The Ohio High School Football Playoff Guide
My thoughts on how far teams will go and several player breakdowns
We have made it to the first round of the playoffs! Time really does fly. It feels like just yesterday that I was writing my first game story for the Delaware Gazette. I have had the time of my life covering HS games in Central Ohio, I hope to do this every year for some publication. I think I have a good feel of how almost every team will fare in the playoffs, which is part of the reason why I decided to make this guide that features team and player breakdowns. Feel free to hit the subscribe button and type in your email if you want to see more content like this. I release a weekly College Football Top 25 Poll with team/player analysis and am planning on using this substack to drop feature stories in the future
I have seen that the majority of fans are against the switch to 16 teams per region, but I am all for it because it gives players another chance to be recruited and it gives me another game to cover. I know that just about every HS football player is all for the change, there is almost no negatives for them besides the potential risk of getting injured. People love to try to make the point that the playoffs are watered down, but who actually cares if the 1v16 games will potentially be a blowout. It most likely will, but anything can happen. That’s why we play the games.
There is no doubt that Ohio’s Division 1 has a better collection of teams and player talent overall, but personally, I am more interested to see how the Division 2 matchups play out. I am also heavily invested in the teams from the Delaware County area, mainly because that is where I live and I have built a great relationship with the community, the players and the coaches. It is wild for me to be more invested in what is considered to be a “weaker” division, but it is an odd year. Teams that have struggled for years are breaking out and typical state powerhouses are having relatively down years. Every division is wide open, especially D2. It seems like the gap between private and public schools is shrinking, but there is still a lot of ground to be made up. Public schools are on the come-up. I am a huge advocate of separating public and private school sports because of the unfair recruiting advantages that private high schools have, but I doubt any change will ever happen.
My projected D2 region winners are Big Walnut, (Akron) Archbishop Hoban, (Medina) Highland and Kings
Hoban is currently ranked third in their region in the JoeEitel computer rankings behind Cleveland Benedictine and Macedonia Nordonia, but I would trust them to beat both of those schools if they met in the playoffs, they already beat Benedictine a few weeks ago. Hoban finished 6-3 but that is a little misleading, considering they lost to Bergen Catholic (NJ), St. Edward and St. Ignatius. Their strength of schedule is insane for a D2 team. It would not shock me if they just rolled through everyone in this division
Benedictine is no slouch though, they spent the majority of the regular season as the AP No. 1 in the Division 2 Poll. Benedictine started out 6-0 but has lost their last two games to Hoban and Nordonia, so that is somewhat concerning but I’m not counting them out
I think Big Walnut is the team to beat in the Division. It is hard to tell who the second best team is in the division but there are a number of good teams who are all deserving. Take your pick of the litter: Hoban, Kings, Piqua, Massillon Washington, Benedictine or Macedonia Nordonia
SB D2 POLL:
Toledo Central Catholic
+Big Walnut: During my high school years, Big Walnut was always one of the worst teams in the state. That has changed this season, thanks to the efforts of Head Coach Rob Page, who is a coaching disciple of Indiana HC Tom Allen. They finished off their quest for an undefeated regular season on Friday with a strong 45-24 road win over Canal Winchester. I have seen them play 5 times this year, which is because they are so fun to watch and they are easily good enough to win the state championship. Why wouldn’t I want to cover this team every week? They are special. This is their best squad since 2007, a team that also went on to win it all. Let me tell you why I think this team has what it takes to pull off the unthinkable. The first reason is sophomore RB Nate Severs. His vision and ability to just take it to the house is unreal. He finished his first varsity season with 33 TD’s (30 rushing, 3 receiving). He is one of the best players in all of Ohio, certainly one of the most productive. Coach Page makes sure to give him the ball at least 20 times a game and there hasn’t been a game this year where he scored less than 3 touchdowns. QB Jake Nier makes the right reads and is very efficient at getting the ball out of his hands quickly. Nier has yet to have to outright win them a game, but his mobility in and out of structure makes him a dangerous enough dual-threat. Junior WR/DB Nicky Pentello is the go-to guy when they need an explosive play, whether that’s a snap out of the wildcat or taking a bubble screen to the crib. Pentello even plays DB and got a game-sealing interception two weeks ago, he can do it all, he is definitely good enough to go D1. Whatever “it” is, this team has it. The defense gets the stops when needed, they are led by senior DL Christian Takatch. Takatch is drawing interest from Akron and B1G programs. DB Dom Salazar always steps up, coach Page loves him and has given him high praise in nearly every postgame interview I have had with him. BW is gifted on special teams, there is two games where they blocked an extra point and they have good kick returners as well. They have blown every team they face out of the water, except for Dublin Scioto (an 8-point win). This team is just different. At the minimum, I expect them to be in the D2 Final Four. Olentangy in the first playoff game is no easy draw, but they should still win by a few scores. I hope we get to see BW face Berlin in the regional final. Massillon Washington is not to be slept on, they could be considered the most talented of any team in D2, but they went 8-2 (granted those losses were to Pick Central and St. Ed’s). Hoover is the second ranked team in the region and I think BW would handle them if they met. The Golden Eagles are my pick to win it all.
+Olentangy Berlin: Who would’ve thought that the Berlin Bears would be the best Olentangy school in only their fourth year of existence. HC Mark Nori has done wonders with this squad. They are ranked third in their region going into the playoffs with a stunning 8-2 record. I have seen them play a couple times this year and I have been impressed every time, but for odd reasons. They run an effective two-quarterback system. The “backup” QB is arguably better than the starter and has led numerous comeback wins. Harrison Brewster is the name, he gets the job done, he makes the winning plays. The Berlin defense isn’t overwhelming or anything, but they find ways to limit opposing offenses. They bend but don’t break. Berlin has eked out several one-score wins that you could consider lucky, but they are a good team. I expect them to play Big Walnut in the regional final.
+Westerville South: Westerville South has been rather disappointing to me this season. They are 7-2, but they have been quite inconsistent. I expected them to be better with the athletes they have. The QB play is average at best. They have good skill position players, but they can be stopped. The defense gets torched by any offense with a pulse. If Kaden Saunders isn’t going off, this team struggles, we saw that in their 38-7 loss to Big Walnut. They are ranked 4th in their region. They are going to run into Massillon Washington in the second round and I don’t think they'll win that one. If they do win their first two playoff games, they will likely get to play Big Walnut again.
+Dublin Scioto: Scioto isn’t a great team or anything, but they did move me when I saw them. They gave Big Walnut their toughest test of the season and only ended up losing 28-20. QB Amare Jenkins, who was a Dayton offer, really impressed me when I saw him. He has great arm strength, but needs to work on his accuracy. WR Lesley Andoh scored three TD’s that game as well, he was getting open so often. The Scioto defense is solid and the offense is decent enough to win a playoff game or two.
+Olentangy: The Braves have had a rough season (3-7), but they were able to sneak into the playoffs in the 16th spot and earned a game next Friday against Big Walnut. The offense is hit or miss and the defense has struggled a lot. They have a few good players, but no stars and that hurts them. This is definitely one of the most unimpressive Olentangy teams in recent memory, usually they win 8 or 9 games and make a deep run, but obviously that will not happen this year. I want to say RIP to Braden Markus, he will be missed on and off the field.
