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November 10, 2011

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It will be a rematch of 2010’s Division II Region 7 semifinalists when fourth-seeded Big Walnut (9-2) takes on top-seeded and undefeated Columbus Marion-Franklin (11-0) tonight at Ohio Wesleyan University’s Selby Stadium … all with a trip to the regional championship on the line.

In the quarterfinals, Joe Weaver’s Golden Eagles held off fifth-seeded Columbus Beechcroft in a 14-7 defensive struggle in Sunbury while Brian Haffele’s Red Devils scored two late touchdowns to escape upset-minded and eighth-seeded Columbus Brookhaven 34-28 in Columbus.

When the Red Devils and Golden Eagles square off at 7:30 p.m., it will have a similar feeling to last season’s regional semifinal matchup at Westerville Central High School. Marion-Franklin was the top seed in 2010 and entered that contest undefeated while Big Walnut came in as the fifth seed with a 9-2 mark.

But in the end, the Golden Eagles rallied for 21 unanswered points in the second half to overcome a 12-3 first-period deficit and post a 24-12 victory to advance to the regional finals where they would fall to a talented Uniontown Lake squad in the regional finals at Ashland College.

Marion-Franklin has made eight straight postseason appearances since 2004. The Red Devils reached the Division II state semifinals in 2009, where they lost to Cincinnati Winton Woods 69-35. They reached the regional semifinals twice, losing to St. Francis DeSales 31-27 in 2008 and to Big Walnut last season.

Big Walnut, with eight postseason appearances in the last 12 years, has a 15-6 (.714) record, which includes the 2007 Division III state championship win in 2007. The Golden Eagles were also Division III state semifinalists in 2008, three-time regional finalists in 2001 and 2006 in Division III, and regional finalists in 2010 in Division II.

In the two teams’ respective regional quarterfinal victories last Friday night, Weaver’s Golden Eagles took a 14-0 lead into the final period against the Cougars thanks to quarterback Tyler Beam’s 39-yard touchdown run with 57 seconds left in the first quarter and halfback Lucas Garcia’s 4-yard scoring run with 6:08 left in the third period.

For Haffele’s Marion-Franklin eleven, they were staring defeat in the eye, trailing Brookhaven (7-4) 21-16 as time ran off the clock in the final period before finding the end zone twice in a 12-second span to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

Quarterback Corry Benson, who is 22-1 as the starting quarterback, put Marion-Franklin’s attack in motion, scoring on a 3-yard run to trim the Bearcats’ lead to 22-21. On Brookhaven’s ensuing series, Joe Alverson broke free through the middle of the Bearcat defense on his way to a 65-yard run and a 28-21 lead … a lead the Red Devils would not surrender.

“Benson played last year as a sophomore,” Weaver reported. “He has the ability to do a lot of special things, much like Maurice Hale of Beechcroft. He is very effective out of their spread offense, both throwing and running the ball … our defense will have to be ready.”

Defensively, Weaver said the Golden Eagles will be facing an experienced defense, especially up front and at the linebacker positions.

“They have both experience and size up front,” Weaver reported. “Much like last week, we will have to be prepared to control the line.”

Marion-Franklin comes into tomorrow night’s contest averaging 37.6 points per game with 414 points in 11 outings. The Red Devil defense is giving up an average of 21.4 points, surrendering 235 points in 11 games.

By comparison, Big Walnut is scoring an average of 30.2 points, 332 in 11 starts, and allowing 16.7 points, 184 in 11 contests.

On the injury front, Big Walnut will enter the game at almost 100 percent with the exception of 5-foot-10, 180-pounds senior linebacker Nick Shryock, who suffered a foot injury in last week’s game against Beechcroft.

“Nick is listed as day-to-day,” Weaver reported. “It’s tough for a senior to miss any game, especially a playoff game.”