A playoff loss a year ago on the road against one of Ohio's most historic programs helped the Walnut Ridge football team last week.
The Scots, who lost to eventual Division II state runner-up Massillon Washington 45-14 in the first round of the Division II, Region 7 playoffs last season, put together a perfect regular season but still had to travel to open this year's postseason.
With a 28-7 win at fourth-seeded Xenia on Nov. 8, fifth-seeded Walnut Ridge will play top-seeded Cincinnati La Salle in a Division II, Region 8 semifinal Friday, Nov. 15, at Miami Valley South Stadium in Bellbrook.
The winner plays third-seeded Harrison or seventh-seeded DeSales on Nov. 22 for the regional title.
"At Xenia, the entire town was there, (but) it doesn't really faze our guys," coach Byron Mattox said. "They're kind of used to it. Going to Massillon last year helped a lot, just getting into that big environment. They're just like, 'When's our next game, coach?' Just prepare and get ready."
Walnut Ridge is 11-0 entering its matchup against La Salle, which won three consecutive state titles from 2014-16, was a regional runner-up in 2017 and is back in a regional semifinal at 9-2 after falling short of the postseason last year.
The Lancers opened the playoffs Nov. 8 with a 42-0 win over eighth-seeded Morrow Little Miami, as senior running back Cam Porter rushed 11 times for 96 yards and three touchdowns and quarterback Zach Branam threw for a touchdown.
On the season, Branam is 84-for-135 passing for 1,214 yards with 16 touchdowns and seven interceptions and has 891 yards rushing and nine scores on 137 carries.
Porter has rushed 93 times for 565 yards and eight touchdowns and sophomore running back Gi'Bran Payne has 407 yards and five touchdowns on 43 carries.
Senior Jake Seibert (16 catches, 211 yards, 3 TDs), junior Jaylen Norwood (15 catches, 241 yards, 3 TDs), Porter (14 catches, 168 yards, 1 TD) and junior DeVonte Smith (10 catches, 232 yards, 4 TDs) are the top receivers. Seibert also is 6-for-8 on field-goal attempts, including a 42-yarder, and has made 37 of 39 extra-point attempts.
Senior linebacker Luke Thiemann (77 tackles), senior defensive back Cole Hildebrand (47 tackles), junior defensive back Jaymar Hargrove-Mundy (5 interceptions) and Smith (3 interceptions) are among the Lancers' leaders on defense.
"They kind of do a lot of the same stuff we do (and) they run the spread," Mattox said.
Xenia, which was making its first playoff appearance and finished 9-2, took a 7-0 lead early in the second quarter before the Scots tied it on a 2-yard run by quarterback Howard Thornton late in the half.
Walnut Ridge took a 14-7 lead in the third quarter on a 10-yard pass from Thornton to Kaveon Ross and added touchdown runs of 4 yards by Antonio Felts and 1 yard by Thornton in the fourth quarter.
Junior running back Javarus Leach, who was banged up late in the regular season, split carries against Xenia with Felts, Myles Garrett and Sihlas Padmore.
"Everybody played their gaps and their assignments," senior linebacker and tight end Jerrell Harrison said. "We didn't really try to do too much. We didn't go out there thinking about who was going to make the most tackles. We just wanted to win and we put everything together."
Red Devils fall in playoff opener
Eighth-seeded Marion-Franklin had its season end with a 28-6 loss at top-seeded Licking Valley on Nov. 9 in the first round of the Division IV, Region 15 playoffs.
The game was tied at 6 after the first quarter before the Panthers seized control with a pair of second-quarter touchdowns.
The Red Devils, who finished 7-4 in David Lakso's first season as coach, scored on a 64-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Jeramiah Tucker to junior wide receiver Giovanni Scales.
Tucker completed five of 14 passes for 78 yards with one touchdown but was intercepted three times. On the season, he finished 63-for-125 passing for 1,240 yards with 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions and rushed 93 times for 565 yards and 11 scores.
Junior running back Taylen James, who rushed for 39 yards against the Panthers, finished the season with 102 carries for 632 yards and five touchdowns.
Scales had three catches for 75 yards against the Panthers and 17 receptions for 418 yards and four scores on the season.
Another of the team's top playmakers was senior Jesse Johnson, who had 27 catches for 478 yards and four touchdowns at wide receiver and eight interceptions as a defensive back.
The Red Devils were runners-up in the City League-South Division at 6-1, behind Walnut Ridge (7-0).
Vikings, Cougars were strong in City-North
Beechcroft and Northland both had a chance to earn a share of the City-North title entering the final week of the regular season.
The Cougars beat the Vikings 27-0 on Nov. 1 to finish 7-3 overall and 5-1 in the City-North, but Centennial went 6-0 in the league to win its first championship. Northland finished 4-6 overall and placed third in the City-North at 4-2.
Beechcroft closed the season on a four-game winning streak and won six of its final seven games, but the two teams it beat in non-league play, Dayton Ponitz (15-12 on Aug. 30) and Toledo Waite (20-12 on Sept. 28), went 2-8 and 3-7, respectively, and the Cougars settled for 13th in Division III, Region 11, five spots out of a playoff berth.
"I don't think anyone on the team is happy," Beechcroft coach Lee Snyder said. "We're not happy, which is good. Usually Beechcroft is No. 1 (in the City-North) and going to the playoffs. I want that expectation level."
Among the biggest losses to graduation on offense for the Cougars will be DeShannon Butler Jr. (QB), Ibrahim Camara (RB), Davon Wooden (WR) and linemen De'Marj'eon Harris and Alhaji Sidibe.
Butler completed 55 of 111 passes for 627 yards and six touchdowns and rushed 100 times for 505 yards and 12 touchdowns, while Wooden had 24 receptions for 399 yards and five touchdowns and rushed 34 times for 214 yards and four scores and Camara rushed for 147 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries.
The top returnee on offense next season should be sophomore running back Diante Latham, who had 152 carries for 822 yards and eight touchdowns and 13 receptions for 56 yards.
Junior Muhammad-Ali Kobo (TE/DL) and freshman DeShawn Henderson (RB/DB) also should be among the top returnees.
Northland's biggest losses to graduation will be Kalil Branham (WR/QB), Rasi Bailey (WR/DB/LB), Josiah Ellis (OL/DL) and Isahman Ford (OL/DL).
Branham rushed for 291 yards, had nine receptions for 138 yards and scored eight touchdowns. The Kentucky recruit also completed nine of 30 passes for 145 yards.
Bailey had 11 receptions for 203 yards and four touchdowns and had four pass-breakups and three interceptions on defense.
Ellis had 32 tackles, nine tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery and Ford had 27 tackles, three tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and one forced fumble.