High School Football: 7 things to know about Friday’s regional semifinals

Published: Thursday, November 09, 2017 @ 12:00 AM

Dunbar seniors Joseph Scates and Tavion Thomas address a D-III, Region 12 high school football semifinal at practice on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017. MARC PENDLETON / STAFF

This is the high school football season Dunbar thought it was going to have last year. Then everything went ka-boom.

“As a program, we’ve taken another step forward just getting over all that adversity that we’ve been through,” Wolverines coach Darran Powell said this week. “It shows our resiliency.”

There is no more unlikely area team remaining in the playoffs than Dunbar, although Chaminade Julienne might have something to say about that. Here’s seven things to know about Friday’s Week 12 games.

These are all 7:30 p.m. region semifinals that will be played at neutral sites. Brackets are set and the Ohio High School Athletic Association will announce Week 13 regional final sites on Sunday.

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Back together again: Dunbar and Trotwood-Madison have established their boys basketball programs as the best in the area. Those are must-see showdowns. And so too is this Division III, Region 12 matchup.

This is not the same Dunbar that was toasted 42-0 by Belmont in Week 1. Dunbar made its grandest statement by outlasting host Goshen 28-27 in last week’s playoff opener. Tavion Thomas’ two-point conversion run on the game’s final play was the difference.

That propelled Dunbar (8-3) into the semis against Trotwood (11-0) at Butler. A heavy favorite to win a state title, Trotwood whacked Elida 48-7 in its opener. Dunbar and Trotwood haven’t played in football since the 2012 season, a 62-0 Trotwood rout.

“This is the game we’ve been preparing for all season when we found out we were in the same division and region,” Dunbar standout receiver Joseph Scates said. “That’s what made us work harder so we could get a good record and go to the playoffs and play these boys.”

It’s a matchup of two great running backs, seniors Ra’veion Hargrove of Trotwood and Dunbar’s Tavion Thomas. Hargrove will end his career among the area’s all-time career rushing leaders. He needs 237 yards to hit 2,000 for the season. He recently decommitted from Bowling Green State University and is being wooed by Michigan State, among others.

Thomas need less than 100 yards to crack 2,000 this season. He’s verbally committed to Oklahoma.

“All I’m going to say is we’re ready,” Thomas said. “We’re going to prove that we can hang with anybody.”

Getting defensive: Centerville (10-1) has posted two straight shutouts, including last week’s 35-0 defeat of Hilliard Darby. That enabled Centerville to be the last Greater Western Ohio Conference still playing in D-I, Region 3, because, Fairmont, Northmont and Wayne all lost playoff openers.

Centerville’s senior combo of quarterback Alec Grandin and receiver Jake Spiewak have it going. Grandin has thrown for 2,351 yards, 23 touchdowns and just six interceptions. The GWOC’s leading receiver, the 6-foot-4 Spiewak has 66 catches for 1,011 yards and 10 TDs.

Those two will get the defensive attention of Pickerington North (9-2), which ousted Wayne 41-20. It’s also a rematch of their Week 3 game that host Centerville won, 27-26. The do-over will be played at Springfield’s Evans Stadium.

Can’t beat that: Sidney (10-1) is the third GWOC team still playing. The Yellow Jackets handed Belmont its first loss last week. Their reward is a matchup against Cincinnati La Salle (8-3), the D-II three-time defending state champion, at Miamisburg in a D-II, Region 8 semi.

Sidney has ridden senior running back Isaiah Bowser, the area’s leading rusher (2,617 yards, 32 TDs). Good thing, because the Sidney defense has allowed 32 or more points eight times.

Upset special: CJ landed the knockout that stunned the D-III, Region 12 field with a 49-28 blowout of rival Alter last week. Just the week before Alter hammered host CJ 34-6 to win a Greater Catholic League Co-Ed North title.

If CJ (8-3) can get past New Richmond (9-2) at Monroe, the Eagles will play the Trotwood/Dunbar winner in a regional final.

The beat goes on: Valley View (11-0) is among the state’s few remaining unbeaten teams and also has posted two straight shutouts. Paced by senior running back Collin Genslinger (863 yards, 11 TDs) and senior QB Collin Wood (1,426 yards passing, 16 TDs, 652 yards rushing) and a lock-down defense, the Spartans appear the have the right stuff to match up against Clinton-Massie (10-1) at Beavercreek.

Look for this winner to play for a state championship.

