GREEN TOWNSHIP, Ohio -- The La Salle football team has 28 seniors who’ve been a part of the past Division II state titles.
Those seniors are playing in their 15th playoff game over the past three years. The Lancers are on the brink of becoming the first Division II team to win three in a row.
La Salle is also trying to become just the ninth school to win at least three consecutive state football titles and the first program locally to win three in a row since Moeller (1975-77).
Process all that for a moment.
“People don’t understand how hard it is to play 15 weeks,” La Salle coach Jim Hilvert said. “It’s a grind. These seniors have played almost 50 games if you count scrimmages. This will be their 45th regular football game. Those guys know how to embrace that. It says a lot about your young men.”
La Salle (12-2) plays Massillon Perry (12-2) in a Division II state final at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Ohio Stadium in Columbus. It is the second straight season these two teams will play in the state championship. La Salle won 42-0 in 2015.
“We were probably a better team going in last year,” Perry coach Keith Wakefield said this week.
The Lancers don’t care if that’s true or not. They’re just all about taking care of their business. Nothing else.
The Lancers, who won the Greater Catholic League South division title outright for the first time in program history, have won 10 consecutive games after back-to-back losses in mid-September.
Junior quarterback Griffin Merritt has thrown for 1,930 yards and 21 touchdowns. Senior running back Jarell White has rushed for 764 yards and 11 touchdowns. He was named second-team all-state this week.
Senior Christian Turner, another second-team all-state selection, has 10 receiving touchdowns out of the backfield. Senior TreSean Smith (Louisville commit), a first-team all-state selection, has 12 rushing touchdowns.
“We have to keep their offense off the field,” Wakefield said. “That’s the key for us really. Matching up with their personnel will be a little difficult."
Wakefield admits Perry didn’t tackle well in space last December. La Salle uses the zone read, jet sweep and counter very effectively. The Panthers also know what they are up against Thursday night.
“They are solid upfront,” Wakefield said. “They have all the tools offensively.”
Perry is led by multiple players including junior quarterback Max Baker (730 yards rushing and eight touchdowns) and senior running back/defensive back Tevion Cleveland (1,096 yards rushing and eight touchdowns). Senior Malachi Strickland/defensive back has rushed for 907 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Senior running back Nick Myers will also contribute in the wing-T offense.
Senior offensive lineman Matt Carrick, a Michigan State commit, was named an all-state selection. He has helped the Panthers average 317.6 yards.
La Salle’s defense has been stout during this postseason. The Lancers have given up just 17 points the past three games overall.
“We got to stop the run,” Hilvert said. “We’ve got to play physical and be great tacklers.”
La Salle sophomore linebacker Garrett Bledsoe has a team-leading 83 tackles. Senior defensive back Marvin Gentry has 62 tackles including 4 ½ sacks. Junior Zach Rumpke also has 62 tackles. Sophomore linebacker Brody Ingle has 61 tackles including four sacks. Senior defensive back Da’Meak Brandon has 48 tackles and four interceptions.
If the Lancers can force turnovers and give Perry long yardage situations, it could be a long night for the Panthers. Still, La Salle takes nothing for granted with an opportunity at history.
Hilvert said the Lancers will be ready for the spotlight of playing the only state final on Thursday night.
“No game is too big for our kids,” he said. “They’re used to facing adversity. The kids have been used to in playing in the GCL.”