Kenton Ridge hoping to return to football playoffs

Kenton Ridge expects to once again head into the final weeks of the high school football season as a playoff contender. But the greater goal is to make it back after three seasons that fell a victory or two short.

Last year was particularly frustrating. The Cougars were 5-3 before losing 21-14 to Northwestern and 22-15 to Tecumseh to finish 5-5.

“A touchdown short twice, and if we go 6-4 we make the playoffs — at least that’s what my assistant coaches tell me,” Cougars head coach Joel Marratta said.

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The Cougars have a mix of offensive talent and some players Marratta is counting on that could put them back in the playoffs for the first time since successive trips from 2013-15.

“We’re on the verge of getting out from under the radar,” he said. “I think our kids have put themselves in position to experience success — we’ve got to get over the hump.”

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The Cougars have the offensive playmakers needed to get there. Dylan Lemen, a 5-foot-10 senior, is a third-year starter with a numbers-filled resume. As a sophomore he passed for 1,613 yards and 13 touchdowns and rushed for 1,125 yards and 11 touchdowns. He followed that last year with 1,709 passing yards and 19 touchdowns and 968 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns.

“He’s a special athlete,” Marratta said.

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Marratta also said Lemen knows the offense much better than a year ago. He is in his second season with offensive coordinator Jon Daniels.

Lemen’s big target is 6-4 senior Calvin Dibert. He caught 40 passes last year for 883 yards and nine touchdowns.

“He creates mismatches for us,” Marratta said. “In addition to his great size he has great speed and great hands. His catching radius is unbelievable.”

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KR’s spread offense with mostly one-running back sets will also lean on seniors Carson Jones and Kaelan Lemen, both of whom missed time last year with injuries. Lemen, who is Dylan Lemen’s cousin, is the inside power runner and Jones is the outside speed back.

“They give us options to create some opportunities to do some different things,” Marratta said.

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The offensive line returns first-team All-Central Buckeye Conference center Colby McHenry. But otherwise this group lacks experience and depth. McHenry is also learning to play tackle.

“We’ve got to stay healthy and stay injury free and work with what we have,” Marratta said.

Marratta spends most of his time coaching defense. He likes that he has seniors on the line to lead what otherwise is a mostly inexperienced unit.

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“We’ve window-dressed the defense to our personnel and to what the kids do well,” Marratta said. “We’re going to do very, very similar things, and we’re a multiple 7-man, 8-man front anyway. We’re going to try to get our best 11 on the field.”

The line will be manned by McHenry, Jared Leffel and Zach Forshey.

“I hope that being seniors up front we’re able to not get pushed around like maybe we did a year ago,” Marratta said.

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At inside linebacker Marratta is counting on junior Seth Anderson to be the play caller. Other linebackers he’s counting on are juniors Michael Sloan and Jordon Miller. The secondary returns Dibert and Jones.

“I’ve got high hopes for Seth Anderson,” Marratta said. “I look for him to have a really, really good year.”

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The Cougars have had good luck with soccer players doubling as a placekicker. Sophomore Brandon Gibson has a strong leg and has inherited that duty this year.

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