During its run to the 2010 Division IV state championship, the Hartley High School football team found itself in what could be described as an epic game against Kettering Alter in a state semifinal.

During its run to the 2010 Division IV state championship, the Hartley High School football team found itself in what could be described as an epic game against Kettering Alter in a state semifinal.

The Hawks blew a 21-0 lead against the Knights, who had won state titles in 2008 and 2009, but got a two-point conversion run from Noah Key with 2 minutes, 5 seconds remaining and survived for a 29-28 victory.

Perhaps Hartley made it through what will end up being its biggest scare of this postseason when it held on to beat Ottawa-Glandorf 38-35 on Nov. 18 at Bellefontaine to win the Region 14 championship.

While that remains to be seen, the defending state champion Hawks are back in a state semifinal for the fifth consecutive season, and they'll play Alter for the first time since the 2010 playoffs Friday, Nov. 25, at London.

"We're going to move forward and go harder," senior running back Marquette Dixon said. "We just wanted to get the alumni back and make them happy. The alumni come back for Thanksgiving and come and watch us. We love the alumni."

At 11-2, Hartley will face an Alter team that moved to 13-0 with a 35-7 win over Cincinnati Wyoming on Nov. 18 in the Region 16 championship game at Monroe.

The winner plays Steubenville or Perry for the state title Dec. 1, 2 or 3 at Ohio State. The Hawks beat Steubenville 31-28 in last year's state final.

If everything holds to form, the Hartley-Alter matchup should come down to which run-first team wins the battle at the line of scrimmage.

Dixon has rushed for 2,243 yards and 34 touchdowns, and senior Cam'Ron Culver has rushed for more than 600 yards and six scores to lead Hartley's ground game.

Against Ottawa-Glandorf, Dixon ran for a 57-yard touchdown with 3:02 remaining to give the Hawks a 38-28 lead. He finished with 224 yards and four touchdowns on 25 carries.

"I was going through the hole and our linemen were getting penetration," Dixon said of the 57-yard scoring run. "I saw it open and I had to go. It was a sense of urgency."

Alter's running success has been more by committee.

With 6-foot-3, 300-pound first-team all-Southwest District offensive lineman Nick Busher leading the charge, the Knights have rushed for more than 4,000 yards.

Senior Holden Rushing rushed 20 times for 142 yards and a touchdown in the regional final and has 1,160 yards and 17 touchdowns on the season.

Senior quarterback Ryan Markoff had 138 yards and two touchdowns against Wyoming and has 1,033 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns overall.

Sophomore John Bivens III has rushed for more than 800 yards and has 12 touchdowns.

Hartley struggled to hold Ottawa-Glandorf quarterback Jay Kaufman in check, as he completed 23 of 30 passes for 263 yards and a touchdown, but the same situation isn't likely to occur against Alter considering Markoff had thrown for just 385 yards through 12 games.

The Hawks got a 42-yard field goal from sophomore kicker Matteo Agriesti with 6:48 remaining against Ottawa-Glandorf to take a 31-21 lead.

That came one play after Jake Ruby was sacked for an 11-yard loss to force fourth-and-18.

Considering the Titans scored with 28.2 seconds left to make it 38-35 and nearly recovered the onside kick, coach Brad Burchfield acknowledged how important the field goal was in his team's win.

"We thought we were in a little bit of dire straits when Jake took the sack, but that's football," Burchfield said.

"Obviously we're going to have to improve some things before we play Kettering Alter, but we've got a great opportunity to do so."

julrey@thisweeknews.com

@UlreyThisWeek