TSF Turns 10: Best Playoff Runs
- Updated: November 24, 2015
Over the past 10 years at TriStateFootball.com we have seen some memorable seasons with the path to success as varied as life itself. There are many different ways teams get to the finals. There are times when a star player elevates his game to a level that can carry his brothers.
For some seniors it’s the last chance to do something special for their schools. Losing is not an option for them. Then there are those who are out to put the exclamation point on what were very special seasons.
TSF Turns 10 (#TSFTurns10) takes a look at some of the best and most pertinent playoff runs of the last decade (in chronological order):
The ’07 Anderson Redskins won with “lunch pail” like efforts on a weekly basis. A gritty Redskins squad went 8-2 during the regular season. Their tough mindedness came from first-year head coach Jeff Giesting, who took over the reins after being the school’s long-time offensive coordinator. The Anderson players responded to their young leader in the post-season as they came up with clutch efforts week after week. Their playoff road was extremely difficult having to beat Kings, Carroll, Turpin, Ashland and Louisville to win the Ohio Division II State Championship, the first title in school history. The five teams Anderson took out in the playoffs were a combined 54-6 before season-ending losses to the Redskins. Anderson was led up front by sophomore offensive tackle Andrew Norwell, who now starts for the Carolina Panthers in the NFL.
St. Xavier 2007
The ’07 Bombers finished 15-0 and they won all but two of those games by 14 points or more. St. Xavier was loaded with talent including junior Luke Kuechly, who is now one of the best linebackers in the NFL. The Bombers’ offense did not have a weakness at any position and averaged 30.1 points per contest. The defense made it hard on the opposition, allowing just 9.1 points per game against arguably the toughest schedule in America. They only gave up 21 points in GCL South play going 3-0 to win the league. What St. Xavier did and against whom they did it to for 15 weeks is truly one of the greatest team feats that has ever been accomplished in this town. In the playoffs the Bombers gave up just 8.1 points in a contest and never allowed more than 14 in points in wins over Elder, Centerville, Colerain, Dublin Coffman and Mentor, whom they shutout 27-0 in the Division I title game.
Simon Kenton 2008
Sitting at 3-4 and heading nowhere Simon Kenton head coach Jeff Marksberry decided to switch quarterbacks, replacing a senior with sophomore Chad Lawrence. It was a move that changed the trajectory of the program not just for ’08 but up to this moment seven years later. The Pioneers would win seven in a row with Lawrence under center and junior running back Miles Simpson carrying the load offensively. They found themselves in the state championship game versus a stacked Louisville Trinity squad. The Shamrocks were too much to handle and the curtain dropped on Simon Kenton’s magical campaign. The Pioneers got to the title game by becoming the first team to be seeded fourth in the district to advance to the state finals at any level since 1995. Prior to this season, Simon Kenton had not won a playoff game since 1993. Times have changed for the better in Independence. Since the move, Marksberry has seen his program win at least nine games seven times in the last eight years, including 10 victories or more on six occasions and the school’s first two undefeated regular seasons.
Winton Woods 2009
A failed tax levy could have put an abrupt end to Winton Woods’ year in Week 8. Fortunately, the community passed the levy and that allowed the Warriors magical ride to continue. Winton Woods would win the ’09 Division II state championship with perseverance, style, class and a playoff run that saw them outscore their five post-season foes by an average of five touchdowns per game. The Warriors went 8-2 with losses to Moeller and the other to Anderson for the FAVC Buckeye title. An explosive Winton Woods ‘offense was reminiscent of Secretariat impressively pulling away from the competition down the back stretch. Division II Offensive Player of the Year Dominique Brown and running back Jeremiah Goins paced a Warriors group that averaged 47.6 points in the post-season with all the hard worked culminating in a 42-12 victory over Maple Heights for the program’s first-ever state title. Winton Woods’ 633 points were the eighth most in Ohio history. They scored 10 touchdowns in a game twice, nine and eight each once.
Highlands ran the table going 15-0 and winning the Kentucky Class 4A state title. It was the Bluebirds’ fifth consecutive championship and the 21st in program history. The offense put up outrageous numbers as the team set state records for most points (849), touchdowns (119) and total offensive yards (7,517) in a season. Senior quarterback Patrick Towles (now playing for the Kentucky Wildcats) threw 42 touchdown passes and only one interception. During the regular season Highlands scored 70 points or more three times and 60 or more on three occasions. They kept rolling it up in the playoffs, averaging 52.6 points in the five affairs. The Bluebirds average margin of victory was 37.4 points with all their victories being by 21 points or more.
