Tigers prepping for return to postseason

By Brad Morris

Circleville has lived by one simple motto all season.

Earn it.

And the Tigers (5-5) have earned their first playoff appearance (excluding the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic season when all teams qualified) since 2013 after last week’s 19-12 dramatic win over Liberty Union.

“That’s been our quest all season to earn respect again for our program,” Circleville coach Steve Evans said. “Our guys had their backs against the wall last week, but they made the plays in clutch time to earn the opportunity to play again this week in the playoffs.”

The No. 16 seeded Tigers are preparing to travel to Thornville on Friday and play Division III, Region 11 top-seed Sheridan (9-1), which won the Muskingum Valley League Big School Divisional championship this season.

“It’s an incredible opportunity for our football team,” Evans said. “Sheridan’s stadium doesn’t have a track around it, ala Gardner Park in Washington Court House, so the fans are right on top of the sideline. Our kids could probably turn around and give a high five to a parent in the first row of bleachers.

“I know it’s going to be an incredible atmosphere for our team to play in, because Sheridan has an outstanding football tradition, and their fans always pack that place pretty well. This is an opportunity to put our best foot forward and see what we can do against a very good football program.”

Nolan West and his Circleville teammates are slated to travel to Thornville on Friday to face top-seeded Sheridan in a Division III, Region 11 first-round playoff game. Photo courtesy of Scott Iles Photography

Sheridan utilizes a two-quarterback system on offense with MVL Player of the Year Reid Packer (41-76 passing for 651 yards and six touchdowns; 621 yards rushing and seven touchdowns) and Caden Sherman (33-77 passing for 559 yards and four touchdowns.

Justin Munyan (80 carries for 750 yards and seven touchdowns) and Alex Poirier (96 carries for 566 yards and 11 touchdowns) help carry the load running the football.

Drew Holden is the top target for the passing game (23 receptions for 442 yards and four touchdowns), but the Generals can also utilize AJ Winders (16 receptions for 254 yards and three touchdowns) and Spencer Showalter (!3 receptions for 215 yards).

“Sheridan has a two-quarterback system where one kid throws the football a little better and the other kid runs the football a little better,” Evans observed. “They have an option offense that is going to come at us with a couple of solid backs. They will try to put you asleep with their run game and then hit a big playaction pass.

“You always want to take away what an opponent does best, especially this time of year, so we want to limit how much that Sheridan can run the football.”

Sheridan is averaging 382.9 yards per game offensively, while yielding 243.3 yards per game.

Poirier helps to lead the defense as the league’s linebacker of the year with 66 tackles, including six for loss, a pair of sacks and two interceptions.

Packer, also the league’s defensive back of the year, leads the Sheridan secondary with five interceptions.

“Sheridan runs a base 3-3 stack defense. They don’t do anything tricky. They just play out of their base defense and coverage, and they are pretty good at it with playing fast and not having to think too much,” Evans said.

The goal for the Tigers on Friday is to be in position to win the game in the fourth quarter.

“No. 1, we need to take care of the football because if you don’t win the turnover battle then you usually don’t win the game, especially at this time of year,” Evans said. “We need to limit Sheridan’s possessions by being smart and trying to control the tempo of the game. When Sheridan does get the football, we want to make them drive 70-to-80 yards and not get the football on the plus-side of the field.

“We also need to convert the chances that we have to score. Our downfall in most of our losses has been turnovers and not converting in the red zone on offense, so we need to have a different script on Friday against Sheridan.”

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