REYNOLDSBURG, OH – For the third time in school history and first time since 2015, the Raiders returned to the postseason on the night of November 2nd, 2018 to host the 8th-seeded Spartans of Toledo Start. But for the first time since 2001, which is the last time the Raiders won a playoff game, Reynoldsburg opened the playoffs at home to begin a quest to extend its historic season for the ages deep into the month of November and beyond.
You can definitely say that Reynoldsburg’s first home playoff game in 17 years was well worth the wait.
Reynoldsburg quarterback Michael Whatley tossed a 62-yard touchdown pass to junior receiver James Dean on the second play of the game, and a career-high four touchdown passes in just the first half alone. The top-seeded Raiders (10-1) would also add four first-half interceptions on defense at the expense of Toledo Start, with junior Breyon Eddings catching three of them and returning one 36 yards for a touchdown to end the first half en route to a 38-0 halftime lead. The Raiders would add two more touchdowns in the second half, with their defense forcing seven total turnovers and holding the Spartans (6-5) to 45 total yards of offense, in what ended up being a 52-0 rout of Toledo Start for Reynoldsburg’s first playoff win since that 2001 season.
“Continuing to make history with my brothers is a great feeling,” said Whatley after the win. Our second playoff win in [Reynoldsburg Football] history? That’s amazing. We are really getting hot at the right time, but we have to keep it going. We can’t peak too early, so we have to continue to stay focused, and come out and win.”
With the win over Toledo Start, Reynoldsburg improved to 10-1 overall in 2018 to match their most amount of wins in a season in program history, and the Raiders have matched their deepest postseason run ever in dominating fashion; the 2001 won team won 24-20 at home over Worthington Kilbourne in the opening round of the playoffs that year, meaning Reynoldsburg is now 2-0 at home all time in the postseason.
But even after a 52-0 rout of the Spartans 17 years later that resulted in a running clock to start the second half, Reynoldsburg will continue to take things one week at a time as they know that this is only the beginning; they are continuing to improve when it matters most and now have another opportunity rewrite the history books in Week 12.
Spartans 0, Raiders 14
To say the least, the Raiders were fired up about their return to the playoffs and second home playoff game in school history.
On the second play from scrimmage after the Raiders received the opening kickoff, Whatley would find a wide-open Dean deep in Spartans territory, resulting in a 62-yard touchdown reception and a 7-0 Reynoldsburg lead just 49 seconds into the contest.
“We’ve been going over it all week and we’ve been practicing it,” Dean said of the play that led to his touchdown reception. “[Michael Whatley] threw it up, and I was just thankful I was able to get the ball and make something happen for my team. I think once we all got together and we played together just like we always do, that’s how we got a team win.”
Even though the final scoreboard did not indicate it, the game would be a chess match for about the next nine minutes of the period, with Toledo Start matching the Raiders blow for blow particularly on defense for the majority of the quarter.
But after that point, Reynoldsburg started to figure things out.
After Dean’s long touchdown reception, Toledo Start would take over at their own 45, but would go three and out on their opening drive after an incomplete pass by Spartans starting quarterback Caleb Coyne. Reynoldsburg would take over at their own 15 with 9:21 left in the period, and would also go three and out at the hands of a Spartans defense that had seemed to settle down after giving up Whatley’s long touchdown pass. Whatley would be sacked for the first time on the night by Spartans defensive lineman Aaron Johnson to end the Raiders’ drive.
Coyne would almost be picked off by Reynoldsburg cornerback Isaiah Thomas on the first play of the Spartans’ ensuing drive, but Toledo Start would eventually go three and out again and give the Raiders the ball back with 6:36 to go in the quarter. While the Raiders would come up empty after Whatley was sacked on 4th down on the Spartans 38 at the hands Toledo Start defensive end Jeremy Collier Jr., Reynoldsburg would then begin to turn up the heat after the Spartans’ second first-quarter sack of Whatley.
