PDT Sports Writer
LUCASVILLE — Valley has been here before and so has its opponent, Baltimore Liberty Union.
The only difference is the No. 6 Lions (10-2) have tasted victory in this game once before. The top-seeded Indians (12-0) are hoping the second try in the regional championship yields a ticket to their first state semifinal berth in school history.
Saturday night, the two teams clash at Nelsonville-York’s Boston Field to decide the 2012 Division V, Region 19 Championship. Valley coach Darren Crabtree hopes the experiences from last year’s 54-48 overtime loss in last year’s title game turn into lessons learned.
“We understand this is a very good football team,” Crabtree said. “No matter how they got here or what their regular season record of 8-2 was, they’re worthy of every bit of respect they deserve.”
The Indians advanced to their second regional title game in as many seasons with a 21-9 win over No. 4 Bucyrus Wynford. The win exacted revenge for Valley, which fell to the Royals last postseason.
One common denominator faces Liberty Union in this match-up compared to its previous two playoff contests: Facing an SOC-affiliated opponent. The Lions survived a 22-21 semifinal with No. 2 and SOC I champion Oak Hill at this same facility that will host this Saturday’s battle.
That win came off the heels of a 24-13 win at No. 3 Wheelersburg. Crabtree said having film of one opponent against two familiar foes helps in the chances of his Indians, champions of the SOC II for the second-straight year, avoiding becoming SOC victim number three.
“It gives us at least an idea of what kind of team we are facing as far as speed and ability,” Crabtree said. “To see them win both of those games, we talked with our kids (Tuesday), they were behind in both games.
“They’re a very resilient team. They find ways to come back and make plays. They don’t give up easily and that’s the biggest thing we’ve seen on film out of them, they’re a very tough group.”
The goal will be to stop a Liberty Union offense that is predicated towards the run. Highlighting the simple ground game with unbalanced line formations is running back Jacob Basso, whose 245 yards has accounted for 91 percent of his team’s rushing statistics through two playoff games.
Crabtree is impressed with the 5-9, 160-pound back. He admitted Basso can cause some problems.
“I think as far as running backs go, he’s as good as what we’ve seen this year,” Crabtree said. “He’s not very big, but he always seems to fall forward when he gets hit. He has a great ability to set up blocks, he can run north and south on some things but they like to run him a lot on wide jet sweeps and get him out in open space.”
While all eyes will be focused on Basso, Crabtree cautions the two-quarterback system implemented by the Lions presents just as many challenges. For example, Adam Snyder is considered to be the running threat, especially when he is working out of an empty set.
“He’s a dangerous-type runner at the quarterback position,” Crabtree said.
The other half of this tandem is Austin Vannatta, who looks more often to throw. Recognizing which signal caller is taking the snap may be half the battle Valley’s defense will run into.
In an interview this week with the Lancaster Eagle-Gazette, Liberty Union coach Dan Johnson said it’s that time of the year where the best teams in the state showcase what they have. He took the 2008 Lions to their only state semifinal in school history, the same time in which none of the players on this current roster were in high school to experience the run.
“Our attitude is if we’re good enough to get there, we’re good enough to win it,” Johnson said. “The underdogs are gone. There’s eight good teams.”
During this contest, both teams will be anxious to see who their next round opponent would be should they win. The winner of this contest will play the winner of the Region 17 Championship at Aurora Veterans Stadium between No. 1 Kirtland (12-0) and No. 7 Youngstown Ursuline (8-4).
Entering this weekend’s action, four of the Top 10 teams in the final Associated Press Division V poll (No. 1 Coldwater, No. 2 Kirtland, No. 7 Covington and No. 8 Valley) are still alive. Along with Division VI, the number four marks the fewest Top 10 teams in a certain division that are still persuing a regional championship.
Divisions III and IV each have six of the Top 10 remaining while Divisions I and II each have five playing in the 13th week of the season.
Cody Leist can be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 242, or email@example.com.