The Braves and Rams will face off at Piqua’s Alexander Stadium in a Division III, Region 10 semifinal game.
PIQUA — When it comes to finding recent playoff success, few teams have been as successful as the Shawnee Braves have this decade. But Shawnee will face a team with decidedly more playoff success tonight in the Trotwood-Madison Rams.
Trotwood (8-2) and Shawnee (10-1) will play in a Division III, Region 10 semifinal game tonight at Piqua’s Alexander Stadium. The winner will play either Thurgood Marshall or Tippecanoe in a regional final next week.
Shawnee is in the midst of its fifth-straight playoff berth. The Braves advanced to the Division III state title game in 2011, losing to Youngstown Cardinal Mooney 21-14. The Braves also advanced to the regional finals in 2009.
Trotwood is also in its fifth-consecutive postseason. The Rams made the Division II state title game each of the last three seasons, including winning the title in 2011.
The Rams are looking to make a deep run in their first season in Division III this year. They have rolled through their schedule, losing only to Wayne (10-1) 35-21 on Sept. 6. Trotwood beat Springfield 42-8 in a game in the Skyline Chili Crosstown Showdown on Aug. 30, but forfeited the game in September after it was discovered that Trotwood played an ineligible player in the game.
“They have more size, speed, and athleticism than anyone we’ve played,” Shawnee head coach Rick Meeks said in a phone interview on Thursday. “They’ll be as big a team as we’ve seen, they’ll be faster than any team, and they’ll be more athletic than any team.”
Shawnee, the sixth seed in Region 10, beat three-seed Wapakoneta 41-34 last Friday in overtime in a regional quarterfinal game. Shawnee’s starting sophomore quarterback Saalih Muhammad left the game in the second half with a back injury.
“He’s sore,” Meeks said. “It’s still up in the air. It’s going to be a game-time decision.”
Trotwood has been led on offense by sophomore quarterback Messiah DeWeaver. DeWeaver has thrown for 1,569 yards and 13 touchdowns this season. He threw for 175 yards and one touchdown and also rushed for two touchdowns in the Rams’ 42-7 regional quarterfinal win over Franklin last week.
Senior running back Mark Raye-Redmond has rushed for 556 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. Redmond has been offered by Brown, Columbia, and Davidson. Sophomore Dontay White has run for 384 yards and five touchdowns, and junior Breland Cospy has ran for 368 yards and four touchdowns.
Trotwood has been without leading running back Ashton Jackson since September. Jackson, who ran for 657 yards in five games, has multiple Division I offers.
“Even without (Jackson), they’ve still got a couple of good running backs,” Meeks said. “They run by committee, and any of those guys can hurt you. They run behind a great offensive line too, which makes them even better.”
Wide receiver Demarcus Wilson leads the team with 619 receiving yards on 31 receptions with six touchdowns. Kendric Mallory has caught 34 passes for 520 yard and six touchdowns. Wilson has an offer from Hampton, while Mallory has an offer from Illinois.
The Rams benefit from solid play on the lines. Senior defensive tackle Ryan Reese (6-1, 310 pounds) has 48 tackles and three sacks this season, while defensive end Verondtae Wilkinson (6-3, 235) has 39 tackles and 4.5 sacks. Reese has offers from Kentucky and Illinois among others, while Wilkinson has been offered by four schools.
Meeks said Shawnee is prepared for a tough battle in the trenches against Trotwood.
“They have a huge offensive line,” Meeks said. “They out-weigh our offensive line probably 100 pounds on average. We’re going to have to do some things to try and counter the size of their offensive line. Defensively, we match up a little better with their line weight-wise, but that Wilkinson kid has a motor, and all of their defensive line is quick and athletic.
“We’re at a disadvantage at both lines. Their lines are bigger and more athletic than our guys. All they have to do really is if they get their hands on us, we’re going to have some issues. The line play will dominate the game.”
Muhammad has led the Braves’ offense this season. He’s thrown for 1,296 yards and eight touchdowns this season and rushed for 1,020 yards and 14 touchdowns.
“He’s come along quite well,” Meeks said. “We ask him to do quite a lot. On any play we do, he’s going to be reading something. Whether he’s throwing the ball and reading defensive backs or linebackers, or whether he’s running the ball and reading defensive lineman, he’s reading something. We put a lot of pressure on our quarterbacks, and he’s handled it well.”
Jalen Nelson has led Shawnee’s rushing game. The senior has rushed for 1,484 yards and 17 touchdowns and also leads the team with 301 receiving yards and four touchdowns. Nelson also starts at linebacker for Shawnee and leads the team with 78 tackles.
“Jalen’s done a great job,” Meeks said. “We’ve asked him to do a lot more this year than we have in previous years… We rested him more last year on offense because we had Alex McCrory at running back, and he’s graduated and playing for Dartmouth. Without him, Jalen’s done a lot more on offense. He’s been tired after some games going both ways, but he’s really done a great job. He has some great speed and causes teams trouble.”
Meeks said Shawnee has drawn on previous success at beating higher-seeded teams as motivation for the Braves this week.
“The case for years has been that people have said we can’t beat this or that team, and I’ve told our kids to throw that out the door,” Meeks said. “We may not be as big, fast, or strong as these other teams, but it’s not individuals that win games, it’s the team. We’ve prided ourselves in previous years of going into situations against teams that are more talented than us and have been fortunate enough to beat teams that, on paper, are better than we are. I’ve challenged our kids with upholding that tradition.”