DRESDEN – Rarely in Justin Buttermore’s tenure has Tri-Valley been the underdog.
Entering this postseason, few gave the Scotties a chance to win in Week 11 at Youngstown Boardman.
Yet, Tri-Valley (10-1) dominated in a 27-2 victory and earned the opportunity to face top seed Massillon Perry (9-2) in the Division II regional semifinal at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Dover’s Crater Stadium.
Senior Christian Nezbeth said he thinks the Scotties’ playoff experience makes them dangerous.
“Boardman hadn’t been there in four years, and we’ve been a part of the playoffs every year I’ve been here,” Nezbeth said. “It showed with our preparation and our play. We fed off that atmosphere.
“We also know we’re the underdog so we’re going out to prove people wrong.”
Not having players like Nathan Strock, Austin Jones, Adam Bice and Clay Cameron is one reason why the Scotties did not grab the attention of many.
However, the players continue to buy into a system that produces success. Coach Justin Buttermore has the track record to show his approach works.
“Our kids prove it’s about the program. They’ve worked as hard as our great teams have, and they expect to compete with the best,” Buttermore said. “When you make the playoffs, you’re trying to prove you can play with any team in the state. These guys are trying to carry on that tradition.”
The results are why the players listen to Buttermore and his staff. Senior Tyler McGee, who is part of a three-man rotation at quarterback, knows the ideal system is one starter, but the trio has been important to the team’s success.
“We buy into what they tell us because it succeeds,” McGee said. “(Being the underdog) may be better for us than being favored. We prepare better and practice harder. We want to play as hard as we can. If we do that, the results are (usually) good.”
Nezbeth agreed, as believing in each other allows the Scotties to play their game.
“Coach Buttermore and the staff has ready to go each week,” he said. “We count on each other. (That trust) has allowed us to become a better team.”
Having the team mentality is vital in the postseason. Buttermore knows opponents can’t key on one or two players to slow down the Scotties.
“We don’t have a superstar, and there are no egos in the locker room. Different players step up each week,” he said. “People ask if spreading the ball around is part of the plan. We don’t necessarily have that go-to guy, but we have several kids we can go to in any situation.
“These guys are in here playing together to succeed,” he added. “They know what it takes to beat good teams, and they believe they can do it.”
The players expect another physical challenge with the Panthers. McGee said the Scotties won’t back down.
“They are bigger and have a huge offensive line,” he said. “We want to prove we’re more physical. We have a good idea of what we’re going against. We’re going to rep out and focus on playing our game.”
Tri-Valley was able to set the tone against Boardman, and Nezbeth said the Scotties are aiming to do more of the same.
“We’re going in with the right mindset, and we’re excited to be in this spot,” he said. “We still want to prove our toughness to other teams, and we’re looking forward to the battle Friday.”