Talk about a confidence booster.
Monroe Central's 15-9 triumph against unbeaten Centerburg last week in the first round of the Ohio Division VI, Region 21 playoffs was a stunner to many.
But for the folks from Monroe County, it was validation.
T-L File Photo/MIKE PALMER
MONROE CENTRAL quarterback Curtis Nixon looks to pass as Mike Jones looks to block during a game earlier this season at Barnesville. The 8-3 Seminoles will tangle with Columbus Bishop Ready Friday night at Zanesville’s Sulsberger Memorial Stadium in a Division VI, Region 21 semifinal.
''I don't think people gave us much of a chance,'' Seminoles head coach Jay Circosta said. ''We were traveling two-and-half hours and playing at their place, etc.
''But we did a great job and (our players) were extremely excited and I thought it was a big one for us.
''We have another big one ahead of us this week.''
Monroe Central, the No. 6 seed, will take a shorter excursion this week - to Zanesville on Friday night - where it will meet up with Bishop Ready, the No. 2 seed, for a regional semifinal at Sulsburger Stadium.
Kickoff is 7:30 p.m.
The winner will meet the survivor of Friday night's other semifinal between No. 1 seed Lucasville Valley and No. 4 seed Newark Catholic next Friday at a site to be determined Sunday by the OHSAA. Those two teams are playing in Nelsonville.
It marks the Seminoles first foray into the second round of the playoffs since 2003. That season, Monroe Central defeated Nelsonville-York in the first round before falling to Amanda-Clearcreek in the regional semis.
Circosta's program also reached the regional semis in 2002. In 2001, the Seminoles rolled all the way to the Division V state semifinals before falling to eventual state champion St. Peter Chanel.
''It's a great venue,'' Circosta said of the home of the Zanesville Blue Devils, who will be playing Worthington Kilbourne at Gahanna Lincoln the same night. ''I can't think of any place better.''
Circosta traveled to Zanesville earlier this week with Athletic Director Junior Winland and came away impressed with the facility. Circosta recalled playing Newark Catholic there about 20 years ago, but said the team hasn't played there since major renovations were done to the facility, including the installation of a turf field.
''It's kind of good for everyone,'' Circosta said of the turf field.
As far as Ready head coach Joel Cutler is concerned, he believes the turf will benefit both squads.
''We practice on grass and our kids enjoy playing on (turf),'' he said. ''But as far as it give it giving anyone an advantage, I don't really know.
''I think the game will come down to the fundamentals; blocking, tackling, etc.''
Playing on turf is a rarity for the Seminoles. So, to help prepare, the team practiced at St. Clairsville's Red Devil Stadium on Wednesday. Circosta said the Seminoles' field has taken quite a beating this season and the snow/rain that fell earlier this week, coupled with the cold, didn't help any.
''Monday we went over (Ready's) personnel, formations and defensive sets and Tuesday we went through a walk thru, etc.
''We worked indoors Tuesday and it was a lot better than going outdoors and slopping around.
''We got about three inches of snow here and we got a lot done Tuesday and Wednesday.''
In addition to preparing for Ready, Circosta wanted to build on the momentum built last week, especially on defensive side.
''Overall, I was very pleased with that side of the ball,'' Circosta said. ''I thought we played our hearts out.
''If you would've told me last week that we would've held them to nine points that would've been great. Centerburg was a team scoring more than 40 points per game.
''Did we make some mistakes? Sure. You always have those. But, overall, I thought Coach (Dave) Schuerman and Coach (Josh) Ischy put together a great defensive package.''
Linebacker Mike Jones led the unit with another staunch outing. For the year, the senior has registered 123.5 tackles, including 17.5 for loss, and nine sacks.
''He's played that way all year,'' Circosta said of the middle linebacker. ''He just had an outstanding game with 15.5 tackles and a sack.
''He plays with a lot of excitement and enthusiasm. The entire unit played well and with great heart, but he's been the catalyst.''
Cluter certainly took notice.
''Oh my, he's all over the field,'' he said. ''That young man can play football. He has a nose for the ball and runs well. We'd better locate where he is.''
Senior Jake Schuerman and junior Chase Carothers are Monroe Central's outside backers.
The Seminoles' defensive front consists of senior Cordell Gauding at left end, senior Marshall Mozena at left tackle, senior Hunter Conner at right tackle and junior Gavin Morton at right end.
Senior Curtis Nixon and junior Levi Brown are the corners, while junior Zach Jorris and senior Bryan Duffy are the safeties.
Gauding is second on the team with 66.5 stops, eight of those for loss. He also has 4.5 sacks. Schuerman has 64.5 tackles, including 3.5 for loss.
Brown has a team-best four interceptions, with Nixon and Duffy three each.
Circosta said Ready's offense will his team's toughest test of the season.
''They're very balanced,'' he said.
