The area’s hopes for a high school football state championship remain alive as five teams have advanced to state semifinals this weekend.
Pickerington Central in Division I, Hartley in Division III and Harvest Prep in Division VII all are one win away from advancing to Canton, as are Licking Valley in Division IV and West Jefferson in Division V.
Central also will be making a trip to Stark County on Friday, Nov. 29, as the Tigers face Mentor in a semifinal at Canton GlenOak.
Here are five things we expect heading into the state semifinals:
1. Yes, the Division I state championship game is in Stark County … but a week early?
With all due respect to fourth-ranked Cincinnati Colerain and fifth-ranked Springfield, the state semifinal between top-ranked Mentor (13-0) and third-ranked Central (12-1) has a ton of drawing power.
Who on either side has forgotten Tigers quarterback Demeatric Crenshaw’s six-touchdown performance in the state final two years ago, in which Central routed Mentor 56-28? Crenshaw was but a sophomore then, and now he is down to his final stretch as one of the area’s better multi-threat quarterbacks, if not the best.
Central’s defense continues to be a juggernaut, as evidenced by the 23 total yards and zero first downs allowed in the first half of its 23-7 victory over Groveport in the Region 3 final Nov. 22.
2. Speaking of talented quarterbacks, Mentor boasts one of its own in Ian Kipp.
The 6-foot-2, 195-pound junior put the Cardinals on his back Nov. 22, throwing two touchdown passes, scoring on a keeper in overtime and then throwing the game-winning two-point conversion pass in a 36-35 overtime win over second-ranked Lakewood St. Edward in the Region 1 final.
Kipp, who has thrown for 2,304 yards and rushed for about 800 this season, has drawn attention from Ohio State, Michigan and several Mid-American Conference schools.
3. Two Division III powers finally meet when Hartley faces Trotwood-Madison on Nov. 29 at London.
This state semifinal is believed to be the first meeting between the Hawks (12-1) and Rams (10-3), who are located just 84 miles apart but haven’t always been in the same classification. Trotwood-Madison has two state championships and three runner-up finishes since 2011, having been in Division III since 2013.
Hartley won Division IV titles in 2015 and 2016 before moving up to Division III in 2017. Had the Hawks reached the Division III state final that season, they would have faced the Rams. But Hartley lost to Dresden Tri-Valley in the Region 11 final and two weeks later Trotwood-Madison beat Tri-Valley for the championship.
4. In Division VII on Saturday, Nov. 30, at DeSales, Harvest Prep will face a Lucas team that prides itself on ball control.
In this case, “ball control” means more than not committing turnovers. Lucas (11-2), which is coming off its first regional championship, did not attempt a pass in a regional semifinal win over Louisville St. Thomas Aquinas and, in a 21-13 win over Cuyahoga Heights in the Region 25 final Nov. 23, ran for 280 yards without completing a pass.
A fumble recovery with 27 seconds left sealed Lucas’ win.
The Warriors (12-1), who defeated Newark Catholic 22-15 in the Region 27 final Nov. 23 and are in the state semifinals for the first time since 2016, must shore up their own ball security after fumbling three times against the Green Wave. That game, like Cuyahoga Heights-Lucas, was played mostly in the rain.
5. Including Licking Valley and West Jefferson, central Ohio has state semifinalists in five of the seven divisions.
On Nov. 30, Licking Valley (13-0) will play Poland Seminary (11-2) in Division IV at Massillon Washington and West Jefferson (12-1) will take on Ironton (12-1) in Division V at Chillicothe.
The West Jefferson-Ironton matchup, in particular, should be a hard-hitting affair, ground-and-pound against physical defenses. The teams were ranked eighth and fifth, respectively, in the final Division V state poll.
Licking Valley was ranked fourth in Division IV to end the regular season.