Now back at full strength physically and with what first-year coach David Lakso believes is a more mature mentality, the Marion-Franklin football team is one of three City League programs, along with Walnut Ridge and Centennial, that qualified for the postseason.
The Red Devils competed without 13 players Oct. 25 and escaped an upset bid by Africentric to win 12-8 to put itself in position to battle for a playoff berth heading into Week 10.
They then beat South 45-14 on Nov. 1 and waited for several hours after the game before finding out with certainty that they had made the Division IV, Region 15 playoffs as the No. 8 seed.
Marion-Franklin, which will open the postseason Friday, Nov. 8, at top-seeded Licking Valley, was without several key players, including quarterback Jeramiah Tucker, because of an incident that took place late in the third quarter of its 33-6 loss to Walnut Ridge on Oct. 18.
"We had eight starters out (against Africentric)," Lakso said. "I think they learned from it. I was real proud of how the kids conducted themselves at South. For two weeks we talked about nothing but sportsmanship, and I think they learned their lesson."
While the Red Devils are 7-3 overall and finished runner-up in the City League-South Division at 6-1 behind Walnut Ridge (7-0), Licking Valley put together its second perfect regular season in three years and is 10-0.
Although the programs have never played, Lakso was an assistant at Eastmoor Academy in 2008 when the Warriors beat Licking Valley 14-10 in a state semifinal on their way to a Division III state runner-up finish.
The Panthers are making their 19th playoff appearance in 38 seasons under coach Randy Baughman. Marion-Franklin is in for the 13th time, all coming since 2004.
Tucker returned for the South game and ran for 90 yards and four touchdowns on eight carries and also threw for two scores.
Trent Salters and Israel Alexander saw the bulk of the carries at running back in place of Taylon James, who did not play but is expected to return for the game against Licking Valley.
"Tucker accounted for four rushing touchdowns and one other touchdown and the defense played really well (against South)," Lakso said. "We held them to 120 yards of total offense and they ran double the plays we did. We hit some big plays."
Licking Valley quarterback Logan Bragg is 95-for-161 passing for 1,322 yards with 21 touchdowns and four interceptions.
Running back Mitchell Ford did not play in a 42-21 win over Licking Heights on Nov. 1 but has rushed 185 times for 1,334 yards and 19 touchdowns. Hayden Hile has 21 receptions for 274 yards and four touchdowns and has rushed for 320 yards and four scores, and Bodee Creech has 25 catches for 304 yards and four touchdowns.
Hile had two interceptions against Licking Heights as the Panthers created four turnovers.
"They do a lot of different things on defense that will be a challenge, and they've got good size," Lakso said. "The thing I see is how well-coached they are."
Scots out to build on 10-0 regular season
Walnut Ridge shut out Independence 35-0 on Nov. 1 to close the regular season at 10-0 overall, holding sophomore running back Jalin Sample - who had more than 1,600 yards rushing on the season - to 41 yards.
The Scots, who completed their first perfect regular season while winning the City League-South Division title at 7-0, are the fifth seed and will face another strong rushing attack when they travel to fourth-seeded Xenia on Friday, Nov. 8, in the first round of the Division II, Region 8 playoffs.
The Buccaneers are 9-1 and have won nine games in a row but are in the playoffs for the first time.
Xenia has called fewer than 25 pass plays on the season while running out of the triple option and also features power running.
The Buccaneers' biggest strength might be their offensive line, which features seniors Gavin Gerhardt (6-foot-5, 300 pounds) and E.J. Wilson (6-4, 290). Gerhardt has committed to Cincinnati and Wilson is a Furman commit.
Senior fullback Kevin Pollander and senior halfback Kevin Johnson scored three touchdowns apiece in a 42-0 win over Fairborn on Oct. 31. Senior quarterback Brett Russell also is a capable runner.
Walnut Ridge has played the last two weeks without junior running back Javarus Leach, who has 71 carries for 685 yards and 11 touchdowns. Sophomore Antonio Felts has rushed 74 times for 464 yards and nine touchdowns and Sihlas Padmore has 239 yards and five touchdowns on 25 carries.
Quarterback Howard Thornton completed 10 of 14 passes for 128 yards and two touchdowns and is 85-for-145 passing for 1,237 yards with 24 touchdowns and six interceptions on the season. Senior wide receiver Qian Magwood has 28 catches for 438 yards and eight touchdowns and senior tight end Kaveon Ross has 18 catches for 308 yards and eight scores.
In 2017, Walnut Ridge was 8-0 heading into its regular-season finale but lost to Independence 44-34.
"(My players) finally got something done (with the perfect regular season) that they've never done in school history," coach Byron Mattox said. "(The loss to Independence in 2017) was high in our conversation. A lot of those guys have played since they were sophomores and remembered that very well. They didn't want to repeat that."
Cougars close season with win over Vikings
With a 27-0 victory over Northland on Nov. 1, Beechcroft closed its season at 7-3 overall and 5-1 in the City-North. The Cougars won their last four games and six of their last seven after getting out to a 1-2 start.
Beechcroft, which finished 13th in Division III, Region 11, finished second in the City-North behind Centennial (6-0).
Davon Wooden and DeShannon Butler each scored two touchdowns for the Cougars, who led 14-0 at halftime and snapped a two-game skid against the Vikings.
Northland senior wide receiver Kalil Branham, a Kentucky commit who recently announced on his Twitter page that he is graduating early, did not play.
The Vikings shared the City-North title with Mifflin and Beechcroft in 2017 and earned the title outright last season but had a 14-game league winning streak snapped by eventual champion Centennial 33-7 on Oct. 25.
Northland finished 4-6 overall and third in the league at 4-2.