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State semis ‘not just another game’

Kennedy football coach Dom Prologo has a message for those who want to suggest that his team should treat its upcoming state semifinal game as though it was just any other contest.

“Well, it’s not just another game,” Prologo said. “People say that you should treat it like you do any other week, but the reality is this is a very special experience. For most players who get this far, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Springfield coach Sean Guerriero concurs.

“Each week you go deeper into the playoffs, things get much more intense” Guerriero said. “Each week, the competition gets better. The games become more physical. We were in a very physical game last week. This week, from a physical standpoint, it will be an even bigger challenge. We know that.”

This weekend, both Kennedy and Springfield will get to experience the uniqueness of a state semifinal appearance.

Tonight, Kennedy (8-2) will play Newark Catholic (7-3) in a Division VII state semifinal at Massillon’s Paul Brown Stadium. The winner will face either Lima Central Catholic or New Bremen in a state title game.

On Saturday, Springfield (10-0) will face Beverly Fort Frye (10-0) in a Division VI state semifinal at John D. Sulsberger Memorial Stadium in Zanesville. The winner will square off with either Coldwater or Columbus Grove.

While the JFK players have never played this deep into the playoffs — the seniors were in eighth grade when Kennedy won a state title in 2016 — Prologo is no stranger to deep playoff runs.

He was Kennedy’s defensive coordinator in ’16. He served in the same capacity at Canfield in 2005 when the Cardinals advanced to the Division II state title game.

“These aren’t normal games, every week you go further into the playoffs things get more amped up,” Prologo said. “We don’t try to downplay the moment, we want the kids to understand that the work that they’ve done, it has paid off. They are part of something special.

“This is a forever moment for these players. What happens in those 48 minutes (tonight) will be with them for the next 48 years.”

Regardless of how the playoffs ultimately play out, Prologo hopes that eventual state champions are given the respect they deserve. Prologo noted that he has heard some fans suggest that there should be an asterisk placed next to this year’s winners. He believes just the opposite is true.

“This year’s champions, they should forever be remembered as the teams that overcame the greatest obstacles,” Prologo said. “This has been the most challenging season for all coaches and players. The resiliency displayed by these young men since March has been quite remarkable.”

“Whoever walks away with state titles this year, they are champions in every sense of the word.”

Springfield has an advantage in that its coach and players have been here before. The Tigers return to the state semifinals for a second year in a row. Last year, Springfield rolled to a 42-14 win over East Knox in week 14, then lost to Anna in the D-VI state championship.

“These kids really understand from experience that come playoff time you have to turn it up a notch each week,” Guerriero said. “And as the playoffs move on, the support from the school and the community becomes more intense. You can’t ignore it. You appreciate it and you want to take it all in.”

Guerriero stressed the importance of staying sharp both physically and mentally as teams play deep into November.

“Right now it’s vital that the players take care of their bodies,” Guerriero said. “These games become more physical with each passing week. While a lot of programs scale back on lifting during the season, we’re in the weight room three or four times a week. The kids go in there and they get after it mentally and physically.”

The Tigers also have an added advantage of being tested — and surviving — against near-elimination scenarios. Last year in a regional semifinal game Springfield found itself trailing Trimble 19-14 with less than five minutes remaining in the game. Facing a fourth-and-9 from their own 41-yard line, the Tigers executed a hook and lateral play to set up a game-winning touchdown.

Last week against Norwayne, Springfield found itself trailing 48-45 with just 34 ticks on the clock. The Tigers marched 65 yards on five plays to rally for the win.

“That last drive was remarkable in that our kids never panicked,” Guerriero said. “They took the field knowing they had to be near perfect, and they ran the two-minute offense so effectively. There was a belief and a mindset that everyone just had to go out there and do their job.”

While the state semifinals will be played this weekend in Divisions II through VII, the Division I state championship will be determined tonight when Pickerington Central plays Cincinnati St. Xavier at The Fortress in Obetz.

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