MAC attack: All that stands in the way of a Marion Local vs. Coldwater rematch is Spencerville and Lima Central Catholic. Marion Local (11-0) gets Spencerville (9-2) at Piqua and Coldwater (8-3) is matched against LCC (10-1) at Wapakoneta in D-VI, Region 24.

Two more MAC teams are making runs in D-VII, Region 28. Minster (7-4) is paired against Convoy Crestview (10-1) at Lima and Delphos St. John’s (7-4) will play Lehman Catholic (10-1) at Harrod Allen East. Both Minster and Delphos took their lumps in regular-season MAC play, but have recharged for the postseason.

By the numbers: There are 719 football teams in Ohio that belong to the OHSAA. Of those, 224, or 31.2 percent), qualified for the playoffs. There still remain 58 programs that have yet to qualify since the playoffs began in 1972.

»FACEBOOK: For more high school sports you should like Marc Pendleton

Kentucky football: Stephen Johnson will be remembered as a winner

Published: Thursday, November 23, 2017 @ 4:09 PM

LEXINGTON, Ky. — There’s no question as to which player will receive the most ringing applause on senior day at Kroger Field: Stephen Johnson, the California kid plucked from College of the Desert. The Kentucky quarterback will be remembered as a winner above anything else.

As a two-year player who was brought to Lexington as a backup, Johnson’s numbers will never put him on equal footing among the list of great Kentucky quarterbacks such as Tim Couch, Babe Parilli, Andre’ Woodson, Jared Lorenzen and Bill Ransdell. All five of those players are among Kentucky’s top-10 career total offense leaders.

Johnson’s career numbers are solid but not spectacular: 3,975 passing yards, 23 touchdowns, 10 interceptions with a 58 percent completion percentage. Johnson is 10th on Kentucky’s career passing leaders list. He’s also rushed for 679 career yards with 6 touchdowns.

But there’s a better number to describe Johnson: 14-7.

That’s his record as Kentucky’s primary quarterback. Not many Cats quarterbacks have won 66 percent or more of their games. Johnson’s two-year stint as starter has included wins against rivals Louisville and Tennessee. And despite his thin 6-foot-2, 185-pound frame, some of Johnson’s most memorable moments came when he was banged up.

The label is overused and easy to apply, but no word describes Johnson better: winner.

Offensive coordinator Eddie Gran was asked earlier this week if he’s pondered what life will be like without Johnson as his quarterback. Gran smiled: “Every day,” he said.

“He’s done some really incredible things for us,” Gran said. “I’m really excited for him. You could not have written that story. You really couldn’t have.”

Johnson struggled with Tourette’s growing up. Football and faith helped him move past the disorder. Johnson was hardly recruited coming out of Los Osos High School in Southern California. He went to Grambling State. He started, was injured, and didn’t reclaim the starting spot after a coaching change. Johnson moved backed home to College of the Desert, a place he was spotted by Kentucky quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw.

“I’d be lying if I just sat up here and said you knew exactly what you were going to get,” Mark Stoops said Monday of his quarterback. “That’s not true.”

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Johnson was an emergency addition. The Wildcats needed a viable option behind starter Drew Barker. Had Barker not injured his back in Week 3 last season, who knows what Johnson would be.

“He has probably exceeded expectations as far as some of those intangibles that you’re looking for,” Stoops said.

After a cross-country journey, Lexington was the last stop for Johnson. And on Saturday, Johnson will be announced as Kentucky’s starting quarterback for the final time at Kroger Field.

“I don’t know how I’ll be feeling walking out there, but I’m looking forward to it,” Johnson said. “I’m excited for the moment to come.”

Watch: Stephen Johnson on senior day

This Iron Bowl is why Jarrett Stidham came to Auburn, and vice versa

Published: Thursday, November 23, 2017 @ 4:09 PM

AUBURN, Ala. — Jarrett Stidham has never played in an Iron Bowl. He fully admits he doesn’t know what exactly to expect Saturday inside Jordan-Hare Stadium.

But a game like this one — a winner-takes-the-SEC West matchup against undefeated Alabama on national television — is the reason the Texan quarterback is on the Plains.

“Looking back on everything, you know, I think this is exactly why I came here, to play in a game like this with these kind of implications,” Stidham said earlier this week. “This is why you play Division I football, especially at a place like Auburn, in this state.”

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And this game is the reason why Auburn went after Stidham so hard in the first place.

