OHSAA Finals: Friday Preview

Ohio's high school finals roll on Friday morning. Can the day's games match the drama of Thursday night's instant classic? Two future Ohio State players will also suit up in the Horseshoe today, plus the night game is set up to be a top-tier matchup between two hot teams.

The Ohio High School Athletic Association state finals continue today after last night’s instant classic in which Toledo Central Catholic outlasted The Plains Athens. Two Ohio State commits in Denzel Ward and Jerome Baker will play in their future home today, plus there should be some great games while the state names three more champions

Division IV: Cleveland Benedictine (13-1) vs. Kettering Alter
Friday, December 5, 10 a.m.

How They Got Here
Cleveland Benedictine scored five times in the first half en route to an emphatic 40-12 victory over Steubenville in last weekend’s semifinal, giving the Bengals and OSU linebacker commit Jerome Baker a chance to play for the school’s first title in a decade.

A slow first quarter ended with the score 7-6 in favor of Benedictine, but after 26 points in the second quarter the Bengals went into halftime leading 33-6. DeCavilon Reese rushed for four of those scores in the first 24 minutes.

The Bengals should have a much tougher matchup in the final against top-ranked Kettering Alter. The Knights remained undefeated by winning a dogfight against Kenton, 25-22.

Kenton gave Alter its toughest test of the season, as no game they played before this had been closer than 14 points.

The Knights were down 14-10 at the end of the third quarter but started putting things together in the fourth. They scored two touchdowns in the final seven minutes – one on a punt return by Chris Finke and another on a run by Dusty Hayes – to make it to the title game. – Kane Anderson

Cleveland Benedictine Bengals
AP rank: 4
OHSAA seed: No. 1, Region 11
Eighth state final appearance, six titles (2004, 2003, 1996, 1981, 1981, 1973)
19th year in playoffs (40-12)
Total school state championships: 19

Benedictine running back DeCavilon Reese had four touchdowns in the first half and finished with 165 yards on 17 rushes in its 40-12 state semifinal victory over Steubenville.

When it comes to divisional honors, Joe Schaefer was named one of four Division IV coaches of the year, while Baker was the co-defensive player of the year, while back Dontez Rash and defensive lineman Collin Pecoraro were first-team all-division choices.

Recruits to watch: Baker, LaMarr Davis, Justin Layne, Warren Saba

Playoff Road (first round to semis)
24-20, Perry
56-16, Youngstown Cardinal Mooney
35-7, Bay Village Bay
40-12, Steubenville

Head coach Schaefer: “It’s been a while since we’ve been here, and I think our students’ support has been tremendous this year. It’s one of the goals of the school overall to build more of a community atmosphere around Benedictine, and the students and the student-athletes – our students have done a great job of that. Even before the first bell rang (Monday), a number of students came up to me and wished me luck, wished the coaches luck. We won’t have school Friday to encourage all the kids to get down to the game. It should be fun.”

Kettering Alter Knights AP rank: 1
OHSAA seed: No. 1, Region 14
Fourth state final appearance, two titles (2009, 2008)
20th year in playoffs (36-17)
Total school state championships: 11

Alter QB Dusty Hayes & RB Nick Coleman have combined for 70 career rushing TDs.

Hayes and Coleman were first-team all-state choices along with defensive lineman Kraig Howe and punter Alex Craft. Hayes was one of two Division IV offensive players of the year while Howe was chosen the top player on defense.

Recruits to watch: N/A

Playoff Road (first round to semis)
49-7, Washington Court House Miami Trace
42-28, Cincinnati Wyoming
35-7, Clarksville Clinton-Massie
25-22, Kenton

Head coach Ed Domsitz on the comeback win vs. Kenton: “We try to prepare our kids for this because it’s going to happen at some point in the season. You’re going to be down, but we haven’t been down that late in a ballgame that I can recall. I thought we began to lose our composure and our poise a little bit when we were struggling against Wymoing earlier this year, and that bothered me. I have kids that should know better. I thought we did a much better job of that last week, and when we needed a big play and they punted the ball to Chris Finke, and Chris got us a big play and returned it for a touchdown. I think our kids need to know that we just need to keep getting back off the turf and going after it.”

