Highland is in uncharted territory with its football team, and coach Tom Lombardo is loving it.
Lombardo has guided the undefeated Hornets into a Division II state semifinal for the first time in program history. It is Highland’s sixth playoff appearance since the postseason started in 1972.
Highland (13-0) will play perennial playoff team Cleveland Glenville (12-1) at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Parma’s Byers Field with a spot in the state championship game at stake.
Highland enters the game after close playoff wins over Avon Lake (28-21), Massillon (17-14) and Avon (24-21) during the past three weeks. The Hornets’ biggest regular-season victories came over Wadsworth (24-23) and Nordonia (28-25) en route to a Suburban League title.
Lombardo said he never pinpointed a time when he thought his team was a state championship contender.
“We really tried to take each game one at a time,” Lombardo said. “We found ourselves 8-0 going into the game with Nordonia and they were also 8-0. There is a little bit of that ‘wow, both teams are undefeated,’ but you have to play the game like any other. We thought if we could win that game then we would be 9-0 and then play against Cloverleaf to go 10-0.
“Fortunately, we won both games and finished the regular season at 10-0. Then we put that away and moved forward into the playoffs and had a tough Avon Lake team, a tough Massillon team and a tough Avon team. We enjoyed the process more than thinking about the outcome. There are two games left. We will try to get this one against Glenville and then let the chips fall where they may.”
Glenville features senior defensive back-wide receiver Marshon Lattimore, senior defensive back-wide receiver Erick Smith and senior offensive lineman Marcelys Jones. All three players are being recruited by several colleges, including the top-three ranked football teams in the country: Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State.
Tarblooders senior quarterback Quan Robinson Jr. is also a playmaker along with Terrell Goss, Divine Redding, Treyvon Story and Davon Anderson.
“They are extremely athletic,” Lombardo said. “They have Division I [college] players everywhere. They run a scheme that allows their athletes to gel. They are physical and fast, and can make plays all over the field. They can turn what you think will be a positive play for you into a positive play for them very quickly. We have to limit their ability to do that.”
Glenville is coached by Ted Ginn Sr., who led the 2009 team to a Division I state runner-up finish.
Senior quarterback Bruce Kinsey has been a key cog in Highland’s offense as a passer and rusher, and junior kicker Luke Allen has been clutch. Senior Myles Houska and sophomore Tyler Frederick are also key linemen with senior wide receiver Cory Moncol and senior running back Alex Harris.
Senior James Friedl III and junior Grant Wallace are top linebackers on a defense that includes senior lineman Nick Corvo, junior back Coltin Kinsey and senior back Collin Paich.
“We have a lot of guys getting interest from Division III and Division II schools,” Lombardo said. “We have a solid group of guys that are good football players.
“Composed I think is a good way to describe this team. We are resilient and composed. These players and coaches are focused and have a goal of winning a football game. A lot of the phases of the game have stepped up when needed, offensively and defensively we have been solid and our special teams has made plays too. We don’t care about the stats; we just care about the final score.”
Michael Beaven can be reached at 330-996-3829 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the high school blog at http://www.ohio.com/preps. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MBeavenABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.