And when Reynoldsburg did that, they left the dial on hot for the rest of the night.
Two plays into the Spartans’ ensuing drive, Coyne would throw a deep pass into Raiders territory, but Eddings would jump up high for his first of three interceptions of the night with 5:07 left in the quarter and first of seven turnovers forced overall by the Raiders. While Reynoldsburg would go three and out on the resulting drive, senior linebacker Ke’Shun Moorer would snatch the football from Spartans running back Legend Tucker on the first play of Toledo Start’s next drive, giving the Raiders the ball back at the Spartans 32 a minute and a half after Eddings’ interception. Senior running back Guy Cowans-Wright would rip off a 20-yard run to get the Raiders into the red zone, and Whatley would then toss a 13-yard touchdown pass to junior receiver Shon Strickland to put the Raiders up 14-0 with 2:41 left in the period.
But that was not all.
While the Spartans would move the chains for the first time as a result of a 9-yard pass and a 4-yard rush by Coyne, Eddings would come up with his second interception with under a minute left in the quarter, giving Reynoldsburg the ball back at the Spartans 46. Cowans-Wright would then run for 16 yards total on two plays, and a roughing the passer penalty on Toledo Start would again put the Raiders in the red zone while leading 14-0 as the first quarter came to an end.
Spartans 0, Raiders 38
On the first play of the second quarter, Reynoldsburg would cash in on the Spartans’ penalty.
Whatley would throw his third touchdown pass of the night and second to Strickland, who made a great leaping catch in good coverage in the corner of the end zone, from 13 yards out to extend Reynoldsburg’s lead to 21-0.
Senior returner Kejuan Lucas of Toledo Start would then answer with the Spartans’ longest play of the night: a 44-yard kickoff return after catching the ensuing kickoff it at the Raiders 2. Beginning at their own 46, Coyne was replaced at quarterback by sophomore Jeremiah Beringer. Toledo Start running back Deondre Brown would then rush for 15 yards to provide the Spartans with a spark and another first down, and an 8-yard run by Beringer and roughing the passer penalty on Reynoldsburg put the Spartans at the Raiders 28 with 9:40 left in the half.
Toledo Start would, however, be denied a trip to the end zone.
Senior defensive lineman Jeremiah Burton would jump up at the line of scrimmage, intercept a pass by Beringer, dodge a tackle, and return the ball to the Spartans 48 to spoil what appeared to be a promising drive by Toledo Start just twenty seconds later. Instead of what could have been the Spartans getting on the board, this led to a 28-yard field goal by Reynoldsburg kicker Cocy Goff with 6:32 left in the period to put Reynoldsburg up 24-0.
Toledo Start would then go three and out, and after a good return by Reynoldsburg senior receiver and returner Princeton Hoskins to the Spartans 45, senior running back J’Vonte Edwards would rip off a 19-yard run, and Whatley would eventually score his fourth touchdown of the night on a 7-yard pass to junior receiver Andree’ Mock, putting the Raiders up 31-0 with 4:14 left in the half.
A week after posting a career-high 261 passing yards in the Raiders’ 28-7 win over Lancaster, Whatley threw for a career-high four touchdowns before the first half even ended and would ultimately complete 65% of his passes, much to the delight of Reynoldsburg head coach Buddy White.
“He is doing a great job of managing our offense,” White would say of Whatley. “Now we are getting towards the end of the season, it is money time, and the game has started to slow down for him a little bit. He is really making good decisions and putting us in good situations, so we’re really happy with how he is doing.”
The Spartans would again go three and out, and Reynoldsburg would eat up just over two minutes of the clock while advancing to the Spartans 17. They would go for it on fourth down from this spot, but trying to go up another score before the break, Whatley’s pass was just overthrown, and the Raiders came up empty with 1:05 in the half despite a good chance to extend their first-half lead to five scores.
Eddings had other ideas in mind, though.
