Dillon Lee of Fairfield makes in interception in front of Gabe Ramirez. Fairfield defeated visiting Hamilton 34-27 in a Week 4 high school football game on Friday, Sept. 20, 2019. MARC PENDLETON / STAFF

Fairfield vs. Hamilton: What to know about tonight’s football playoff opener

The Fairfield High School football team got right to work this week, ready to bounce back from a disappointing loss in the regular-season finale with an eye on claiming the program’s first playoff win in almost two decades.

A chance to complete a perfect season and knock Colerain off its perch as perennial Greater Miami Conference champions evaded the Indians in overtime last week, but Fairfield (9-1) resets now as neighboring rival Hamilton (5-5) rolls in for a Division I, Region 4 quarterfinal Friday at Fairfield Alumni Stadium.

Hamilton is back in the playoffs for the first time since 2010 and the teams have never met in the postseason. Fairfield has lost seven straight first-round games since its last postseason win in 2000, including giving up a 35-7 lead to Milford last year.

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“Sunday was a really important day for us,” Fairfield coach Jason Krause said. “We got in a good workout, and the kids understood those were two really good teams that played Friday night, and there were a few things here and there that affected the outcome. They were disappointed but not discouraged. They know they played a really good team and the mindset is still really good. It was a goal coming into the season to get back to the playoffs and get a win because we’ve failed to do that the last few years, and now here is our chance to do that. It would be a big step forward for us and something the kids want to do.”

The Big Blue also are seeking to rebound from a loss to Lakota East last week, which prevented them from completing a goal of a winning record, but Hamilton first-year coach Nate Mahon said the team is still buzzing with excitement to be playing at this point in the season, something almost unimaginable after winning just four games combined the past two years, including a 1-9 record in 2018.

»READ MORE: State football playoffs regional quarterfinal pairings

Although Fairfield established itself as one of the top two teams in the GMC, Mahon felt it was a good draw for his team. The Big Blue have just a 10-minute drive, it’s a good game for the community and Hamilton was competitive with Fairfield in the regular-season matchup in Week 4, which the Indians won 34-27.

“After leaving there that night we felt like we played pretty well,” Mahon said. “We felt they were going to be on the best teams in the GMC at that time and that showed to be the case. Watching the film, there were ways we could have played better but we played well and scored more points against them than anyone else did this year.

“For our kids and us being right down the street and it being a rivalry situation, it’s the best matchup we could ask for because we know them and it’s a rivalry game.”

No one else has scored more than 16 points against Fairfield this season, but the Indians’ offense is the biggest concern for Hamilton. The Big Blue gave up 589 yards that night, including 222 yards rushing and three touchdowns for GMC rushing leader JuTahn McClain, who suffered a knee injury Friday but finished the game.

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For Fairfield, turnovers were the problem against Hamilton. The Indians lost three fumbles.

“I think we’re both different teams right now, personnel wise,” Krause said. “I think it’s important to see how things are going right now. We did certain things we aren’t doing now, like turning the ball over. Looking at the last three games is most important for us.”

Hamilton is led by quarterback Quincy Simms-Marshall (1,225 yards passing, 11 touchdowns and six interceptions) and running backs Keyshawn Stephens (683 yards rushing, 10 touchdowns) and Kaleb Johnson (823 yards rushing, nine touchdowns).

McClain finished the regular season with 1,800 yards rushing and 21 touchdowns, while quarterback Sawiaha Ellis added 1,013 yards passing and five touchdowns and 446 yards rushing with nine more scores on the ground.

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“We have to come in ready to play a tough hard-nose, physical game,” Krause said. “Offensively, we were penalized a lot the first game and we had three fumbles so we need to play clean. Otherwise, there’s nothing special we need to do offensively. We just have to do what we’ve been doing all year. Defensively, we have to be ready. They pose good threats on offense, and we have to keep those guys in check.”

Hamilton is just focused on making the most of its opportunity to compete in the playoffs, and Mahon is trying to remind himself to enjoy it.

“We’re just excited to be in the playoffs, but we will give them our best shot and keep riding the waves and having fun,” Mahon said. “We’ll let it all hang out on the line.”

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