Alter overcomes loss of key players with next-man-up ability

This was the season that could have been for Alter High School football. All the Knights’ offensive plans were scrapped when it became apparent in the preseason senior running back John Bivens was not going to sufficiently recover from a severe knee injury.

That knocked Bivens out this season. It was significant, because veteran Knights coach Ed Domsitz labeled Bivens among the best he’s coached in 44 seasons. In nine games as a junior, Bivens had 1,308 yards rushing, nine touchdowns and the admiration of Domsitz.

“Had we had John all along, I think, yeah, we would have been disappointed if we weren’t making the trip to Canton,” Domsitz said. “Without John, it looked like it was going to be a struggle.”

Bivens’ injury was just one of several to key players Alter adjusted to. That next-man-up motivation has earned Alter (13-1) a matchup against Chagrin Falls Kenston (13-1) in a Division III state championship at Canton’s Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium at 3 p.m. Friday.

Credit: MARC PENDLETON / STAFF

Credit: MARC PENDLETON / STAFF

Joining Alter in advancing to the season-ending Week 15 state title games is Marion Local (13-1), which is matched against Kirtland (14-0) in the D-VI Friday opener at 10 a.m.

The state championships begin with Thursday’s unbeaten D-II pairing of nearby Massillon Washington vs. Akron Hoban. Three games each will follow on Friday and Saturday. All the games will be televised live by Spectrum (Channels 311/1311).

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Alter senior defensive lineman Michael Alig, son of defensive coordinator Tom Alig, suffered a career-ending concussion early this season. Receiver Ryan Mangin, another senior, blew an ACL in the second-round playoff defeat of Badin.

Senior middle guard “Cookie” Armstrong missed a regional final defeat of Wapakoneta after injuring a knee against Badin and having it scoped. He returned to play every defensive series in last Friday’s 34-13 D-III state semifinal defeat of Norwalk at Wapakoneta.

“This is amazing,” Armstrong said. “For everybody who couldn’t do it in the past, we did it for them. All that hard work is finally paying off. It’s the best feeling.”

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It’ll be the fifth state title appearance by Alter since 2006. Alter lost in the state final to Steubenville in 2006, won consecutive D-IV championships in 2008-09 and was defeated by Cleveland Benedictine in the 2014 D-IV title game.

Alter’s offense has rallied around senior quarterback Connor Bazelak, who’ll sign with the University of Missouri next month, and sophomore running back Brandon McDonald, who has had a breakout season (1,500-plus yards, 17 touchdowns).

Alter has mounted a 13-game win streak, losing only the opener at Fairmont.

“Fortunately, we have a (NCAA) D-I quarterback,” Domsitz said. “We have a defense that plays great football. Our defense has been lights-out all year and they’ve kept us in ballgames until we could get the offense going.”

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• Marion Local senior linebacker Sam Huelsman was named the Division VI All-Ohio defensive player of the year by the Ohio Prep Sportswriters Association. The Divisions VI and VII teams were released by the Ohio High School Athletic Association on Sunday.

Joining Huelsman on the D-VI first team were teammates Matt Rethman, a senior defensive back, and senior receiver Nick Tangeman.

Also named first team D-VI was Tri-County North senior defensive lineman Preston Jackson.

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Triad and Lehman Catholic each placed two members on the D-VII first team. Triad running back Dylan Rice and receiver Isaiah Bruce, both seniors, were named to the D-VII first team offense. Lehman Catholic landed senior quarterback Elliott Gilardi and senior kicker Michael Denning on first-team offense.

Four area players were chosen to the D-VII first team defense: Tri-Village senior lineman Mason Sullenbarger, senior defensive backs Mykah Eichie of Springfield Catholic Central and Matthew Shook of Ansonia and Fort Loramie sophomore linebacker Max Hoying.

»» PHOTOS: Alter vs. Norwalk, D-III football state semi 

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Players were based on coaches’ nominations and selected by nine district media committees throughout the state. The remainder of the All-Ohio football teams will be released this week and Mr. Football announced on Wednesday.

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