On the final play from scrimmage of the period, he would pick off Beringer for his third interception of the night; this time, he would return it 36 yards to the house for a touchdown with 9.3 seconds left in the quarter to put the Raiders up 38-0 at the break to force what would be a running clock the rest of the way.
“That one was definitely the turning point,” Eddings said of the aforementioned interception and his second pick-six in as many weeks. “When you put points on the board, that is always the difference.” He also returned an interception 63 yards for a touchdown late in the Raiders’ win at Lancaster in their regular season finale, and his three interceptions against the Spartans puts him at a staggering total of four interceptions in his past two games.
“It all starts with film study,” he went on to say particularly about his play on a defense that would ultimately hold Toledo Start to 45 total yards on 40 plays. “And when you catch the ball, you have to do something with it. Good practices always lead to good results.”
Reynoldsburg, in comparison, would put up 313 total yards of offense on the night, and their big early lead ended up going a long way for the top-seeded Raiders in Week 11 even despite the chess match early on.
“We wanted to get a fast start on [the Spartans], because we watched them on film but we really didn’t know them,” said White. “So you don’t want to really keep a team around that you really do not know about and let them get any kind of momentum. Our offense didn’t start off really fast, but once we got clicking, we did a great job. But our defense is consistent; that is the most important thing. And the only way to win championships is if you have a championship defense, and I really love how our defense is going right now.”
And even with a 38-0 halftime lead, that championship defense would continue to live up to its name in the second half as they tried to preserve what ended up being Reynoldsburg’s first postseason shutout in program history.
Spartans 0, Raiders 45
Toledo start would receive the second half kickoff, but with the game at a running clock, time was the enemy of the Spartans given the way the Raiders defense had been playing all night. Per OHSAA Football rules, a running clock occurs when a team leads by 30 or more points in the second half, meaning the clock keeps ticking even after plays like an incomplete pass that would typically stop the clock otherwise. The only time a running clock would stop would be when an official calls timeout (e.g. injured player, change of possession), a team calls timeout, time expires in a period, a score occurs, or an unusual delay. A running clock would revert back to a normal clock if a team that trails by 30 or more points, therefore, cuts their deficit to 29 points or fewer.
That would not happen, and Reynoldsburg would even find a couple of ways to stop the running clock with two more scores of their own.
Toledo Start would go three and out on their first drive of the half, with Reynoldsburg’s Burton sacking Beringer on third down to give the ball back to the Raiders. Hoskins would return a short punt to the Spartans 44, but Reynoldsburg would come up empty on their drive mainly as a result of a 6-yard tackle for loss of Cowans-Wright on the ground by Spartans defensive back James Woods.
Reynoldsburg’s defense would, however, again find a way onto the scoreboard.
Just over halfway into the third quarter, senior defensive lineman Noah Mwaitenda would get a sack of Beringer at the Spartans 2 yard line, forcing a fumble that was recovered by senior linebacker Darien Abron in the end zone for a touchdown, extending Reynoldsburg’s lead to 45-0 with 5:27 left in the period and briefly stopping the running clock due to the score.
Toledo Start would return the ensuing kickoff to the Raiders 40, but a penalty would push them back into their own territory and keep them there on their next drive. Senior defensive lineman Trenton Scherger would get another sack for the Raiders defense, and on offense, junior running back MarcAnthony Gray would rip off a 21-yard run into Spartans territory with 2:30 left in the quarter, and the running clock would eventually tick away in the period with the Raiders up 45-0 and twelve minutes away from a trip to the second round of the playoffs.
Spartans 0, Raiders 52
Reynoldsburg would keep on milking the running clock by keeping the ball in the hands of junior running back Courtland Bullard on seven straight plays going back to the third period, but the Raiders would come up a yard short of a first down on a 4th and 4 run to the Spartans 5, giving Toledo Start the ball back with 9:07 to go. The Spartans would go three and out deep in their own territory on the drive, and Hoskins would take the ensuing punt 42 yards to the end zone for a touchdown with 6:45 to go to put the Raiders up 52-0.