Last November, Auburn’s promising season collapsed in November with bad offensive outputs against rivals Georgia and Alabama. Then-starting quarterback Sean White wasn’t healthy for either game, and his backup options — Jeremy Johnson and John Franklin III — were mostly ineffective.

White and Franklin were set to return to Auburn in 2017, and the Tigers also had redshirting freshman Woody Barrett on their roster. At face value, Auburn didn’t have an overwhelming need for a quarterback.

But deep down, Auburn needed Stidham.

Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham will be playing in his first Iron Bowl on Saturday. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

The former Baylor 5-star signee, who left the scandal-ridden program after a promising freshman season, left the school in the summer of 2016 and immediately became the hottest quarterback on the transfer market. He even took a season off from competitive football that fall, which preserved a year of eligibility and made him an even more valuable target.

Stidham wasn’t cut from the typical Auburn quarterback mold under Gus Malzahn. He was from a seldom-recruited state for the Tigers, and he wasn’t a prototypical dual-threat quarterback. Stidham had a big arm and played in balanced, wide-open offenses that didn’t resemble Malzahn’s run-heavy scheme.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, though. Auburn pushed hard for Stidham on the recruiting trail, eventually beating out Texas A&M and Florida for his transfer. It was a move that would raise the ceiling of Auburn’s offense, especially when Malzahn hired Chip Lindsey to be his new offensive coordinator a month later.

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His arrival has made all the difference for Auburn’s offense — one that, along with Alabama, is currently putting up the most points per game in SEC play since Tim Tebow and Florida in 2008.

Auburn still runs the ball the majority of the time, but Stidham’s arm strength has revolutionized the Tigers passing game. White, who — like Franklin and Barrett — is no longer with the program, didn’t complete a pass of 50-plus yards in 2016. Stidham has 11 of them in 2017.

And it’s that type of dynamic playmaking ability that could make the difference in the Iron Bowl.

Almost all of the teams that have beaten Nick Saban since his first national title at Alabama have all had quarterbacks who could change games — Cam Newton, Johnny Manziel, Nick Marshall, Trevor Knight, Cardale Jones, Chad Kelly, Deshaun Watson.

Johnson couldn’t provide that, despite considerable hype. An oft-injured White, while tough and efficient when healthy, couldn’t do it either. Franklin was limited as a passer. Barrett couldn’t hold off newcomer Malik Willis on the depth chart.

Stidham’s arrival has provided balance, something Auburn’s offense has desperately searched for since the departure of Marshall in 2014. Auburn now has a healthy arm that can challenge Alabama’s elite defense.

“Jarrett’s in a good spot,” Malzahn said this week. “He knows what it’s about. He knows how big a game it is and what’s on the line and all that. I will say this, I’m glad that we have our starting quarterback healthy for this game. We hadn’t been able to do that the last two years. That’s a good feeling.”

Auburn QB Jarrett Stidham has tallied multiple touchdowns in each of his last three games. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

The transition to Stidham wasn’t a smooth one at first. He had issues in the pocket, taking plenty of sacks — including 11 against Clemson — earlier in the season.

But as the season continued, Stidham found a rhythm that has made him the most accurate passer in the SEC.

Since the Week 2 loss to Clemson, Stidham has completed 70.3 percent of his passes for 2,181 yards and 14 touchdowns — an average of 242 yards per game and 9.96 yards per attempt. Stidham has been a key figure in an offense that has become one of college football’s best over the last two months.

“If you look at the first of the year I think everybody saw it,” Malzahn said. “Even our first game, we needed experience as a group, we have a new coordinator and really trying to figure out our identity. Somewhere along the line, Game 4 or so, it started clicking. Obviously if you take away the second half at LSU, I think we’ve played phenomenal offense.”

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Stidham will lead that phenomenal offense into a matchup against undefeated Alabama, which has one of the nation’s best defenses yet again. The young Texan knows the stage will be nothing like he’s ever experienced, but he’s trying not to get overhyped for the biggest game of his career.

“Obviously, we know it means a lot to everybody within the Auburn family,” Stidham said. “It’s a very big deal, and it’s a very big deal to us. But at the same time, you can’t get too caught up in the moment. You have to just hunker down and lock in and focus on your job. Play the play and don’t look too far ahead.

“There’s a lot of legacy within this rivalry. We’re going to try to play for our teammates and everybody else that’s worn the jersey before.”