MOST INTRIGUING ROUND 1 MATCHUPS:
-Olentangy Berlin vs Wooster
-Big Walnut vs Olentangy
-Westerville South vs Uniontown Lake
-Columbus Independence vs Massillon Washington
-Dublin Scioto vs Licking Heights
-Hoover vs Worthington Kilbourne
-Walsh Jesuit vs Maple Heights
-Olmsted Falls vs Valley Forge
-Fremont Ross vs North Royalton
-Anthony Wayne vs Rhodes
-Cincinnati La Salle vs Harrison
SB D1 POLL:
My Projected Region Winners: Medina, Marysville, Upper Arlington, St. Xavier
+Medina: This is one of the most explosive offenses I have seen at the HS level, they would give any team in the nation a run for their money with the level that QB Drew Allar is playing at. They can score at will. This team is dominant. Somehow, the computers put them at 2nd in their region. They beat St. Ed’s and Ignatius last year, I think they can do it again. They are my pick to win the D1 State Championship.
+Marysville: The Monarchs are definitely a top 5 team in Division 1. They boast one of the best defenses in the state, led by OSU LB commit Gabe Powers, who also features at RB for them. The offense isn’t overwhelming, but they get the job done. They are an extremely run-heavy team, the one time I saw them, they probably had less than five pass attempts in the entire game. They will run it down your throat. Having a mediocre passing game will hurt them, but they are definitely still good enough to win their region, which means they will likely be in the state final 4 at the least. They have a very good chance of making it to the state title game with their weak region. They will be playing Delaware Hayes in round 1. Springfield and Huber Heights Wayne are the only teams in their region who could potentially beat them, but I highly doubt that happens.
+Upper Arlington: Upper Arlington is the best team in Central Ohio in my opinion and that is because of their offense. They are led by RB Carson Gresock, who usually goes for over 150+ yards and multiple scores in every game. They have stellar QB play. My only concern with them is that they play in the toughest region. After facing Thomas Worthington in round 1, they will likely have to face the winner of Davidson/Reynoldsburg, then New Albany, then Pickerington Central. That is a tough gauntlet, but they have the horses to get it done.
+St. Xavier: I saw the Bombers play one time this year, against Olentangy Liberty and let me just say that this team was bigger than some college teams. They can pretty much just do whatever they want on offense with that size. They were ranked No. 1 in the state for most of the season before they slipped up and lost to St. Ignatius and Trinity (a former Kentucky powerhouse). I still think they are good enough to win it all, they just had a very unfavorable backend of their schedule. They also beat Moeller 49-16 earlier this season, so I expect them to win their region despite being second in the computers. That rematch will be insane, assuming they both get there. I expect them to make it to the Final 4 at worst.
+Pickerington Central: Pickerington Central isn’t as dominant as they usually are, but they went 9-1 and are still one of the best teams in Central Ohio. They are certainly a defensive team, as they are led by Sonny Styles. They have multiple players on the defense committed to Division 1 schools. Their only loss was to Pickerington North, a 13-10 OT battle. They are not to be slept on. The offense isn’t as explosive as normal, but they are definitely good enough to win multiple playoff games.
+Pickerington North: This Pickerington North team does not give up. They will play all four quarters and they will make it ugly for opposing offenses. They went 7-3 and they have the most impressive win of anybody in Ohio, a 13-10 OT win over crosstown rival Pickerington Central. They lost to Marysville, New Albany and Gahanna Lincoln, but they can fight with the best. The offense struggles at times but their defense will keep them in games.
+New Albany: New Albany has been one of the more pleasant surprises this season. They are 10-0 with wins over Gahanna Lincoln and Pickerington North. They are a run-oriented offense. They aren’t too explosive but definitely good enough to take them far into the playoffs. The defense is scrappy, one of the best in Central Ohio. They are 4th in their region and I expect them to win a playoff game or two, but I don’t think they would beat Pickerington Central or Upper Arlington if they meet in a few weeks.
+Olentangy Liberty: Liberty is an OK team, but they just lack offensive firepower. The defense holds its own. The team as a whole aren’t bad but they also aren’t really anything too special. They are a 10-seed and got matched up with Dublin Jerome, which will be a hard game for them to win on the road. Liberty has had a fairly hard schedule and they even beat Glenville early in the season so they are battle tested, which will help them.