Two plays into Toledo Start’s next drive, senior linebacker Bryden Scherger would force and recover a fumble by Spartans running back Deondre Brown at the Spartans 17, giving the Raiders defense their seventh turnover of the night with 5:10 to go to put an exclamation point on a dominating performance particularly on that side of the ball.
But Whatley and the Raiders offense would take four straight knees to continue to run out the clock, which eventually expired with Reynoldsburg taking a 52-0 victory over the Spartans, much to the delight of their head coach.
“Our kids played with great intensity, and that was one of the things that we wanted to focus on,” said White after the win. “We understood that everyone in the playoffs turns their game up a notch, and I wanted to make sure we did. We made [Toledo Start] turn the ball over seven times, and that is pretty impressive. So I’m pretty happy with how everything went.”
And with the Raiders’ first postseason win since 2001, Reynoldsburg will advance to the Regional Semifinals to take on Olentangy Liberty, who knocked off Gahanna-Lincoln 14-7 about thirty miles away from Raider Stadium shortly after Reynoldsburg’s victory was sealed. A win against the Patriots would not only guarantee the most wins in a season in Raider Football history, but most importantly, a trip to the Regional Finals for the Raiders for the first time ever.
“I have a lot of respect for [Patriots head coach] Steve Hale,” White would go on to say of the Raiders’ Week 12 matchup with Olentangy Liberty. “He’s been doing a really good job, and most importantly, they are the two-time defending Regional Champions. So that’s something that we’re really excited about. We took care of a lot of milestones this year, so to have the opportunity to knock off the time-two defending Regional Champion will be big.”
KEY RAIDERS STATS (WEEK 11):
Total Yards: 313 (145 pass, 168 rush)
Total Yards Allowed: 45 (24 pass, 21 rush)
Passing: Michael Whatley (11/17, 145 YDS, 4 TD)
Rushing: MarcAnthony Gray (5 CAR, 47 YDS); Courtland Bullard (14 CAR, 46 YDS); Guy Cowans-Wright (9 CAR, 45 YDS)
Receiving: James Dean (4 REC, 87 YDS, 1 TD); Shon Strickland (2 REC, 26 YDS, 2 TD); Andree’ Mock (2 REC, 21 YDS, 1 TD)
Defense: 2 sacks, 5 tackles for loss, 3 fumble recoveries, 7 total turnovers; Breyon Eddings (3 INT, 36 YD interception return for TD); Darien Abron (fumble recovered in end zone for TD)
Special Teams: Cocy Goff (7/7 XP, 1/1 FG); Princeton Hoskins (43-yard punt return for TD)
NEXT UP + REGIONAL SEMIFINALS PREVIEW:
Below is the updated Division 1 Region 2 playoff bracket, courtesy of the OHSAA:
For the first time since 2001 and second time in school history, #1 Reynoldsburg (10-1) won a playoff game and will advance to round two of the postseason. That 2001 squad would be eliminated in this round as a result of a 28-14 loss against a Dublin Coffman team led by a senior quarterback named Brady Quinn: a player who would go on to become a four-year starter at Notre Dame and eventual first-round NFL draft pick by the Cleveland Browns.
Seventeen years later, #2 Dublin Coffman (10-1) also advanced to the Division 1 Region 2 Semifinals in the 2018 playoffs after a 27-10 opening-round win over #7 Westerville Central (5-6). The Shamrocks (10-1) will take on #3 Toledo Whitmer (9-2), who rallied late in their first-round playoff game 156 miles away from Raider Stadium for a 20-17 win over #6 Olentangy Orange (7-4). Three of the four remaining teams, therefore, in this playoff region are from Central Ohio, with Toledo Whitmer being the lone team from outside of the area.
Reynoldsburg, however, will not get a chance to avenge its only loss of the 2018 regular season; #5 Gahanna-Lincoln (5-6) would fall 14-7 at #4 Olentangy Liberty (7-4), meaning the Raiders’ and Patriots’ paths will collide in the Regional Semifinals in Week 12.