Division VI: Kirtland (14-0) vs. Minster (11-3)
Friday, December 5, 3 p.m.

How They Got Here
Undefeated defending champ Kirtland will be making a fourth straight trip to the state final after taking down Lucasville Valley, 28-7, thanks in part to two Valley turnovers.

The top-ranked Hornets ran the ball all 13 times on their first drive and capped it off with an 8-yard touchdown. They would score once more in the second quarter and carry the 14-point lead until the Indians cut it in half with 8:22 remaining in the game.

Two more touchdowns by the Hornets gave them the comfortable margin of victory.

They will take on Minster, winners of a 14-13 nail-biter against Defiance Tinora.

Tinora had a chance to win the game after its final drive covered 52 yards in three minutes but a missed 27-yard field goal gave Minster the chance to take on the defending champs. – Kane Anderson

Kirtland Hornets
AP rank: 1
OHSAA seed: No. 3, Region 19
Fourth state final appearance, six titles (2013, 2011)
10th year in playoffs (22-7)
Total school state championships: 3

Kirtland has won 29 straight games and is 58-1 in its last 59 games, with four straight state finals appearances. The Hornets’ only loss is a 10-9 setback to MAC member Coldwater in the 2012 Div. V state final.

Only nine programs ever have won three titles in four years, something the Hornets will try to reach.

First-team All-Ohio choices in Division VI include end Dylan Diemer, back Jacob Boyd, DL Adam Hess and linebacker Matthew Finkler. Finkler was the co-defensive player of the year in the division while Tiger LaVerde was named co-coach.

Recruits to watch: N/A

Playoff Road (first round to semis)
37-7 Jeromesville Hillsdale
41-0, Sugarcreek Garaway
31-14, Loudonville
28-7, Lucasville Valley

Head coach LaVerde: “The last couple of weeks we’ve had some great opponents and we’ve had the same message week in and week out. We talk about not turning the ball over and not giving up big plays. If we do not let the wideouts get behind us in the passing game, if we keep things in front of us and tackle and not turn it over, that’s a great recipe when two good teams are playing each other. We’re going to do what we do and we’re going to learn these five plays, and we’re going to try to run them better than anybody in the state, and that’s kind of our motto. Our kids work very hard at executing and I’m just real proud of them.”

Minster Wildcats
AP rank: 9
OHSAA seed: No. 3, Region 22
Second state final appearance, one title (1989)
13th year in playoffs (18-11)
Total school state championships: 27

Minster coach Geron Stokes leads Minster back to state title game for first time since 1989 when he was in his second season at the school.

Special teams proved to be the key point of Minster’s 14-13 victory over Defiance Tinora in the state semifinals. After a third quarter Tinora touchdown, Minster’s Hayden Schindler blocked the extra point to keep Tinora’s lead to 13-7. Up 14-13 in the final seconds of the game, Minster used a timeout and its special teams as Tinora missed a game-winning field.

La Salle head coach Nate Moore, who has his Lancers in the Division II title game, took Minster to three straight playoff appearances (2010, 2011, 2012) before going to LaSalle. It was the first time Minster made the playoffs since 2001.

End Eli Wolf is Minster’s only All-Ohio choice.

Recruits to watch: N/A

Playoff Road (first round to semis)
42-41 (OT), Mechanicsburg
45-19, Versailles
35-0, West Liberty-Salem
14-13, Defiance Tinora

Head coach Stokes: “We’re just having fun competing. I’ve said it over and over again with our kids, I’m good with a win or a loss either way, just make sure you’re competing as hard as you possibly can and preparing as hard as you possibly can prepare. That’s what our kids have done, and it’s just really cool seeing them in this environment and this atmosphere with this opportunity, doing it the right way. We’re not here based on a bunch of talented kids. We’re here based on a bunch of kids that have bought in and really tried to maximize their ability.”

