The outstanding football players and great playoff teams have been numerous at Trotwood-Madison High School, especially over the last eight seasons. Each of those teams have played in state semifinals, the final hurdle to overcome for the grand prize, playing for a state championship.
That longevity of football excellence is more than a streak of good luck and hybrid genes.
“I gotta give it to these kids,” Rams coach Jeff Graham said. “They’re dedicated. There’s a lot of distractions out here for them to be able to be a part of and do. There’s so much that’s going on in this world. For some odd reason we can focus and get these kids to understand that there’s a bigger prize and a bigger opportunity for you on the football field.”
»BACK TOGETHER AGAIN: Trotwood and TCC
»HISTORIC REMATCH: Marion Local KO’s Coldwater
»IT’S A FIRST: Doesn’t get any better than Marion Local vs. Coldwater
»MAC REMATCH? Marion Local, Coldwater would meet again
»GWOC LOSS: Second head football coach resigns
»IT’S AN HONOR: Area players, coaches earn Southwest District status
»MIKE AND MARC: The boys talk playoff football
»STATE POLL CHAMPS: Trotwood-Madison, Marion Local No. 1 in football
»LET’S GET TECHNICAL: Instant replay assists teams
Trotwood (13-0) gets its next great opportunity in Friday night’s Division III state semifinals against nemesis Toledo Central Catholic (11-2) at Piqua. The stakes are grand, just as they have been all four previous playoff showdowns between these state powers.
Joining Trotwood in Week 14 games are area teams Clinton-Massie (D-IV), Middletown Madison (D-V), Marion Local (D-VI) and Minster (D-VII). All the games are at 7:30 p.m. The winners advance to next week’s season-ending state championships at the new Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium at Canton.
The Trotwood/TCC matchup is state-title caliber. The Fighting Irish defeated the Rams in the 2012 D-II state title game and knocked out Trotwood in two more state semifinals at Findlay and Sidney. But that streak ended abruptly last season when the Rams shut down Mr. Football Michael Warren and stopped TCC 36-0 in yet another state semi.
“In that game guys were tuned in and the seniors didn’t want to be denied,” Graham said. “They played their hearts out, just an extraordinary game.”
Trotwood has a Mr. Football candidate in standout running back Ra’veion Hargrove. The senior went for 144 yards rushing and two touchdowns in last week’s 44-14 regional final defeat of Chaminade Julienne. That pushed his season rushing total to 2,000 yards (11.2 average) and 32 TDs.
Rams senior quarterback Markell Stephens-Peppers has accounted for 2,651 total yards of offense and 43 touchdowns. He’s had a breakout passing season with teams committed to the line of scrimmage to stop Hargrove. Stephens-Peppers has thrown for 35 touchdowns and just three interceptions.
Another Rams senior, Dallas Daniels, has 60 catches for 1,177 yards (19.6) and 20 TDs.
Trotwood has the defensive might, also. The Rams have allowed seven points or less in six games and have overwhelmed opponents by a combined 676-157. They haven’t been pushed in three playoff wins, although that figures to change against Central Catholic.
“It’s a rivalry and we know what the expectations are,” Graham said.
Paired in the other half of the D-III state semi bracket is Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary (10-3) vs. Dresden Tri-Valley (12-1) at Perry.
• The Midwest Athletic Conference has placed two teams in the state semis. Defending D-VI state champ Marion Local (13-0) will play Findlay Liberty-Benton (12-1) at Wapakoneta. In D-VII it’s Minster (9-4) vs. top-ranked Norwalk St. Paul (13-0) at Lima Senior.
Marion Local junior QB Nathan Bruns also has had a breakout season. He’s accounted for 1,803 yards passing and 20 TD passes. Nolan Habodasz has been the go-to running back with 1,021 yards and 13 TDs.
Minster lost four straight games in Weeks 4-7 and wobbled into the playoffs at 6-4. But the Wildcats have been money since. Besides, recent postseason success has been on the Wildcats’ side: Minster was a D-VII state runner-up last season and won a D-VI state title in 2014.
• Madison (11-2) is the only first-time playoff qualifier still playing. The Mohawks get Wheelersburg (13-0) at Chillicothe.
• There will be one state title game on Thursday, Nov. 30 (7:30 p.m.) from the Divisions I, II, V and VII fields. Those not chosen will play on Friday. Divisions III, IV and VI are scheduled for Saturday. The Friday-Saturday title games will be at 10 a.m., 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Which division plays when will be announced by the Ohio High School Athletic Association following the state semifinal games.
Fun fact: Four of the seven state poll champs will play in state semis: Avon (D-II), Steubenville (D-IV), Pemberville Eastwood (D-V) and Marion Local (D-VI).