‘It’s a big deal’: Hamilton set to host football playoff game for first time tonight

Hamilton running back Keyshawn Stephens celebrates a touchdown during their game against Fairfield Friday, Sept. 11, 2020 at Virgil M. Schwarm Stadium at Hamilton High School. Hamilton won 28-25. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

The high school football season has been anything but normal. Health and safety protocols changed the way teams prepared amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and the regular-season was shortened to six games.

Now, the next wave of unusual begins as all teams advance to the playoffs, which begin tonight and Saturday around the state.

A coaches' vote determined seeds, rather than the use of Harbin points to set a typical 16-team field, and teams that otherwise wouldn’t have made it now have a chance to catch fire in the postseason. Meanwhile, the top teams through the regularseason will be looking to continue their momentum through the extended playoff system.

Here are some of the top storylines heading into the games Friday and Saturday for area teams:

1. Hamilton’s first home playoff game

The Big Blue (3-3) earned their first home playoff game in program history and are looking for their first postseason win in six tries, playing 11th-seeded Moeller (1-5) in a Division I, Region 4 opener today at Schwarm Stadium.

Hamilton’s No. 6 seed is the program’s best since 1997 when only four teams advanced in each region. Big Blue coach Nate Mahon said “it’s flattering” the coaches voted them so high and it’s validated by the knowledge the Harbin system would have put them as a fifth seed.

“First home playoff game ever, first back-to-back playoff appearances, and it wasn’t like they didn’t earn this,” Mahon said. “It’s a big deal, and there’s a playoff buzz even more because we’re playing Moeller.”

Moeller’s lone win was in the opener at Columbus-Bishop Hartley but played a tough schedule. UC football coach Luke Fickell’s son, senior Landon Fickell, plays right tackle for the Crusaders.

Hamilton opened the season with losses to the top two teams in the Greater Miami Conference, starting with a 33-28 loss to Princeton before suffering a 40-13 setback against champion Lakota West. The Big Blue won their next three, including against rival Fairfield and a quality Mason team, but just fell short at Colerain with a 14-13 defeat last week.

“My message to our team is we are a city, we are a school district, we are a community, and Friday we get to play for those things,” Mahon said. “Moeller gets kids from all over the city. They are not a school district, they are not a community, and we feel like we have an advantage because of that.”

2. Middies looking to build off first win

Middletown High School football coach Don Simpson knows his team would have had a difficult time getting to the playoffs in a normal season after a 1-4 start.

But coming off their first win of the season last week against Walnut Hills, the Middies (1-4) are relishing a chance to continue playing as they head to the postseason for the first time since 2011. Middletown plays at unbeaten Northmont (6-0) on Friday in a Division I-Region 2 playoff opener.

“We’re in an attitude of taking that next step,” Simpson said. “Last week was a great win for us, and it’s one of those things where everything we talked about is coming together and the time we’ve been on the field is perfect going into the playoffs. The atmosphere has been high-energy and there’s excitement being back in the playoffs. … Playoff football is any given Friday night, anything can happen and you get that chance. That’s where the excitement lies. We don’t feel like we have a lot of pressure on us. We’re grateful to be playing but we can just let it fly.”

Middletown had a slow start to the season after not being allowed to practice for the first three weeks in August because of the school district suspending fall activities. The Middies had to cancel their opener but now they are finally in football shape, Simpson said.

Northmont, led by quarterback Cade Rice (1,488 yards passing), presents a “huge challenge” but not unlike the ones Middletown is accustomed to facing in the Greater Miami Conference, Simpson said. The key for the Middies will be taking care of the ball, eliminating penalties and preventing the big plays. Middletown has big-play potential so an early lead could also be key.

3. Conference champs bring momentum

Lakota West (5-0), Badin (6-0) and Ross (5-1) all won conference titles and will be looking to carry their regular-season success into the playoffs. Badin and Ross have first-round byes as the No. 2 and No. 5 seeds, respectively, in the Division III, Region 12 tournament.

The Firebirds earned the top seed in Division I, Region 4 and will play West Clermont at home Friday with a chance to potentially face district rival Lakota East in the next round. The eighth-seeded Thunderhawks (3-3) play Sycamore (1-5) at home in the first round.

“We’re playing well right now, and we just want to keep it going as far as we can go,” West coach Tom Bolden said.

West is seeking its first playoff win since 2014. Badin and Ross will play their first playoff games Oct. 16.

Below is this week’s high school football playoff schedule for area teams. Because of an imbalance of schools, some of the top seeded teams did receive byes in Divisions II-VII. There are no byes in Division I.

Divisions I-III and VII will play on Friday nights; Divisions IV, V and VI will play at Saturdays. All games are scheduled for 7 p.m. kickoffs.

Division I, Region 2

Friday, Oct. 9

Middletown (15) at Northmont (2)

Division I, Region 4

Friday, Oct. 9

West Clermont (16) at Lakota West (1)

Sycamore (9) at Lakota East (8)

Lebanon (13) at Mason (4)

Fairfield (10) at Elder (7)

Moeller (11) at Hamilton (6)

Division II, Region 8

Friday, Oct. 9

Columbus West (25) at Edgewood (8)

Belmont (20) at Talawanda (13)

Division III, Region 12

Friday, Oct. 9

Vandalia Butler (24) at Franklin (9)

Monroe (21) at Elida (12)

Fenwick (23) at Mount Healthy (10)

Division V, Region 20

Saturday, Oct. 10

Carlisle (17) at Summit Country Day (16)

Finneytown (23) at Madison (10)

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