XENIA — A long drought becoming a distant memory, Xenia is in the football playoffs for the third straight year.
In 2019, the team lost at Columbus Walnut Ridge. Last season when all teams played in the COVID-19 shortened year, the Bucs won at Tecumseh before falling at Winton Woods.
Year-by-year progression says two wins may be coming? One needs to happen before a second could come, and a tough foe awaits first.
Cincinnati Anderson (8-2) comes into the game having won six straight and poses a high threat on offense. Its only losses are to Division-I Princeton in its season-opener and Kings, the No. 2-seed in Division II, Region 8.
Anderson is one of the highest scoring teams in the Southwest District, eclipsing 45 points four times with a high of 72 two weeks ago.
“Offensively they like to spread you out and air it out,” Xenia head coach Maurice Harden said. “They want to press the tempo. We’re gonna have to make sure our defense is really prepared to match the pace and the tempo of what they do on offense.”
Griffin Scalf was the leading passer in the Eastern Cincinnati Conference, throwing for 3,360 yards and completing 69 percent of his passing attempts. He threw for 31 touchdowns to 12 interceptions.
Joey Faulkner is his top receiver with 1,516 yards on 108 receptions. Evan Upchurch may be expected to see a lot of the ball out of the backfield with more than 1,000 all-purpose yards and 14 touchdowns scored.
Looking to lead the defense for Xenia are a pair of juniors, Jaxen Lewis and Jamell Smith. Lewis ranked in the top five in tackles amongst MVL players all season, and junior Jamell Smith finished second in sacks with eight.
Smith came up especially large as the regular season neared its end with 14 and 13 tackles against West Carrollton and Sidney.
Smith in particular feels football comes naturally for him, but also has other motives for performing well.
“I want to play football and grind, but it’s also for my mom,” he said. “She’s always been there for me. She’s been a person I’ve always had on my side, so I want to play for her.”
Lewis was high on the culture shift the Xenia program has experienced under Harden in his first-year as coach, and credits the way his teammates have stepped up.
“I feel like in the past we’ve needed leaders that we haven’t had,” Lewis said. “It’s come down to guys like myself and Jamell and Tremell [Smith] to step up and I think we’ve all done a really good job of that. I think it’s one of the reasons we’ve had a lot of success this year is that this team has leaders to look up to.”
Listen through the cheers and Smith could be heard plenty well this season coming off the field providing encouragement to the offense as possession changes, and also celebrating big plays others make on the field.
“I like being loud and it keeps our team up, especially with us being real young,” Smith said. “If guys ever get down on themselves it’s good to bring them back up and let them know we’re still in this.”
Harden said the way Lewis and Smith can uphold the ability to be accountable for their actions on and off the field, while having an understanding that maintaining consistency in their approach to everything gives them and the team the best shot at success.
“They are great human beings,” Harden said. “Just great kids that love football and have a passion for what we do every day. Really coachable and they do what do they ask you to do. That’s what makes it fun to coach.”
The two have been members of the junior class that has gotten a taste of the playoffs in each season and are taking the Bucs to new heights. Lewis spoke how goals have shifted from making the postseason to now winning consistency in those games.
The weather may have potential to cause havoc on the game with forecasts projecting steady rain.
“It’s great football weather,” Harden said. “The weather should hopefully be an advantage for us because we want to slow the game down and be balanced on offense running the ball.”
No matter the outcome, Lewis and Smith both spoke on the togetherness which Xenia has adopted as the season has progressed, sharing bonds which go beyond the field.
Both though have thoughts on their opponent.
“They’re going to take us lightly,” Lewis said.
“They’re going to be in for one tomorrow,” Smith said.
No. 6 Cincinnati La Salle or No. 11 Harrison will face the winner next week.
No. 14 Trotwood-Madison (4-5) at No. 3 Bellbrook (8-2)
Bellbrook lost to Ross, 41-19, in last year’s playoff game. The Golden Eagles beat Chaminade-Julienne and St. Mary’s Memorial by a combined score of 102-14 in the first two rounds.
Trotwood is now an independent school after being voted out of the GWOC. The Rams were the state champions in 2019 but began this season 0-4 before winning four of its last five to make a run at a postseason spot.
The defense has been the team’s strength, averaging 15.5 per game allowed and only giving up nine total points in its four wins.
On the other side of the ball, it’s been a different story as Trotwood has been shut out in four of the five losses and doesn’t seem to be well suited to compete if a shootout breaks out against a high-scoring Golden Eagles team.
The winner will await either No. 6 Wapakoneta or No. 11 Dunbar.
No. 9 Cincinnati Gamble Montessori (6-2) at No. 8 Greeneview (6-4)
Prior to last season, Greeneview’s last playoff appearance came in 2018 in D-V. The Rams beat Madeira and then lost to Wheelersburg, which was a state-semifinalist that season.
Now playing in D-VI, Greeneview overcame a 1-4 start to win its final five games and become champions of the OHC South and go from the outside looking in to a home game in the postseason.
Cole DeHaven has accounted for 46.8 percent of the team’s offensive yardage and has scored seven of its 20 touchdowns.
Cincinnati Gamble Montessori finished the regular season with a 6-2 record and did not schedule a game in week 10. The Gators have only faced two teams which ended with a record above .500, defeating 4-2 Shroder but being shut out by 7-2 Cincinnati College Prep.
Saturday night’s winner will face either No. 16 St. Bernard-Elmwood Place or No. 1 Mechanicsburg.
Contact Steven Wright at 937-502-4498 and follow on Twitter @Steven_Wright_.