LIBERTY TWP. — The Lakota East High School football team will face a familiar foe in the first round of the playoffs, but that won’t make it any easier, coach Rick Haynes said.
East (7-3), which is 2-0 in first-round playoff games, travels to Greater Miami Conference rival Mason (8-2) for a Division I, Region 4 quarterfinal Friday, and the Comets proved better than expected this season despite a lot of new faces.
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The teams did not meet during the regular season but played a scrimmage that ended after three quarters with the Thunderhawks ahead.
“It helps that you’re playing someone you are familiar with and someone you scrimmaged in terms of nerves and preparation, but that doesn’t make it any easier,” Haynes said. “They’ve done a great job this year. (Mason coach) Brian (Castner) and their guys, I don’t think they thought they would be 8-2 this year, but they’ve done a really good job. They are sound on both sides of the ball, their quarterback is playing well. They have a couple good skill guys, their running backs, the receiver (Nick) Niehoff, the (Alec) Dardis kid is a dynamic player, and defensively, they are sound. We have to play hard.”
Mason is led by quarterback Collin Brown, who has thrown for 793 yards and five touchdowns with four interceptions, and running backs Logan Dalton (1,033 yards rushing) and Nolan McCormick (668 yards rushing), who both have six touchdowns. Niehoff has 345 yards receiving and three TDs, and Dardis adds 238 yards and one touchdown on a team-leading 20 catches.
Castner has been pleasantly surprised with his offense’s improvement throughout the season, but East will be a good test to see how far the Comets have come in that respect.
“We didn’t score on them in the scrimmage,” Castner said. “We played three quarters and called it a game and didn’t get in the end zone, so we know they are very good defensively. We have to get after them from the get-go and hopefully find a crack.”
Michael Howard leads East’s defense with 77 tackles, two interceptions and a sack.
Haynes said he doesn’t put much stock in how that scrimmage went because teams don’t prepare for those like they do regular-season and playoff games, and it was so long ago. He said the biggest key will be not turning the ball over offensively.
“We turned it over three times (last) Friday, and if we do that this week, we’re going to have a hard time,” Haynes said. “They hold onto the ball.”
East’s triple-option offense runs through quarterback Sean Church (672 yards passing, five touchdowns and 856 yards rushing, 12 touchdowns) and fullback Jack Dobrozsi (1,101 yards rushing and 20 touchdowns).
Jack Haglage leads Mason in tackles with 51. The Comets allow just 245.4 yards per game, which ranks second in the GMC, and 17.0 points.
“They haven’t changed much,” Castner said. “They still run the triple-option and midline (offense), and defensively they are the same odd front. They tackle well, they play together, they have a running back that’s pretty darn good in Dobrozsi and a quarterback that runs the offense to a ‘T.’
“We have to tackle well and be disciplined, but you might be disciplined and a guy’s there, but if you don’t tackle, they are gone. We have to make sure all 11 defensive players get to the ball the whole game.”
The Comets have been to the playoffs each of the past three seasons, while East is making its first trip since 2014. Haynes said it’s unfortunate one less GMC team has a chance to advance to the second round, but both coaches are just happy to be playing another week.
“There are 32 teams playing and practicing today, and we are happy to have that opportunity and to give kids the opportunity of a lifetime to be in the Ohio playoffs,” Castner said. “Whether it’s GCL, GMC, whatever, we are going to show up Friday night.”
What: Division I, Region 4 football quarterfinal, No. 7 seed Lakota East (7-3) at No. 2 seed Mason (8-2), 7 p.m.
Where: Dwire Field at Atrium Stadium, 4100 S. Mason-Montgomery Road, Mason
Series: Lakota East leads 8-7, though Mason won the last meeting 36-0 in 2017
Next: Winner will play either Elder or Moeller on Nov. 9 at a neutral site at 7 p.m.