod Zang, was able to put Ironton in tough situations on first down. Hartley allowed an average of 1.8 yards on first down, with the Tigers only having one play go for more than 20 yards.
In addition, the Hawks have been good at forcing key second-half turnovers in the playoffs. Hartley forced four turnovers against Amanda-Clearcreek, one against Heath and two against Ironton. Those turnovers led to 40 points.
Alter's defense, led by linebackers Dylan Ames and Collin Cochran and lineman Billy Eisenhauer, will face an offense led by Key, who broken most of the rushing records at Hartley. That includes the single-season rushing record (2,326 on 256 carries) and the single-season touchdown record (34).
Burchfield said one of the reasons Key has been so successful is the parts around him. The Hawks have a strong offensive line as well as complementary rushers in Omar Lane (561 yards and eight touchdowns on 49 carries) and Zang (891 yards and six touchdowns on 61 carries).
Hartley has outscored its opponents 67-27 in the second half of its three playoff games.
"This is a very mature football team," Key said. "We know football games are full of momentum swings. If we keep doing our thing, we'll come away with the victory."