Ohio football state semifinal preview: Loveland (13-0) vs. Zanesville (13-0)

DIVISION II STATE SEMIFINALS

#1 LOVELAND (13-0) vs.. #2 ZANESVILLE (13-0)
@Columbus St. Francis DeSales Alumni Stadium
Kickoff: Friday, Nov. 29, 7:30 p.m.

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Loveland and Zanesville have been consistently great in their seasons of perfection. Both schools have been able to get dominating performance on both sides of the football. The irony of these monster campaigns is that neither program had ever enjoyed playoff bliss until this fall. When you’re going to do it, you might as well do it in grand fashion, and both squads have seized that moment to this point. The fairy tale is about to get even better for the winner on Friday night.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Freshman Luke Waddell has stepped it up in the postseason for Loveland. He has 450 yards on 37 carries, five rushing touchdowns and nine receptions for 113 more yards in three playoff games. Waddell has made the Tigers’ transition in the running game smooth since Southwest District Offensive Player of the Year Nate Slagel tore his ACL in Week 8. The defense is led by Charlie Lawler, the 2013 Southwest District Defensive Player of the Year. Senior teammates Michael Weber, Max Mather and Brian Popp have elevated their games in the playoffs. Mather has three interceptions in the postseason, giving him 10 picks in his career.

Like Loveland, the Blue Devils also swept the All-District awards. Quarterback Thomas Wibbeler was named the Eastern District Offensive Player of the Year, linebacker Tristan Rock was honored as the Defensive Player of the Year and Chad Grandstaff was tabbed Coach of the Year. The Blue Devils also saw receivers Dar Stanford, JT McFarland, Granger Long and linemen Austin Kimble and Zach Clapper named First-Team All-District on offense. The defense saw lineman David Johnson and secondary star Jamal Gladden earn the same honors.

TEAM TRENDS: Both teams allowed season highs of 28 points last week in their region title wins. Neither had allowed more than 17 in the 12 contests prior to that. Over Loveland’s last 29 games (23-6), the Tigers have posted nine shutouts and held eight more foes to 15 points or fewer. The Zanesville defense has been equally spectacular allowing just 9.8 points per contest. The Blue Devils registered four straight shutouts before New Albany broke the streak last week.

Zanesville averaged 52.7 points per game during the regular season. Only once all season have the Blue Devils scored less than 35 points, but in the playoffs they have yet to score more than 38. Loveland is averaging 42.2 points per contest and has scored 35 or more in 12 of 13 victories. The Tigers have scored more than 46 points just twice this season.

This is the sixth playoff appearance for Zanesville and third in the last four years. The Blue Devils had a 1-5 overall record in the postseason before this campaign. Loveland is making its fourth playoff appearance and first since 2002. The Tigers were 1-3 in post-season play before this trip.

LOVELAND’S KEYS TO VICTORY: The Tigers continue to face more and more speed each week. They have seen enough in the playoffs to make them ready for what Zanesville will throw at them. The defense has to continue to come up with turnovers. They have done a good job of that in the playoff with 10 takeaways, including returning three of them for scores. Those are the hidden points that can win big tilts like this.

ZANESVILLE’S KEYS TO VICTORY: Last week Mount Healthy proved that Loveland's sophomore quarterback can be rattled. The Blue Devils will look to do the same thing. It can only be possible if they stop the Tigers' ground game on first and second downs.

PREDICTION: Loveland 28, Zanesville 27.

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