After a three year hiatus from the OHSAA state playoffs, the Jonathan Alder High School football team returns to Week 11.
The Pioneers (9-1) will play host to Springfield Kenton Ridge (7-3) Saturday, Nov. 7 at 7 p.m., in the opening round of the Division IV, Region 12 state playoffs.
Alder comes into the game riding an impressive 9-game winning streak, which included a 56-21 triumph over rival Fairbanks in the final game of the regular season Oct. 30. The Pioneers have powered their way back to the postseason on the strength of a strong running game, efficient passing attack and a solid defense.
The team last played in the playoffs in 2011 when it went 10-o in the regular season, won a pair of playoff games before falling in a D-III regional final to Springfield Shawnee.
This return trip to the postseason will mean another date with a school from Clark County, however the Cougars come limping into the playoffs, straight off of back-to-back losses to end the regular season.
Kenton Ridge was 7-1 heading into Week 8 date at Stebbins, but a 38-29 loss followed by a 40-0 defeat at the hands of Tippecanoe last week have the Cougars hoping for a turnaround this week against Alder.
The biggest question mark surrounding Kenton Ridge is the availability and health of running back Jayden Davis. The standout has rushed for nearly 1,700 yards this season, but was banged up in the game with Stebbins and was limited in the loss to Tippecanoe. His availability will go a long way in determining whether or not the sixth-seeded Cougars will be able to keep up with No. 3 Alder.
“Jayden Davis is a great player both offensively and defensively,” Pioneers coach Brett Glass said. “He’s been banged up but we expect him to play. But by far he’s the biggest key for us to stop.”
The Pioneers have faced a collection of talented ball carriers this fall including West Jeff’s Conor Powell and Amanda-Clearcreek’s Jordan Leasure, but the 5-11, 195-pound Davis could prove to be as good or better than the others.
Alder has been paced offensively by the play of sophomore quarterback Preston Eisnaugle (1,448 yards passing with 14 TDs and 9 rushing TDS), senior running back Sean Sullivan (1,099 yards, 8 TDs) and junior wideout Trey Pugh (52 catches, 730 yards, 6TDs).
Pioneers linemen Jake McLaughlin and Christian Hipp have anchored an offensive line that was inexperienced at the beginning of the season, but has grown into one of the most consistent units around.
Defensive backs Andrew Koenig (60 tackles, 4 INTs) and Bryan Blacka (57 tackles, 2 INTs) have anchored the Pioneers defense, but with Cougars being a run-first type of squad defensive linemen Zeke Thorpe (50 tackles, 3 sacks) and Daniel Gowans (37 tackles, 2 sacks) will have to play key roles.
Kenton Ridge has just two wins this season over teams that finished with winning records. They were a 22-15 triumph over Indian Lake (8-2) and a 47-0 crushing of Springfield Northwestern (6-4). Alder also has two wins of similar significance, it topped Galion (8-2) 35-13 and River Valley (6-4) 28-22, but also has two wins over .500 teams in Buckeye Valley (5-5) and North Union (5-5).
“We’re going to continue to do what we do,” Glass said. We’ve got to stay balanced on offense. We’ve had games where we’ve run it 60 times and games where we’ve thrown it 25-30 times, we need to try and stay balanced.”
The winner of the Alder-Ridge tilt will advance to face the winner of the contest between No. 2 Wauseon (9-1) and No. 7 Bellevue (8-2). The game will be played Nov. 14 at 7 p.m. at a site to be determined.
While Glass and his staff have coached in playoff games before, no Alder player has. So the coach has been trying to prep the Pioneers for what to expect.
“We told them before the game the lights are brighter and there’s more energy in the air,” Glass said. “But once we kickoff it’s just a game where the stakes are a little bit higher.”
Reach Chris Miles at 740-852-1616, ext. 1618 or via Twitter @MadPressSports.