ATHENS – The Zanesville seniors entered the season on a mission after a disappointing 5-5 campaign.
Now, these Blue Devils can claim a regional title of their own after a 38-21 win over Jackson in the Division III regional final at Athens High School.
This is Zanesville’s second trip to the state final four in three years. Several of the seniors were on the 2013 team, but this title started with their dedication and a renewed focus in the offseason.
“The trophy in the case at school isn’t ours. We wanted one of our own,” senior Leondre Crosby said. “We got a feel for what we needed to do last year. We learned a lot, and this year it came down to our drive and having the heart.”
Crosby’s big night with nearly 300 yards and four touchdowns on the ground highlighted an all-around effort. There were plenty of contributions, especially from the seniors, on both sides of the ball.
Senior quarterback Derek Grandstaff made several key throws, hitting senior teammate Alessio Amato for a touchdown in the first half. Grandstaff also found senior Ben Kaufman in the flat on a third-and-long that turned into a 69-yard gain and set up one of Crosby’s scores.
The offense was aided by a strong offensive line with seniors Tavian Butts, Coulter Wilson, Drew Hoskinson and Parker Mason doing much of the heavy lifting. They opened up plenty of holes for Crosby and senior Deaunte Goins.
Senior defensive back Braxton Snyder had an interception off a tipped ball by a teammate, and the defense, led by Crosby and senior Javier Madinger-Rush, delivered plenty of hard hits on the Ironmen running backs.
That team effort is why the Blue Devils have made it back to this level.
“Last year, our chemistry wasn’t good, but this year, we’ve really come together,” Derek Grandstaff said. “It feels great to get this win. We knew they were a great team, and we’re excited to be back in the final four.”
Many expected the Blue Devils to be improved from last season. Zanesville coach Chad Grandstaff has seen this group mature and learn how to win in a variety of ways.
“It’s awesome because these guys have been fighting to get to this spot and have pulled together,” he said. “Anytime you get to the final four, anything can happen. These guys have earned their way to this point.”
This group isn’t satisfied with this trophy. They want to finish something started in 2013 with a state title.
“We were a part of it two years ago, and it’s awesome to be back,” Kaufman said. “Last season was crazy and we finished 5-5. But we’ve been talking about winning a state championship for what feels like forever. We’ve made it to this point so why not two more games.”
Butts echoed those sentiments, as the Blue Devils will await for their opponent to be announced on Sunday. Defending state champion Toledo Central Catholic, Trotwood-Madison and Akron Hoban are the other semifinalists. TCC beat Trotwood last year in the semifinals.
“We’re back to where we wanted to be and it feels great to be here,” he said. “Our plan is to be playing in the Shoe (Ohio Stadium) for a state title.”