The Silver Knights, ranked fifth in the final Associated Press poll of the season, are averaging 50.8 points per game. That total was bolstered by the 98 points they put up in a 98-20 thumping of Division III Washington (Court House) on October 4.
The Blue Lions were one of two Division III squads Ready faced during the regular season. The Silver Knights also beat a Division II foe (Briggs) and two Division IV opponents (Miami Trace and Bexley) in addition to its Division VI and VII opponents.
''Our schedule is typically very difficult,'' Cutler said.
It's true. Seven of Ready's regular-season foes posted records of .500 or better.
''And, we always scrimmage a heck of a schedule,'' Cutler added, noting Brookhaven, Kilbourne, Wheelersburg (Martins Ferry's opponent Saturday in Division V) and Jonathan Alder were among them.
Alder, coincidentally, is Cutler's alma mater. He's in his second season as Ready's head coach after serving as a coordinator for years at Upper Arlington. While there, he was part of the Golden Bears' 2000 state championship team.
Since Cutler's arrival, he's helped uphold a tradition of winning at Ready that dates back to the school's first playoff appearance in 1983. That year, the Silver Knights won the Division IV title against Orrville.
Ready has made nine playoff appearances since 2000. Not bad for a program with no ''home field.''
''We've played everywhere,'' Cutler said, noting Linsly has been one of the team's destinations in recent years. ''We're truly travel warriors.''
And Cutler added the travel situation has helped bond the team.
''One of our best strengths is our attitude,'' he said. ''There's a brotherhood amongst this group I haven't seen in years.
''When I was an assistant on Upper Arlington's title team we had Simon Fraser, who went on to play at Ohio State, and Jeff Backes, that season's Mr. Football honoree.
''That group also had a great bond. As far as the energy and camaraderie, I see that as our strength.''
Some pretty good players help, too.
Ready's offense is guided by senior quarterback Matt Yoho.
Yoho, whose father is a Bishop Donahue graduate and mother is a Powhatan native, has completed nearly 60 percent of his passes this season, accounted for 23 touchdowns and thrown only three interceptions.
The tailback is Akili Taylor. The senior, who's been offered by Kent State, has rushed for more than 1,600 yards.
Fullback duties are split between seniors DeAndre Golden and Bran-den Bailey.
''That's a 3-headed monster back there that's a fun group to coach,'' Cutler said of his backfield.
Yoho has plenty of options at receiver. They include senior captain Kelly Culbertson, senior Myles Fowler, junior Anthony Havens and senior Hunter Clanin.
Clanin, 6-3, 200-pounds, has an offer to play baseball at Bowling Green and could end up playing baseball and football for the Falcons.
The anchor of Ready's offensive line is Virginia Tech recruit left tackle Brady Taylor (senior, 6-5, 280).
Senior Andrew Hurd is the center. Senior Nick Skorvilis is the left guard, while seniors Jacob Koch and Zach Jarrett, man the right and left guard spots, respectively.
Skorvilis doubles as the Silver Knight's nose tackle. Junior Trey Windham is a defensive tackle, while senior Nick Chapman is a defensive end. Golden and juniors Alvin Knox and Connor Lancia are the linebackers.
In the secondary, Ready has Culbertson and junior Seth Stock at safety and Havens and Bauer at the corners.
Ready advanced with a 48-6 victory against Oak Hill last Friday in a game played at Upper Arlington.
Yoho threw scoring strikes to Fowler, Clanin and Culbertson. Scoring runs came courtesy of Fowler, Chapman, Golden and Taylor.
''Taylor is an outstanding running back,'' Circosta said, ''and they definitely have a lot of speed at wide out.
''(Containing them) certainly won't be an easy task.''
Cutler has his concerns about the Seminoles offense.
''They're tough,'' he said. ''The one thing I noticed is they play with extreme tenacity and heart. They flat-out wanted that game last week more than Centerburg did. These guys are in it to win it and that's a testament to Coach Circosta and his staff.''
Nixon is the Noles' quarterback with Brown and Jones at tailback and fullback, respectively.
The line includes Morton (tight end), sophomore Justin Kilburn (left tackle), Gauding (left guard), junior Coleton Robinson (center), sophomore Tanner Potts (right guard) and Mozena (right tackle).
Duffy and Jorris are the receivers.
Since moving to quarterback in Week 3, Nixon has thrown 1,392 yards, 14 TDs and six picks.
Brown has 984 rushing and 17 touchdowns, while Nixon has 959 yards on the ground and 15 TDs.
Duffy is the top receiver with 19 catches for 321 yards and three scores, while Jorris has 13 receptions for 241 yards and two touchdowns.
Potts is Monroe Central's kicker. The Silver Knights counter with junior Aidan Dulin.
''All we ask our kids to do is what they did last week,'' Circosta said. ''And whatever they do our kids are going in with a positive attitude and a good week of practice.
''It's just nice to be playing in Week 12.''
Thorp can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org