+Gahanna Lincoln: Gahanna comes into the playoffs as a 3-seed in the death group of a region that also features UA, New Albany and Pick Central. They are a sleeper. They lost 31-3 to New Albany but they beat Pickerington North by 8. You never know what you’ll get with them. I expect them to win two playoff games.
+St. Ignatius: St. Ignatius went 6-4 with the toughest high school schedule I have ever seen. They will get a chance to get revenge this week on Mentor for the 28-26 loss in week 2. They also lost to Springfield, Archbishop Moeller and St. Edward. They beat Hoban and St. Xavier. I can see them making a shocking run as the 6-seed in a region that features Medina, Stow-Munroe Falls, St. Edward and Mentor.
+Olentangy Orange: Yes, I am writing something about a 1-9 team that failed to qualify for the playoffs, even with the expansion from eight to 16 teams per region. This team lost so many one-score games and choked away leads in almost all of their losses. They were not as bad as their record. QB Jake Werling was the bright spot of this team, he kept them in games that they shouldn’t have been in. WR Jordan Rudolph impressed me at times. RB Bobby Ogles runs hard. DE Rico Franklin-Davis has a comparable play-style and frame as former Orange standout DE Zach Harrison, who had his best game as a Buckeye against the Hoosiers this past weekend. The Pioneers have some good players, they should have been better this season. They need to change things up if they want to get back to making the playoffs, they can’t just keep trotting out the same basic scheme.
MOST INTRIGUING ROUND 1 MATCHUPS:
-St. Ignatius vs Mentor
-Olentangy Liberty vs Dublin Jerome
-Dublin Coffman vs Huber Heights Wayne
-Gahanna Lincoln vs Westerville Central
-Hilliard Davidson vs Reynoldsburg
-Elder vs Colerain
-Centerville vs Springboro
-Cleveland Heights vs Elyria
STATE CHAMPIONSHIP PREDICTIONS:
D2: Big Walnut
D7: Marion Local Maria Stein
PLAYERS TO WATCH OUT FOR:
-Drew Allar: He is one of the best HS QB’s I have ever seen, no hyperbole. The arm talent is insane and he just knows how to win. Penn State got a superstar. He can make any throw at any arm angle. He is also a pretty good runner, especially for being 6-5, 230lbs. He is so coachable and his growth potential is off the charts. Last year, he broke onto the national scene after beating St. Edwards and St. Ignatius in the same playoff run. I think he gets it done this year and leads the Medina Bees to the D1 state title. That offense is humming, they look unstoppable. Every time I see one of his throws, I am in awe of how easy he makes it look. He will be Ohio’s Mr. Football. The expectations for him were already astronomical and he exceeded them. He is now the 12th ranked player in the country. Those who have seen his tape and have followed his recruitment from the beginning know exactly how good he is.
-Nate Severs: He is the heart and soul of this Big Walnut team as a sophomore. He went off in every game. His vision and natural ability to make the right cuts are top notch. He does a great job of following his blockers and shaking defenders on his way to the end zone. 1,855 rushing yards and 33 total touchdowns in 10 games is unreal, dare I say generational. He is also a good kick returner and has 3 receiving touchdowns. Just scheme up a wheel route for him and give the QB enough time to get it to him and he will score. He is lethal in the open field. His potential is scary, if he is this good in his first year on varsity, how good will he be when he is a senior?
-Gabe Powers: He is such a good tackler and is really good in coverage. He is so instinctive. I was even impressed with his ability at RB at the HS level, he is a large part of why Marysville is so good on both sides of the ball. He is always around the ball making plays on defense. Ohio State will love this kid, the LB spot is in good hands.
-Carson Gresock: The stud UA RB carried them to a perfect record. He has gone for over 200 rushing yards multiple times. He is a bruiser. He is a force to be reckoned with.
