LOGAN - After the Hartley High School football team's 26-20 victory over Ironton in the Division IV Region 15 championship game last Friday, coach Brad Burchfield claims the team has been mislabeled.

LOGAN - After the Hartley High School football team's 26-20 victory over Ironton in the Division IV Region 15 championship game last Friday, coach Brad Burchfield claims the team has been mislabeled.

The tagline of the flashy, explosive offense just doesn't apply to the Hawks.

"We're not as big-play as people think," said Burchfield, whose team returns to the state semifinals for the first time since 1988. "We have a good offensive line and our kids can grind.

"(Senior running back Noah Key) can take a typical 5-yard run and make it go 60 against a lot of teams. (Against the Tigers), he got the tough yards, the ones where he had to grind it out."

Hartley is 11-2 and Ironton finished at 10-3. The Hawks face two-time defending state champion Kettering Alter, 11-2, after defeating Kenton 35-32 last Friday. The Knights have won 13 consecutive playoff games going into Friday.

Hartley linebacker JaWaun Woodley said no one mentioned the fact Hartley hadn't won a regional championship in 22 years. He has bigger goals in mind.

"We didn't listen to the newspapers. We kept believing in ourselves," Woodley said. "The coaching staff didn't talk about 1988. They just put 1986 in our head because that's the year we won the state title."

In the first three playoff games, Key has lived up to his name. He rushed for 696 yards and 11 touchdowns in wins over Amanda-Clearcreek, Heath and Ironton. His success makes Friday's effort of 179 yards and three touchdowns (3, 2, 23) on 32 carries seem somewhat pedestrian.

Key scored two of his touchdowns in the fourth quarter as Hartley scored 16 points in the final 10 minutes, 38 seconds.

Ironton, which was allowing only 15.2 points a game in the previous 11 games, held Key in check in a 37-16 win over the Hawks on Oct. 15. Key rushed for only 110 yards and a 6-yard touchdown run on 19 carries.

"Ironton had a very good defense and we knew we weren't going to get the big plays on them like we had been," Key said. "We have a good offensive line and we were able to push them around and get 6 or 7 yards at a time."

In the first half, Hartley came up short twice on fourth down situations inside the Ironton 25 twice, including a fourth-and-2 at the Tigers 11, and trailed 14-10 at half.

After Brent Wahle's 33-yard field goal cut Hartley's deficit to 14-13, the Hawks' defense took over. Woodley scooped up a Tres Wilks fumble at the Hawks' 25 to set up an eight-play, 75-yard drive. Key scored on a 2-yard run to give Hartley a 19-13 lead.

On the Tigers' next possession, Hartley defensive lineman Evan Jackson recovered a botched backward lateral to set another touchdown. Key scored on a 23-yard run, his longest run of the night, to give the Hawks a 26-14 lead.

"Turnovers and offensive line play won the last game (against Ironton). Turnovers and offensive line play won this game," said Burchfield, whose team committed four turnovers in the loss, but didn't have any turnovers last Friday. "We heard a lot of talk on their end about how we weren't very tough and we weren't very physical. I think it drove our kids."

The Upper Arlington High School football team's 15-9 victory over Solon in the Division I state final in 2000 ushered in the most successful decade the Central District has enjoyed since the playoffs began 38 years ago.

Nine schools combined to win 10 state championships, including Hilliard Davidson's 16-15 victory over Cleveland Glenville in the Division I state final last fall as the Wildcats captured their second title in four seasons. Moreover, central Ohio also produced a dozen state runners-up over that 10-year span, and in 2001 the area participated in four of the six state finals.

The last decade also gave us the first state championship game contested by two central Ohio teams when Columbus Academy defeated Amanda-Clearcreek 13-8 in Division V in 2003. Big Walnut got by Licking Valley 17-10 in another such matchup in Division III in '07.

"It truly was a great decade," ThisWeek Community Newspapers columnist and 610 WTVN radio personality Larry "Mr. High School Sports" Larson said. "Upper Arlington got it started, and that was probably the biggest win for central Ohio, too."

That's because the Golden Bears became the first area team to capture the big-school state championship. In fact, only three others had even advanced to the title game since the playoffs began in 1972. Upper Arlington and Gahanna lost in the Class AAA state finals in 1973 and '76, respectively, and Westerville South met the same fate in Division I in '94.

So does that trio of Division I state titles, which includes Davidson's 36-35 overtime victory against Mentor in 2006, mean the tide is beginning to turn in central Ohio's favor?

"It certainly lends credence to that theory," Davidson coach Brian White said. "I don't know if we're better or maybe some of the other areas are just not as good as they used to be.

"We've still only won three and we only played for three (in the past decade). We still have to show more consistency before we can put central Ohio in the same category as Cleveland or Cincinnati."