Here is some information about particularly the Patriots, along with some key comparisons between them and the Raiders.
BRIEF OVERVIEW: Olentangy Liberty isn’t as far from Reynoldsburg as Toledo Start High School, whose Spartans made a 155-mile journey to Raider Stadium in their opening-round playoff loss to the Burg. The Patriots hail from Powell in Central Ohio, and are about a 30-mile drive from the Livingston Avenue Campus of Reynoldsburg High School. While the Patriots only went 6-4 in the 2018 regular season, the postseason is very familiar territory for the Patriots, and they have made the most of their games on the biggest of stages. Including in 2018, Olentangy Liberty has qualified for the playoffs in five consecutive seasons; they are currently the two-time defending Regional Champions, and currently have a 31-8 record overall (including a playoff record of 7-2) dating back to the 2016 season where they finished that regular season 10-0.
Champions of the OCC-Buckeye division for the third season in a row and sharing the crown with Olentangy and Olentangy Orange in 2018, the Patriots will take on the Raiders in Week 12 in a battle of OCC-division champions. OCC-Ohio champion Reynoldsburg took down Toledo Start 52-0 in the opening round of the playoffs, while Olentangy Liberty took down Gahanna-Lincoln by a score of 14-7 as mentioned above.
This will be the first-ever postseason meeting between the Raiders and Patriots.
PATRIOTS’ SCORING OFFENSE AND DEFENSE: Olentangy Liberty (7-4) averaged 20.8 points per game in the regular season and allowed an average of 14.8 points per game overall. The Patriots allowed 14 or fewer points in six of their eleven contests overall in 2018 and went 6-0 in these contests, including their 14-7 first-round playoff victory over Gahanna-Lincoln along with two shutouts. They would go 4-1 in the OCC-Buckeye division and share the title with Olentangy Orange and Olentangy (5-6), who both lost in their first-round playoff games but whose only losses in the OCC-Buckeye division were to the Patriots. Olentangy Liberty had a point differential of +41 in OCC-Buckeye league games, outscoring these opponents by a combined score of 117-76 and ending their regular season with a 42-0 shutout over Westerville North (3-7).
Most notably, the Patriots gave up more than 14 points in all four of their losses and have a record of 1-4 in games that they allowed 14 or more points in. Two of those losses were to teams who also qualified for the playoffs: a 22-21 loss at home against Hilliard Davidson (10-1), and a 17-3 loss at home against Olentangy Orange. Their lone win when allowing 14 or more points came in a 35-31 shootout victory at Westerville South (3-7) in Week 7.
COMMON OPPONENTS: Reynoldsburg also played Westerville South, shutting them out on Homecoming Night at Raider Stadium by a score of 28-0 in Week 5. The only other common opponent besides Gahanna-Lincoln, who Reynoldsburg lost 10-7 to in Week 7, between the Raiders and Patriots was Pickerington North. The Panthers (6-4) defeated the Patriots 17-0 on their home field to open up the 2018 regular season. Reynoldsburg most notably erased a 24-7 fourth quarter deficit against Pickerington North in Week 6, scoring 26 unanswered points in the final period to rally for a thrilling 33-31 victory over the Panthers.
RAIDERS’ SCORING OFFENSE AND DEFENSE: As mentioned in last week’s preview, Reynoldsburg averaged 30.8 points per game in the regular season and their allowed an average of 10.3 points per game. The Raiders went 4-1 in their final five games of the regular season in the OCC-Ohio, winning their first league title in 25 years and sharing it with Lancaster. Reynoldsburg won their league games by a combined margin of 135-76 with a point differential of +59, including a milestone 24-21 home win against Pickerington Central (9-2) for the Raiders’ first win over the Tigers in 17 years.
