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Old 11-16-17, 02:11 PM
OvGuy OvGuy is offline
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Local times article that ran today.

ZANESVILLE — Legendary Green Bay Packers head coach Vince Lombardi once said — “Everyone has a will to win, but very few have the will to prepare to win.”

As the Ohio high school football playoffs reach the regional final round Friday night, eight teams in each of the state’s seven divisions still stand.

River is one of the survivors in Division VII, and the Pilots’ willingness to be ready for any situation, its head coach believes, is the impetus for that.

“I overestimate everyone that we play,” Mike Flannery said earlier this week as he continued strategizing for the Region 27 final against top seed Danville.

“I do that purposely. The more I overestimate, the more we prepare. I’d rather overestimate, but at the same time, I feel that we are always prepared and have a change of plan and have another answer for something they’re presenting us with.

“We try to find what works and do it. It might take a quarter to figure it out. We hope, as a staff, to figure it out and have a lot of tools in the tool box to grab if we need to change some things. That’s what we basically did (in Athens) last Friday night.”

River’s penchant for making key adjustments when called for has served it well through the first two tests of its 2017 playoff journey. Flannery hopes the trend continues when his Pilots (8-4) battle the Blue Devils (11-1) at 7:30 on the turf of the Maysville High School Athletic Complex.

“All three teams are, and have been, very well-coached and they’ve presented different philosophies as far as offense goes,” he said. “So, you’re getting those different things thrown at you when you only have four days to prepare. It challenges you as a coach and it challenges you as a player.”

Danville presents its own set of unique tests, Flannery stated. Chief among them, quarterback Skyler Durbin.

“We’re facing, no doubt, the most-talented quarterback we’ve played,” Flannery said. “He’s 6-5. He’s 200 pounds. They spread you out and they’d rather run it first and pass second. But, (Durbin) has a cannon for an arm.

“We have to find a way to make him uncomfortable and, hopefully, we’ve done that in our preparation this week.

“It’s tough to get to him. He has a nice line in front of him and he gets the ball out so fast. We have to play exceptional defense this week. It’s a whole different animal than we’ve faced before. It really is.”

Durbin has completed 199 of 313 passes for 2,823 yards and 25 touchdowns this season. His most impressive stat, according to his head coach, Ed Honabarger, are his interceptions, or lack thereof.

“The biggest thing with him is his accuracy,” said Honabarger, in his 14th season guiding the Blue Devils. “He’s only thrown four picks all year.”

Durbin also shoulders the bulk of the rushing load, as he’s of the of the rushing load as he’s racked up 995 yards on the ground and nine touchdowns on 169 carries. Chris Greenwalt, a 6-0, 213-pound junior, leads the team with 15 TDs and has 101 carries for 596 yards.

Danville has three players with 40 or more receptions — junior Corbin Hazen (6-3, 190) and seniors Tyler Mickley (5-10, 152) and Brice Berger (6-0, 193). Hazen has 68 catches for 933 yards and five TDs, Mickley has 63 receptions for 689 yards and seven scores, while Berger has 42 grabs for 803 yards and nine touchdowns.

“We try to be 50-50 on our play calling,” Honabarger said, “but whatever you need to do, you do.”

Marshall Stull, the Central District’s Division VII Player of the Year, guides Danville’s defense. The 5-10, 225-pound senior has made 23 tackles for loss. He’s third on the team with 96 stops.

Leading the Blue Devils on tackles is Berger, with 121, followed by junior Christopher Greenwalt (6-0, 213) with 102.

“We’ve evolved fairly well defensively,” Honabarger said. “I think we’ve bent, but not broken. We’ve given up some yardage here and there, but not a lot of scores in several of our games. I think our pass defense will need to be very good this week.

Danville has allowed nine yards passing in its two playoff victories. In Week 10, it allowed just 35 to a team that came in averaging 180 per outing.

“They’re very well-coached and well-disciplined,” Flannery said. “They have a lot of pride in their community like we have; a lot of similarities. That place will be jumping Friday night.”

