Who: Badin (10-2) vs. West Jefferson (11-1) at Northmont, 7 p.m.
Where: Matt Dudon Memorial Field at Good Samaritan Stadium, 4916 National Road, Clayton
Playoff history: Badin is 21-18 in 20 trips to the postseason; West Jefferson is 18-15 in 18 trips to the postseason
There is no surprise in West Jefferson High School’s run to the football playoffs this season. It’s become a tradition.
The Roughriders are making their 18th postseason appearance and preparing for their sixth regional final in the last eight years. They’ll face Badin for the Division V, Region 18 title on Saturday at Northmont.
“We understand what we’re part of here,” said Shawn Buescher, West Jefferson’s 12th-year head coach. “People care about our program. The kids and coaches greatly appreciate the history here and respect that very much.”
The Roughriders (11-1) are 18-15 in playoff games, capturing state crowns in 1976 (Class A) and 1982 (Division IV). Yet they haven’t won a regional championship since 1982.
The program set a state record with 42 consecutive winning seasons from 1958 to 1999. Then the bottom dropped out.
West Jefferson was 6-34 the next four years. Buescher took over in Year 3 of that swoon and went 0-10.
“I believe I was the fifth coach in six years when I was hired,” he said. “It shows you a tradition-rich program can fall on hard times.
“We had 23 kids out for the first season we were here. We were probably about as downtrodden as any program we had seen. We just slowly started to climb back.”
Buescher was 3-17 those first two years, but he hasn’t had a losing season since. The Roughriders are 83-15 in the last eight years.
The current squad has 20 seniors, a big number for D-V, and age makes a difference.
The starting offensive line is comprised of seniors, including a trio of three-year starters: center Carter Harris (6-0, 220), left guard Brandon Doran (6-3, 310) and left tackle D.J. McAninch (6-3, 225).
“Anytime you’re dealing with 18-year-old men instead of younger kids, you feel like you’re going to have some success up front,” Buescher said.
“We’re not huge. We’ve played a lot of teams bigger than us. But we think we’re fairly physical.”
Offensively, the Mid-State League Ohio Division champions have a multi-dimensional look. The spread is the base, but the Roughriders will also line up in an I-formation and try to run downhill.
The tailback and fullback positions are by committee. The quarterback position is not — senior Logan Stepp (6-0, 165) is the signal-caller, and he’s been outstanding (133-of-210, 1,950 yards, 14 TDs; 196 carries, 1,181 yards, 16 TDs).
Stepp had never played quarterback before this season, and he didn’t even play football in his freshman and sophomore years. He’s a converted wide receiver and also starts at cornerback.
“He’s light years ahead of where he was at the beginning of the year,” Buescher said. “He’s really owned the position. Early in the year, he relied a lot on his athletic ability. As the year’s progressed, he’s become more of a quarterback.”
Senior Nick Mendenhall (6-6, 215) is Stepp’s No. 1 target with 41 catches for 668 yards and seven touchdowns. Sophomore Earl Braithwaite (5-11, 185) is the leading tailback with 98 carries for 525 yards and 11 TDs.
Defensively, West Jefferson is a 4-3 squad. Buescher said middle linebacker Jake Hatfield (5-11, 210, senior) and outside linebacker Trevor Ferguson (5-11, 180, sophomore) are standouts.
The Roughriders have intercepted 20 passes. Senior Hayden Fulton (5-7, 150) has five of those picks, and Mendenhall, junior Tyler Jones (6-0, 170) and senior Ross Brenneman (6-2, 165) all have three apiece.
“We play a lot of kids on both sides of the ball,” Buescher said. “A lot of kids look like two-way starters, but actually they’re just rotating in quite a bit.”
West Jefferson’s only loss came in Week 2, a 29-0 setback at the hands of Division VII power Marion Local. Buescher said it wasn’t fun, but the defeat helped his squad improve.