AND THEN THERE WERE TWO: In addition to the Raiders, the arch-rival Tigers are the only other OCC-Ohio team still alive in the playoffs, but they advanced in the most dramatic of fashions. Trailing 13-0 at 4th-seeded Hilliard Bradley at halftime and down 13-7 with under ten minutes to go in regulation, defending state champion and 5th-seeded Pickerington Central would appear to be on the ropes with the Jaguars advancing to the Tigers 19 and in position to kick a field goal to go up by two possessions late. But Tigers defensive back CC Gordon would recover a forced fumble at the Tigers 15, and run 85 yards the other way for what ended up being the go-ahead touchdown for Pickerington Central. They would hold on and escape Hilliard Bradley with a stunning 14-13 victory, and advanced to face 2nd-seeded Clayton Northmont Week 12.
OPPONENTS WHO ALSO MADE THE PLAYOFFS: In the regular season, Reynoldsburg went 1-1 against teams who qualified for the postseason: both of these two teams being division rivals. This includes their only loss of 2018 at Gahanna-Lincoln by a score of 10-7 in Week 7, and a 24-21 win over Pickerington Central in Week 9 as previously mentioned. Olentangy Liberty had four regular-season opponents also make the postseason and went 2-2 against these teams: a 22-21 home loss against Hilliard Davidson in Week 4, a 16-14 home win over Westerville Central (5-6) in Week 6, a 21-14 home win over Olentangy in Week 8, and a 17-13 home loss against Olentangy Orange in Week 9. Three of these four opponents were eliminated in the opening round of the playoffs in Week 11, with top-seeded Hilliard Davidson being the lone team to advance after a 28-21 victory over 8th-seeded Huber Heights Wayne (7-4) on Friday night.
STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE: As mentioned in the previous article but reposted here for reference, opponents of the Raiders finished with a combined regular season record of 50-50 (.500 winning percentage), while opponents of the Patriots finished with a winning combined record of 56-44 (.560 winning percentage); this is good for second-best in Division 1 Region 2. Five out of the Raiders’ nine wins came against teams who finished their regular seasons with winning records (6-4 or better).
Most notably, the Patriots are 0-4 this season against teams with winning records, including playoff teams Hilliard Davidson and Olentangy Orange as mentioned above. Their other two losses of this fashion were to Pickerington North in Week 1, and a 19-17 loss to Division 3 Glenville (8-2) of Cleveland, OH in Week 2. Reynoldsburg (10-1) is 6-0 against opponents with winning records, including their 52-0 opening-round playoff rout of Toledo Start (6-5).
All of the top four seeds in Division 1 Region 2 advanced to the next round of the postseason with home playoff wins. Below are these remaining four teams (with corresponding seeds), their current records, their overall combined winning percentages of the opponents they faced in the regular season (i.e. strength of schedule), their records against teams with six wins or better, (i.e. against teams who finished with more wins than losses in the 2018 regular season), and their records against OHSAA playoff teams respectively (including in Week 11 unlike above). Based on what is below, #1 Reynoldsburg currently sits at a 10-1 record, and the Raiders’ opponents finished with a combined 50-50 (.500) record in the regular season. Reynoldsburg is currently 6-0 against teams with winning records and 2-1 against teams who also made the 2018 postseason anywhere in the state of Ohio (including Toledo Start).
#1- Reynoldsburg (10-1 – 50-50 / .500 – 6-0 – 2-1)
#2- Dublin Coffman (10-1 – 49-51 / .490 – 2-1 – 3-1)
#3- Toledo Whitmer (9-2 – 45-55 / .450 – 2-2 – 2-1)
#4- Olentangy Liberty (7-4 – 56-44 / .560 – 0-4 – 3-2)
Kickoff against the Patriots in Week 12 and the Regional Semifinals is at 7:00pm on Friday 11/9/2018 at St. Francis DeSales High School (4212 Karl Rd, Columbus, OH 43224). The winner of this game would advance to the Regional Finals to face the winner of #2 Dublin Coffman and #3 Toledo Whitmer.
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