Division II: Macedonia Nordonia (14-0) vs. Cincinnati La Salle (13-1
Friday, December 5, 8 p.m.

How They Got Here
The Division II semifinals were both blowouts to set up what should be an entertaining state final between Cincinnati La Salle and Macedonia Nordonia.

La Salle whipped Lewis Center Olentangy, 48-13, in one semifinal and Nordonia destroyed Mayfield, 52-14, in the other.

La Salle won behind the rushing of junior running back Jeremy Larkin, cousin of former Cincinnati Reds shortstop Barry Larkin. He toted the ball 22 times for 239 yards and five touchdowns. Larkin also opened the game with a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and the Lancers never trailed.

The Nordonia-Mayfield game was a rematch of week one matchup that Nordonia won in overtime, 36-35. This game would not be so close.

The Knights went into halftime with a 28-14 lead and blew the game open in the third quarter with a trio of long touchdown plays, including a 91-yard screen pass for a touchdown by Ohio State commit Denzel Ward.. – Kane Anderson

Macdeonia Nordonia Knights
AP rank: 5
OHSAA seed: No. 2, Region 4
Second state final appearance, zero titles
12th year in playoffs (15-11)
Total school state championships: 1

Nordonia had 578 yards of offense compared to Mayfield’s 150 in its 52-14 victory in the state semifinals. Nordonia has scored at least 52 points in each of its playoff games this year.

The Knights swept All-Ohio superlatives, with quarterback David Murray being named Division II co-offensive player of the year and OSU commit Denzel Ward picking up the honors on the defensive side. Other first-team All-Ohio choices are defensive lineman Justice Alexander, a Michigan State commit, and offensive lineman and Toledo pledge Cameron Bell.

Murray threw 57 touchdown passes against seven interceptions this year.

Recruits to watch: Ward, Alexander, Alex Alders, Bell, Dylan Mabin, Nyck Grayson

Playoff Road (first round to semis)
58-26, Fremont Ross
56-52, Perrysburg
52-14, Grafton Midview
52-14, Mayfield

Head coach Jeff Fox: “We’re a no-huddle, spread offense. We’re trying to go fast, and I think when people talk about how we pass the ball overall, that’s pretty unique for a high school team to be able to throw the ball as well as we have. We’re a zone run scheme so we’re trying to run the outside zone as our base play with a quarterback read as well on the back side. It’s pretty typical of a college offense that you’ll see – the Oregons, the Baylors, and really Ohio State is running a lot of the same stuff.”

Cincinnati La Salle Lancers
AP rank: 3
OHSAA seed: No. 1, Region 6
First state final appearance, zero titles
Fifth year in playoffs (4-4)
Total school state championships: 6

La Salle had never won a playoff game before this season.

Larkin has scored 40 touchdowns this season and LaSalle is averaging 40.7 point per game this season. LaSalle quarterback Nick Watson has 42 passing touchdowns in his career.

LaSalle head coach Nate Moore, who has his Lancers in the Division II title game, took Minster to three straight playoff appearances (2010, 2011, 2012) before going to LaSalle. It was the first time Minster made the playoffs since 2001.

Much like Nordonia, the Lancers boast the Division II co-offensive and co-defensive players of the year in Larkin on offense and Jordan Thompson on defense. Thompson, a Northwestern commit, is a defensive lineman joined on the all-state first-team by back Kevin Ferguson.

Recruits to watch: Thompson, Evan Rambo, Larkin, Nick Watson

Playoff Road (first round to semis)
48-28, Cincinnati Glen Este
56-24, Harrison
38-6, Cincinnati Mt. Healthy
48-13, Lewis Center Olentangy

Head coach Moore: “Jeremy comes from a great family. You have to give credit to his parents, who are very involved in all their childrens’ lives, and they take special care to raise their children the right way. He’s definitely the fruit of their labor and a very, very high character, very respectful young man, very high academics. He’s really the All-American type of kid. You can’t talk to him without liking him.”

Single game tickets are available at the participating schools, at www.TicketMaster.com, and are also available at Gate 5 of Ohio Stadium.

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