ZANESVILLE – There is no doubt Zanesville will face a talented team in Akron Archbishop Hoban Friday night.
But, the Blue Devils won’t be intimidated when they walk on the field in the Division III state semifinal contest at Massillon Paul Brown Tiger Stadium.
“Our schedule gets us ready for these type of games,” Zanesville coach Chad Grandstaff said. “Canada Prep had big, athletic kids going to play Division I. We saw plenty of athletes against DeSales and Beechcroft and a lot of talent in our 7-on-7 tournaments this past summer.
“Our kids have been a part of a lot of big games,” he added. “They know what to expect, and they will be ready to go.”
Leondre Crosby, the team’s senior All-Ohio middle linebacker, echoed his coach’s sentiments.
“DeSales had some D-I players, (Hoban) has some D-I players — it’s all the same,” Crosby said. “It all comes down to the fact of whether or not you’re going to show up on Friday. When the lights come on, are you going to play or are you not? I don’t have any doubts about my team. If we play as a team, and do what we do in practice, and not lose our heads out there, there’s no reason we can’t win the game.”
The Knights are loaded with playmakers. Junior quarterback Danny Clark and junior running back Todd Sibley are Ohio State commits, and senior wide receiver and defensive playmaker Jonah Morris is looking at Michigan State and Notre Dame to highlight the offense.
While Clark has thrown for more than 2,000 yards and 21 touchdowns, Grandstaff feels containing Sibley is the key. Sibley has more than 1,700 yards and 20 touchdowns this season and rushes for 130 yards per game.
“He’s strong and fast, and he runs hard,” Grandstaff said. “He will try to bounce outside. If he gets to the second level, then he’s very dangerous.
“Their offense can score from any point on the field,” he added. “Our goal is to get pressure and make them uncomfortable.”
Hoban coach Tim Tyrrell noted the Blue Devils have a similar approach on offense. Crosby caught Tyrrell’s eye on film, but Zanesville’s offensive line will be a test for his team.
“It’s like looking in the mirror. They’re really fast on defense and have a running back that keeps them ahead of the chains,” Tyrrell said. “They have a bigger offensive line, similar to Walsh Jesuit sizewise. Crosby is one of the better players we’ve seen. You can tell he’s a big-time player.”
Winning the turnover battle will be key. Hoban forced four turnovers in beating Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary last week. Tyrrell said getting takeaways has been a staple for the Knights.
“The big thing for us is turnovers,” he said. “We’ve been able to force some, while not turning it over too much ourselves. This is one of these games whoever wins the turnover battle, wins the game.”
The Blue Devils will be challenged by a fleet-footed Knights defense. Senior linebacker Dane Kersh leads the unit with 54.5 tackles with 10 for a loss and sophomore Daeshon Coppinger creates havoc on the defensive line with 39.5 tackles and a team-high 15 tackles for a loss.
Junior Arison Sanders is also worth watching at linebacker with 46.5 tackles and 12.5 for a loss, and senior defensive back Anthony Christian has grabbed a team-high four interceptions.
“Their defense is impressive,” Grandstaff said. “They’re athletic and physical. They make plays on the ball. It’s the best defense we’ve seen this year.”
The challenge ahead is not daunting for the Blue Devils. They know few are giving them a chance to reach Columbus, and Grandstaff said his kids are looking to thrive in that role again.
“We’ve embraced being the underdog all season,” he said. “They have several guys who will probably play Division I (in college), but we’re going to play our game and try to walk out of there with a win.”