PDT Sports Writer
Fans in southern Ohio have become accustomed to the rich football tradition of Ironton and its 30 playoff appearances.
Only two schools have made more postseason berths on the gridiron. Valley will get to take on one of those teams Friday night as the No. 1 Indians will travel to Nelsonville-York’s Boston Field to play No. 4 Newark Catholic — which is in the playoffs for the 33rd time in school history and finished as the Division VI State Runner-Up a year ago — in a Division VI, Region 21 Semifinal. The Green Wave advanced with a 29-0 win over No. 5 Bellaire.
Valley took the right step last Friday with a 52-13 quarterfinal win over No. 8 Fort Frye by scoring on their first eight possessions of the game. The key word he used for his team was discipline as the varsity defense held the Cadets scoreless for three quarters and only committed two penalties.
“In a game like that, you’ve got to do those kind of things,” Indians coach Darren Crabtree said. “The most impressive thing was the fact that it could have been easy for us to come out and be a little sloppy or nervous or different things. I think from the start of the game, our kids realized they were the better opponent and we played that way.”
On the offensive side of the ball, Valley chewed up 455 yards of total offense. And while Nate Arnett, who was named Thursday as the Southeast District’s Division VI Offensive Player of the Year, leads a talented group of skilled position players, a lot of credit went to the offensive line.
“Anything we do in the backfield obviously relies on how well the guys up front play,” Crabtree said. “Our offensive line — Caleb and Kyle Miller at the right (tackle) and right (guard) have been so very steady all year, Hayden Dunn we feel like is the best blocking tight end in the area, our left side (with) Drew Wolford at center has come along as a sophomore has (become) better in every game, Cory Bradley at left guard is starting his second season for us and then we’ve got another sophomore in Jordan Spradlin at left tackle — those guys have got 11 games together now so they’re starting to understand to talk to each other and communicate very well.
“I think Friday night they really came out and really took control of the defensive line and opened up not only some big holes but gave (quarterback Bryan Rolfe) time to throw the football. It was a huge factor for us.”
The task will become more difficult as they will be taking on a Newark Catholic squad that is led by senior Chayce Crouch, a University of Illinois verbal commit who was named the Central District’s Division VI Defensive Player of the Year as a punter but is the team’s quarterback and defensive back.
During the win against the Cadets, the Indians gave up some big plays because of a breakdown in containment and missed tackles. Crabtree stressed that cannot happen Friday night if Valley wants to make its third-straight regional final appearance.
“(Crouch) can run the football very well and very effectively,” Crabtree said. “He has a strong arm, makes good decisions with the football.”
Crouch has a multitude of options at his disposal. In the win over the Big Reds, running back Anthony Wing finished with 165 yards on 18 carries. Fullback Wes Junden also eclipsed the century mark on the ground with 140 yards
In the air game, Crouch will look to receivers Hunter Nance and Luke Ceneviva as well as tight end Joe Davis.
“The quarterback gets all of the publicity and rightly so because he’s a good football player,” Crabtree said, “but at the same time, they have a number of different weapons that could hurt you. They can do it from a number of different sets.”
Defensively, Davis at linebacker and Blake Baker at safety are the ringleaders of the 4-3 scheme and have noses for the football. Crabtree said the Green Wave will bring a variety of different looks to the table and have a variety of athletes playing on one side of the ball.
“The biggest compliment that I can give to their defense is that at the end of the play, almost every defender is around the football,” Crabtree said. “They really run to the ball well. They’ve got a nice defensive line with all the times they can apply pressure without having to bring a lot of blitzes.”
Valley will return to the site of its only loss a year ago in a 26-14 loss to Baltimore Liberty Union in the Region 19 Championship. Crabtree sees this as a positive.
“The familiarity of knowing how long the bus ride is going to be, knowing what the locker room facility is going to be, playing on that surface on (Nelsonville-York’s) field last year brings back a lot of (memories),” Crabtree said. “We played well at times in that game last year in the regional finals. We came up short but we can lean on that experience, especially the number of players we had play in that game last year and realize that we have a great opportunity in front of us against a very good, talented football team.”
The winner of the contest will play the winner of the No. 6 Woodsfield Monroe Central-No. 2 Columbus Bishop Ready game, which will have the exact 7:30 p.m. kickoff time. That game will be played at Zanesville High School’s Sulsberger Stadium.
Information from the newark advocate contributed to the report
Cody Leist can be reached at 353-3101, ext. 294, or firstname.lastname@example.org. For breaking sports news, follow Cody on Twitter @CodyLeist.