Holy Cross 2011
Holy Cross had a championship run that nobody saw coming. The Indians got through the regular season at 7-3 with losses to very good Conner, Beechwood and Newport Central Catholic teams. They beat all the teams they should have with an explosive spread offense and an experienced, senior-laden defense. There were pieces in place, but they still lacked performances against upper echelon teams. Everything began to click for Holy Cross after a Week 9 loss to NewCath for the Class 2A, District 6 crown. The Indians shutout Holmes in the finale and carried that great play over into the first two rounds of the playoffs. Holy Cross outscored Carroll County and Owen County by a combined 113-0. Working on three consecutive shutouts, the Indians found themselves in a round three rematch with NewCath, the defending Kentucky Class 2A state champion. Quarterback Kyle Fuller, who was also the team’s place kicker, booted a 32-yard field with just 10 seconds left in the game to give the Indians a historic 24-21 victory over the Thoroughbreds. Holy Cross had lost its eight previous games to NewCath, including three straight playoff meetings in that span. The win put Holy Cross in the state semifinals for the first time in the program’s history. Next up was Somerset. With the game tied at 14, the Indians reeled off 34 unanswered points to close out the contest and advance to the state final. Glasgow came into the championship game undefeated and a heavy favorite, but Holy Cross was not in awe. The Indians used a 26-point run to pull away from the Scotties, 33-14 and grab the first state title in the 14-year of the program.
In just its fifth year of existence the Cooper football program found itself playing in the Kentucky Class 5A state championship game. They ran into perennial power playoff powerhouse Bowling Green in front of its home crowd in the finale and came up short. The Jaguars were a bit overwhelmed being on the big stage for the first time falling to Bowling Green, 34-20. The four teams that the Jaguars beat in the post-season were a combined 38-7 before Cooper ended their campaigns. The Jaguars beat all of them by at least 10 points and scored 40 or more on three times. Cooper’s 13 wins on the season were one less than the program had combined for in its first four years.
The very long and trying 15-week season ended with perfection for Loveland. The Tigers mantra was a “Band of Brothers” and they came together under first-year head coach Fred Cranford to overcome deficits in the fourth quarter of two playoff games and a season-ending injury in Week 8 to junior running back Nate Slagel, the AP Ohio Division II offensive Player of the Year, to win the school’s first-ever state championship. Loveland looked the part along the offensive line and they proved it. They went through the regular season unblemished with and average margin of victory of 41.8 points per game. The Tigers had three running backs run for more than 1,000 yards. Senior Gunner Gambill and freshman Luke Waddell picked up the slack in the post-season, running the ball after Slagel went down. The o-line cleared the way in the five playoff contests as Loveland averaged 42.6 points and 441 total yards (320 yards rushing) to go along with 21 rushing touchdowns.
Moeller got “Ragland’s best” in ’13. The Crusaders’ senior quarterback Gus Ragland was simply unstoppable down the stretch, finishing with jaw-dropping performance in the state title game. As a junior Ragland started at receiver for a Moeller team that won its first state championship since 1985. The Crusaders went 9-1 during the regular season with the only defeat coming in Week 9 at St. Edward, 45-42. After winning the GCL South by going 3-0 the Crusaders had to beat St. Xavier and Elder in the first two rounds of the playoffs. They did in convincing fashion winning by 25 and 24 points. Next up was GMC champion Colerain for the regional title. Ragland’s seventh rushing touchdown of the post-season came at the end of the first quarter. It gave Moeller a lead they would never relinquish. The following week the Crusaders eked out a 13-11 win over Hilliard Davidson in a defensive struggle. That set up the epic state finals battle with Mentor. Moeller would defeat the Cardinals in the highest scoring state title game in Ohio history, 55-52. Ragland, who was named the Division I Ohio Co-Offensive Player of the Year earlier in the week, stole the show. The Miami Redhawks’ commit went 12-of-13 for 273 yards, threw for three touchdowns with 189 yards and five scores rushing. In the five playoff games Ragland amassed 1,591 yards of total offense (727 passing, 864 rushing) while accounting for 20 of the team’s 22 post-season touchdowns (14 rushing, six passing). It was the ninth state title for Moeller and first time the program had won back-to-back crowns since 1979-80.
La Salle 2014
La Salle entered the 2014 season having lost seven games in a row. The Lancers left hoisting a Division II state title trophy, the first state title in school history. It started in the season opener when La Salle shocked Colerain 40-21. It opened a flood gate to confidence as the team went 9-1 with a three-point loss to St. Xavier the only thing keeping them from perfection. A grueling regular-season slate that included victories over Moeller, Elder, Northwest, East Central and Winton Woods toughened the squad up for the playoffs. The Lancers had never won a playoff game and saw that all change by beating Glen Este 48-28 in the first round. It was pure post-season domination from there on out. La Salle buried its next four foes by 32, 32, 35 and 35 points. A potent offense was led by junior Jeremy Larkin, the Ohio Division II Offensive Player of the Year. Larkin was sensational rushing for 1,037 yards and 15 touchdowns during the post-season. The Lancers averaged 47.0 points with an average margin of victory of 30.8 points in its five playoff tilts. La Salle set a record for points in a Division II state title game in the 55-20 win over previously unbeaten Nordonia.