Marquee matchup

JFK’s defense faces Warriors’ 4,000-yard RB

Tribune Chronicle file / R. Michael Semple John F. Kennedy’s Alec Burzysnki pressures Toronto quarterback Nathan Karaffa in the first round of the OHSAA playoffs. Burzysnki and the rest of the JFK defense will be chasing a more elusive target Saturday in a state semifinal.

The statistics are certainly gaudy, but the Eagles’ defense is gritty. The combination should make for one heck of a game.

The statistics in question belong to junior running back Daniel Bangura of Canal Winchester Harvest Prep (10-3), John F. Kennedy’s opponent Saturday in a Division VII state semifinal scheduled for 7 p.m. at New Philadelphia.

Through 13 games, Bangura has 4,039 rushing yards, an average of 310.7 per game, and 53 touchdowns. He averages 11.5 yards per carry and gained 451 yards on 44 carries in the Warriors’ 44-21 win over Danville in the second round of the playoffs.

Bangura’s two lowest yardage output games were 160 yards and 201 yards. He has gained at least 250 yards in the remaining 11 games, including eight games with at least 300 yards.

“He is very, very fast, very elusive, physical when he has to be, he’s got the whole package,” JFK coach Jeff Bayuk said. “He’s not huge (5-foot-10, 170), but he’s very well put together and very strong. I think he’s scored more touchdowns than our whole team has.

“On film, your heart just stops every time he touches the ball. The thing about them though, is they have a very athletic quarterback. They’ll play the zone read and the quarterback will pull it and throw it or pull it and run it. They are not a one-trick pony, they can hurt you in a lot of ways.”

Quarterback Jamal Lipsey, a 6-foot, 190-pound senior, has passed for 657 yards and nine touchdowns and rushed for 291 yards.

The prolific Harvest Prep offense has scored at least 36 points in every game but two. The Warriors scored at least 50 points in each of their last six regular season game.

The Kennedy (12-1) defense, however, has recorded six shutouts and has played three other games in which the opponent scored in single digits.

“It’s hard to compare schedules because I don’t know that area down there. We don’t know about a lot of those teams,” Bayuk said about Harvest Prep’s opponents.

“I know they lost their three games at the beginning of the year. They’ve won 10 in a row and they’re on a roll. The only team I’m vaguely familiar with is Shadyside, who they beat in the first round of the playoffs, and Shadyside is a very good program.”

The Warriors qualified as the seventh seed in Region 27 on the last week of the season. They rolled past Shadyside and Danville before beating top-seeded Waterford, 29-15, in the regional final.

JFK beat Toronto, 38-0, Mogadore, 16-3, and Norwalk St. Paul, 48-13, in its three playoff games.

“I think we’re getting better (offensively),” Bayuk said. “The other night the conditions were so bad that it was difficult for either team to get untracked. But I really felt if we played as well as we can that we would be able to compete with St. Paul. Whenever you get up on a team by three scores or four scores, whatever it was, and they’re primarily a running team, that really takes them out of their comfort zone. I think every coach will tell you, that’s what you want to do. You want to get a team doing things they’re not comfortable doing. That’s what happened the other day, they (St. Paul) had to play catch-up and they’re not built for that and that was in our favor.

“On the other hand, I think our kids offensively really took charge. Our playbook, 90 percent of it was cut out because of the weather, we actually intended to throw the ball a little bit more than normal. Our kids were able to adjust. You’ve got to be able to make adjustments to the weather in this part of the country. Our kids did that and I thought they handled things well in the second half. We took the ball and ate up about seven minutes off the ball with a 35-13 lead or whatever it was.”

This is Bayuk’s first trip as a head coach this deep into the playoffs, but he’s been here before as an assistant, as have members of his coaching staff. Bayuk says he likes how focused his players are.

“Our kids are really good about finding something about the opponent we’re going to play to focus on and be a challenge,” he said. “They’ve heard already so much about this running back, they take that as a challenge, and they should. We’re not talking about anything except trying to get ready for this game. I’m not seeing that there’s any change in the approach of the kids. After watching film and going over the scouting report, our kids seemed to be very focused and excited about the opportunity.”

At this time of the season, it’s difficult for any high school football team to have a good handle on an opponent, considering the large number of football-playing schools in Ohio. But Bayuk says they Eagles are ready to adapt.

“Honestly I don’t know what to expect, but I do know this,” he said. “We have had a challenging and varied schedule where we’ve had to do a lot of things to win games, defensively and offensively. So I think that will have prepared us for whatever takes place on Saturday.”