It’s Sweet 16 weekend in the high school football playoffs, and state championship hopes remain alive for 12 teams in the ThisWeek Community News and ThisWeekSPORTS.com coverage area.
This begins the portion of the postseason where no one has home-field advantage, everybody is cold and everyone from coaches to players to fans is on edge to some degree, for better or worse.
Nothing can be taken for granted, either. Five No. 8 seeds knocked off No. 1 seeds in the first round last weekend and across the state, 27 visiting teams pulled off what on paper – and maybe only on paper – were upsets.
Here are five things we expect heading into the regional semifinals:
1. Granville versus Hartley isn’t a rematch of teams, but certainly of great coaching minds.
The last time Hartley coach Brad Burchfield led his team against a team coached by the Blue Aces’ Justin Buttermore, it didn’t turn out well for the Hawks.
Buttermore’s Dresden Tri-Valley team edged Hartley 13-9 two years ago in the Division III, Region 11 final. That Scotties team went on to finish as state runner-up, and Buttermore left for Granville a few months later.
The top-seeded Hawks and fourth-seeded Granville face off Friday, Nov. 15, in a Region 11 semifinal.
The Blue Aces are 10-1, with their only loss coming in Week 9 to undefeated Licking Valley (28-12), and are averaging 32.2 points per game. The Hawks, who also are 10-1, benefit from a strong ground game and haven’t allowed more than 14 points in a game since Week 5.
2. After what Olentangy did to Troy, maybe a victory this week wouldn’t be that shocking.
Olentangy coach Mark Solis liked his team’s Division II, Region 7 first-round matchup with Troy largely because the Trojans hadn’t faced many – if any – teams with a spread offense like that which the Braves employ, and his confidence was validated with a 42-10 road win Nov. 8.
On Nov. 15, the sixth-seeded Braves will face second-seeded and undefeated Whitehouse Anthony Wayne in a regional semifinal, but the Generals might be without a key player. Quarterback Mason Alberts suffered what The (Toledo) Blade called "a devastating leg injury" in the third quarter of a 44-36 win over Olentangy Berlin on Nov. 8. He already had rushed for 307 yards and four touchdowns on just 17 carries.
Not to be overlooked, the Generals’ defense recorded six consecutive shutouts in the regular season.
3. Groveport brings enough momentum into its rematch with Olentangy Liberty to pull off an upset.
That is not a prediction that the fourth-seeded Cruisers will win their Division I, Region 3 semifinal Nov. 15, but they were on the cusp of having a memorable season end in depressing fashion in the first round Nov. 8 before scoring 18 points in the final 4 minutes, 36 seconds to shock fifth-seeded Hilliard Davidson 18-17.
Groveport had been held to 28 yards in the first half and had only 55 well into the fourth quarter.
The Cruisers hung with the top-seeded Patriots on Sept. 27 before losing 21-14, and even with their offensive struggles against Davidson, their defense was excellent, for the most part. The Wildcats had only 97 yards at halftime but looked to have the game won after a 58-yard touchdown pass with four minutes left.
4. Undefeated Walnut Ridge goes from facing a playoff novice to a postseason stalwart.
After eliminating host and fourth-seeded Xenia 28-7 in a Division II, Region 8 first-round game Nov. 8, the 11-0 and fifth-seeded Scots face a program that knows everything about postseason success in top-seeded Cincinnati La Salle.
The Lancers won three consecutive state championships from 2014-16 but missed the playoffs last year.
If Walnut Ridge pulls off the upset Nov. 15, it would be the second consecutive year that a City League team has advanced to a regional final. City-South Division rival Eastmoor Academy reached a Division III state semifinal last year.
5. Grandview and Mechanicsburg both find themselves playing spoiler in Division VI, Region 24.
After both the Bobcats and Indians pulled off first-round upsets Nov. 8 against Ross County schools, with seventh-seeded Grandview holding off second-seeded Bainbridge Paint Valley 35-28 and sixth-seeded Mechanicsburg rolling past third-seeded Frankfort Adena 32-7, they will try to end each other’s season Nov. 15.
Grandview is in the playoffs for the fourth times in six years. Mechanicsburg qualified for the seventh year in a row and denied Adena its first playoff win in six tries.