Prep football: It’s Madison vs. 12-0 West Jefferson for regional title

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Prep football: It’s Madison vs. 12-0 West Jefferson for regional title

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Mason Whiteman (7), Evan Crim (34), Levi Wilson (55) and Drew Price (22) lead Madison High School’s football team onto the field at Lakota East last Friday night before their 35-27 victory over Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy in a Division V, Region 20 semifinal. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Madison High School’s football team is striving to continue the march that has earned notice across Ohio.

The Mohawks, the only first-time playoff qualifiers still playing this season, will meet West Jefferson for the Division V, Region 20 championship Friday night at Beavercreek.

“For the kids, it’s a journey, someplace nobody from here’s ever been,” Madison coach Steve Poff said. “But it’s really about how much they want to play for each other.

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“What I love about our guys is they keep coming at you, and if it’s not going their way, they’re going to keep coming at you anyway. They come out and find a way to win and do it on their terms.”

Armed with a 10-2 record and a nine-game winning streak, the Mohawks will face a Roughrider squad that’s 12-0 and making its 20th playoff appearance.

West Jefferson, a first-year member of the Ohio Heritage Conference and champion of the North Division, has outscored its opponents by an average score of 45-14.

“We’ve been very fortunate,” said Shawn Buescher, in his 16th year at the helm of the Roughriders. “I think we’ve been to this stage eight out of the last 12 years, so we’re used to making runs.

West Jefferson High School football coach Shawn Buescher talks about his team and Friday's Division V, Region 20 final against Madison at Beavercreek.

“I definitely wouldn’t call it old hat. I hope people aren’t spoiled. I know our kids and our staff are not complacent. We understand how special this is. It’s something we take a lot of pride in around here. It’s not easy to do.”

West Jefferson hasn’t played any school larger than Division V this year. Indeed, the Roughriders only faced one D-V program during the regular season. The rest of the slate consisted of D-VI and D-VII opponents, along with one club team.

While postseason tradition will be lopsided in West Jefferson’s favor Friday, Buescher expects that to play no role.

“I think that’s a lot of talk for fans,” he said. “I don’t think Madison’s lack of playoff experience is going to be a detriment to them at all. I can assure you that they have all of our attention. This is definitely the most physical team that we’ve seen.”

The Roughriders are a spread offensive team with a power mentality. Their line has good size and is headed by senior guard Gunnar Doran (6-4, 320), and senior quarterback Lance Lambert (6-2, 185) is 126 of 197 for 2,608 yards and 29 touchdowns with five interceptions.

That aerial attack is big play in nature. Senior Caleb VanHook (5-11, 165) tops the receiving corps with 993 yards and 10 TDs on 36 catches, and West Jefferson has nine players with more than 75 receiving yards.

The Roughriders have run the ball 397 times for 2,386 yards and 44 TDs.

“We like taking our shots when people load the box,” Buescher said. “We like to throw the ball down the field, and we’ve got a quarterback that can be accurate in that and kids that can go get it.”

Madison High School assistant coach Jeff Rippl shows his excitement near offensive lineman Steven Ward (63) during last Friday’s 35-27 win over Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy in a Division V, Region 20 semifinal at Lakota East. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Madison has been outstanding against the run all year, so Poff wouldn’t be shocked to see Lambert’s arm in motion quite a bit.

West Jefferson’s running game is a by-committee situation. Junior Wyatt Dillion (6-0, 182) leads the way with 731 yards and 10 touchdowns on 109 carries.

“Three kids play a lot in the backfield,” said Buescher, also pointing to senior Ethan Higgins (6-1, 195) and sophomore Gabe Jones (5-9, 155). “All those kids play a lot of defense for us too, so we try to rotate them through. Whoever has the hot hand that night is who we go with.”

“I’m sure they’re going to come out and try to run the ball, and if that doesn’t work, they’re going to try to throw the ball over our heads,” Poff said. “They probably run it a little more than most of the teams we’ve been seeing. Their receivers are good at extending the play after they catch the ball.”

West Jefferson High School senior quarterback Lance Lambert is pictured on a banner hanging near the school’s tennis courts this week in Madison County. RICK CASSANO/STAFF

The Roughriders’ 4-3 defense has three strong linebackers — senior Cole Howard (5-10, 200) in the middle, and Higgins and senior Justin Gatley (6-0, 175) on the outside.

West Jefferson plays a lot of guys both ways. VanHook is a standout cornerback, while junior Justin Williams (6-4, 180) excels at free safety and wide receiver. Doran is part of a defensive line that will be tested by Madison’s Wing-T offense.

Junior fullback Cameron Svarda (192 carries, 1,696 yards, 24 TDs) and senior halfback Tyler Baumgartner (134 carries, 1,085 yards, 16 TDs) lead the Mohawks on the ground. Their offensive line has size and physicality.

“I don’t know if they’re easy to prepare for. I think that’s one of the big misnomers about the Wing-T,” Buescher said. “They play complementary football very well. They put you in conflict with a lot of things they do schematically. They really try to mess with your eyes in terms of your reads and different things.”

The sun shines through the front gate of West Jefferson High School’s Kile Stadium this week in Madison County. RICK CASSANO/STAFF

The Roughriders are giving up just 88.2 rushing yards per game, though Buescher conceded that his defense has seen mostly spread teams this year.

“I feel like our defense is pretty balanced, but we haven’t been tested in the run like we’re going to tested Friday,” he said.

Poff said he feels fine about the overall matchup. Regardless of the outcome, he plans to stay true to what’s gotten the Mohawks to this point.

“I don’t have any trick plays,” Poff said. “You can dig through my paperwork — they’re not in there. To be honest, the less we fool people, the better we are.”

Friday’s game

What: Division V, Region 20 final, Madison (10-2) vs. West Jefferson (12-0) at Beavercreek, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Frank Zink Field at Miami Valley Hospital Stadium, 2660 Dayton-Xenia Road, Beavercreek

Madison playoff history: 2-0 in one appearance (2017)

West Jefferson playoff history: 23-17 in 20 appearances (1976, 1977, 1980, 1982, 1983, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1990, 1991, 1998, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2017), winning state titles in 1976 and 1982

Next: Winner advances to the state semifinals and will play either Wheelersburg (12-0) or Johnstown-Monroe (10-2) at 7:30 p.m. next Friday at a neutral site.

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