And as for the notion that the last 12 months have all led up to this moment? Stidham knows this opportunity in the Iron Bowl is why he’s on the Plains.

“I came to Auburn to play in a big game like this,” Stidham said. “Sure enough, here it is. … I’m confident in myself and my abilities. I’m confident in this team. Any outside pressure, I’m not going to let that get to me. This team, we’re not going to let it get to us. We’re just going to play Auburn football.”

Kentucky football: Nick Haynes not giving up on football despite frustrating senior season

Published: Thursday, November 23, 2017 @ 4:09 PM

We tackle the best question asked by Kentucky fans every day. If you’d like to submit a question, tweet to Kyle Tucker  here and Joe Mussatto  here. Look for the Question of the Day every Monday through Friday. 

Offensive guard Nick Haynes will be honored in senior day celebrations on Saturday, but the end of Haynes’ Kentucky career hasn’t gone according to plan.

Haynes was a steady presence on Kentucky’s offensive line last season, but the Niceville, Fla., native hasn’t played in the Wildcats’ last few games. A struggle with Type 1 diabetes has kept Haynes from keeping weight on. Listed on the roster at 300 pounds, Haynes has been hovering in the 260-pound range. It’s a weight he doesn’t feel comfortable playing at.

“It’s been terrible,” Haynes said Tuesday of not playing. “Especially, I think coming off last year I was in a really good space when it comes to football, just how I played and stuff like that. I think I was playing really well, but my weight didn’t wanna act right so I ended up here.”

That brings us to our Kentucky Question of the Day.  David Beyer asks: “Will we see Nick Haynes at tight end?”

Haynes wore No. 89 at Georgia last weekend, so it seemed like a legitimate possibility. But Kentucky coach Mark Stoops nixed the idea on Monday.

“We tried it just a little bit for field goal and a few certain things, but we’ll move him back inside,” Stoops said ahead of the Louisville game.

But Haynes is eager for any chance of playing time. He said his number transition has been in the works for three weeks.

“I was wearing No. 8 at practice, but I do whatever they ask me to do,” Haynes said. “I was on special teams, it doesn’t matter. If they ask me to go play tight end, I can do that. If they ask me to go play tackle, I don’t care. It doesn’t matter.”

Haynes hasn’t been able to contribute as an offensive lineman for much of the season, but offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said Haynes is like a coach at practice. The five-year veteran knows all the nuances of playing on the offensive line. He’s been a mentor to young players such as redshirt freshman center Drake Jackson.

Coach is one role, and captain is another.

“I think he just deserves that,” Stoops said. “I think that’s who he is. He’s done a lot for this program. He’s sacrificed a lot, and he’s not at 100 percent health, but he’s still a very good leader and a captain.”

Haynes’ Kentucky career will end next month, but he’s not ready to be finished with football. He plans to train with the hope of putting weight back on. He wants to find a more detailed nutritionist and a nutrition plan that’s specific to him. The frustrating part for Haynes is that no one can figure out why this has been the year when he hasn’t been able to keep weight on.

When it’s all figured out, he wants to play center in the NFL.

“It’s not something that’s out of my reach, and it’s something I wanna do,” Haynes said. “So, I’m gonna work my hardest to do that.”

Watch: Nick Haynes on his senior season

Tom Brady a limited participant at Thanksgiving practice for Patriots

Published: Thursday, November 23, 2017 @ 4:05 PM

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is nursing an Achilles injury that limited him in practice on Thanksgiving day, according to a report from Mike Reiss of ESPN.com.

Brady is still expected to play on Sunday against the Miami Dolphins, but his status will have to be monitored and it’s likely he’ll be listed as questionable when the official injury report comes out on Friday.

The five-time Super Bowl champion has been a regular on the injury report during his 18-year career. However, he rarely actually misses any action, outside of the 15 games he missed in 2008 after tearing his ACL in the first game of the season.

Outside of that injury in 2008 and a four-game suspension he served for his role in DeflateGate in 2016, Brady hasn’t missed a start due to injury since taking over the job in 2001. So the expectation is definitely that he’ll be in the lineup, though fear of further aggravating the injury could prompt the Patriots to turn to Brian Hoyer at their earliest possible convenience.

Given the Dolphins’ recent struggles, they could have that opportunity at some point in the second half on Sunday. Though, pulling Brady off the field has always been a tough task for Bill Belichick and the rest of the coaching staff.