-Sonny Styles: Styles is easily the best defensive player in Ohio for any class and arguably in the country with how great he is at nearly every defensive position. He’s even dominant as an edge. It’s crazy how good he is for being a HS junior. His versatility is unmatched. He is really good in coverage and at pass-rushing. He is also an elite basketball player. He truly is an athletic unicorn. I assume his college decision will come down to Notre Dame (where his brother Lorenzo plays) and Ohio State (his home school).
-Kaden Saunders: A gifted route-runner with 4.3 speed. Creating separation is what he does best. He is the best WR in Ohio and a top 75 player in the country. He is very skilled out of the wildcat and in run packages. The explosiveness is off the charts, you just have to get him touches.
-Nicky Pentello: The DeSales transfer is one of the most explosive players I have seen this year. He has proven to be such a valuable addition to this Big Walnut team, he adds an element to them that makes them one of the best offenses in their division. He is a really good WR and is equally as good at DB. He makes the necessary, winning plays and that is why his coaches love him. He does all of the little things right. His ability to be so versatile is mesmerizing. He uses his speed and pass-catching ability so well, he always makes guys miss in the open field. He makes the most of his limited touches.
-Amare Jenkins: The Scioto QB really impressed me when I saw him against Big Walnut. What moved me was his arm strength and the velocity that he puts on the ball. He is a good downfield passer and if he can improve his accuracy he could really be a good D1 player. He currently holds a Dayton offer and is getting interest from several MAC schools and even some SEC programs.
-Brenan Vernon: Vernon will be so good in college with his frame and technical ability. Notre Dame got a gem. He is a 2023 kid and still has a lot of room to grow as a pass-rusher. It sounds cliché to say he plays and looks like one of the Bosa brothers, but you can’t deny it at this point. Vernon is ranked 9th nationally. He is a superstar.
-Simon Monnin: When you talk about Upper Arlington, you can’t forget their prolific QB. He makes the right reads and puts up gaudy stats. He is just as valuable as Gresock is for UA, they are such a good duo. The UA offense is so efficient and simple, I expect Monnin to lead them deep in the playoffs.
-Owen Bainbridge: The Stow QB has been really good this year and has made them one of the best teams in the Northeast Ohio area. He is committed to Bowling Green and he can definitely make them a more respectable program. He is rated on 247 as an 3-star (81.74 composite).
-Anthony Brown: The Springfield WR is committed to Minnesota, but I really think OSU should make a push. There was talk months ago that OSU only wanted to use him as a returner rather than as a wide receiver, but I don’t know how true that is and I’m sure Brown is more than confident in his abilities and so am I. He is one of the most underrated players in Ohio. He is ranked as the 6th best player in Ohio currently via 247 and 304th nationally in the composite, a ranking that I think he is much better than. He will be a steal.
-Kentrell Marks: The Purdue commit has great ball-carrier vision and is very hard to tackle. He is very shifty. He is fast. Marks is also very good at tracking throws, he will fit right in at Purdue. He is a star.
-Tommy Bebie: The Rocky River standout is an outstanding two-way HS player who will play LB at Wake Forest. He is great at reading the QB’s eyes and making a play on the ball. He is really good at diagnosing the play and tackling. He even goes over 100 yards rushing in almost every game along with his brother.
-Tayvion Galloway: Galloway is such a gifted TE. His route running is so crisp and he’s pretty fast for being 6-6 215. The 2024 Unioto standout is the best TE in Ohio and is starting to pick up increasingly better offers, Purdue is the latest.
-Will Smith: The son of the former Buckeye and New Orleans Saints star has really broken out this year. The junior Defensive Lineman has so much potential, he causes havoc. His best offer right now is Illinois and I’m sure he’ll get more.
Covering Ohio High School Football has been such a rewarding experience. I am glad that I was able to format all of my thoughts on players and teams into one guide, thanks to my readers for staying along for the ride. PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT, I sure hope putting that statement in all caps leads to responses. I want to know what the people think. Who do you think will win the state title? Mention any players that I may have missed. Please feel free to subscribe if you want to see more content like this in the future