Flannery and Honabarger coached together a few years ago in the Ohio North-South Game.

“It’s always a fun thing to go up against coaches that you know and have integrity,” Flannery said. “I know he’s very, very prepared. He’s an old wing-T guy that’s gone spread.”

The only “hiccup” Danville had this season was a 26-0 loss at Division IV Highland (8-3) in Week 4.

“They were just bigger, faster, stronger,” Honabarger lamented. “We’ve been in some close contests and had some games roll our way. Overall, though, we’re pretty pleased with how the season’s gone and you have to be happy with being in the regional championship game.”

The lone common opponent between the two schools was Sciotoville East. River, of course, throttled the Tartans last week, 59-8. The Blue Devils, meanwhile, pulled away42-6 in Week 2 after only leading 13-6 early in the fourth quarter.

The Blue Devils have made three final four appearances, the last coming two years ago.

“River’s schedule has prepared them for the playoffs,” Honabarger said. “They play a really tough schedule. We’ve been in that same situation where we were 6-4 and a lower seed. In 1999, we were the seventh seed and reached the final four and in 2004 we were the eighth seed and got there. So, it’s just about getting hot at the right time and getting a good draw. Right now, they’re confident.”

The Pilots, seeded sixcth in the region, have been riding high ever since dispatching Lucas at home, a victory that catapulted them into playoff contention and beyond.

“Each game, we’ve gotten better,” Flannery stressed. “To do what we did against Lucas, you can’t appreciate it unless you saw the game and understand the offense they ran. And you can’t understand the Harvest Prep game (River’s regional semifinal opponent) unless you saw it and understood how good (Daniel Bangura) was and how good their offensive team was.”

Flannery said the team has been great at adjusting each week to what the opposition has thrown at it, both offensively and defensively. At the core, though, things haven’t changed, especially on offense, where senior Lukas Isaly oversees things from his quarterback spot.

Last week, Isaly threw for 139 and rushed for another 125 in delivering a balanced effort that had the Tartans baffled. He was especially effective rolling out and hitting receivers near the sideline.

“He’s capable of that,” Flannery said. “And, he’s comfortable doing that on the run and throwing outside of the pocket. That’s his game. We try to get him on the perimeter because he’s a threat out there.”

Honabarger agreed.

“They have a very dynamic offense and Isaly is a great athlete,” he said. “He can hurt you with his legs and hurt you throwing the ball.”

Honabarger has also been impressed with he rest of the offense, including tight end Drew Dietz and running back Drew Wagnild.

“I feel confident with what we’ve done on offense,” Flannery said. “You show them your best first. If they can’t stop it, they’re gonna be in for a long night. But if they can stop your best, you have to try to find something else.”

Or, as Flannery likes to say, delve into your tool box.

“To be where we are from where we came, I guess it’s been a highlight of my career,” he said. “We just emphasize in the guys to trust in the preparation that we’re doing and trust each other and they do.

“It’s just a group that’s trusts each other. That’s all a coach can ask for.

“They’ve been there before,” he said. “Now, we’re there to go do what they’ve done.”

The Pilots have tried. In 2008, they took a 12-0 mark into Steubenville’s Harding Stadium, only to fall to Malvern, 38-14.

This team, Flannery said, is different in many ways, but is talented in a humble way and is treating this week’s game as if it was Week 1.

“They’re just a focused group of guys,” he said. “They don’t talk like ‘This is cool’ or anything like that. We’re just treating it like it’s another game.’

“I’m not putting pressure on them and no one is putting pressure on me. I think that’s why we’ve had this little run. We’re just adding to it, man, and it’s fun. We’re doing something different and each week has been a little different.”

Friday’s survivor advances to the state semifinals next Friday night against the winner of the Region 25 final between Dalton and Cuyahoga Heights.

“I can’t control the weather and I can’t control what the other team does,” Flannery said. “But, I can control how we prepare and we’ve put in a lot of hard work and these kids have sacrificed a lot.

“They’re invested and when you’re invested in something like our kids are right now, it’s gonna take a lot of something from that other team to take it away.”
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