Xenia will learn Sunday where they will play its first-round Division II Region 8 game. The Bucs entered the week in fifth place in the region and have a chance to jump into the top four and play at home.
That loss in August created a moment of doubt that this team could do something no Xenia team had done since the playoff era began in 1972.
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“We all thought it was going to be over,” senior fullback Andrew Pollander said. “But then we picked it up and we just won nine games in a row. It wasn’t easy.”
When Monday came, the Saturday silence had morphed into a team focused on not letting that happen again. “Monday practice was one of the best practices we’ve ever had,” Smitherman said. The Bucs went to Eaton that week and won 35-14.
“We hit the weight room hard twice a week – even on game days,” Pollander said. “The practices were completely different. Everything was focused.”
Xenia then handed Franklin its only loss, 27-20. Next came three straight shutouts, and the Buccaneers were on on their way to winning the Valley Division of the newly formed Miami Valley League. Their biggest test was last week at once-beaten Troy, and the Bucs responded with a 24-22 victory.
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“I thought I had a pretty good team, but I had no idea we had a 9-1 football team,” Smitherman said.
Xenia has done it the old-fashioned way. Smitherman called only 23 pass plays this season and over 400 running plays. The base offense is the triple-option with several other alignments, including a lot of power-I against Fairborn.
“It’s a lot of hard work, it’s simple, it might be boring to watch,” Pollander said. “But it gets the job done.”
The Bucs took advantage of great field position on a short punt and two fumble recoveries to take a 35-0 lead at halftime. Pollander and halfback Kevin Johnson each scored three touchdowns and finished the regular season with around 1,000 yards apiece. Quarterback Brett Russell rushed for over 500 yards.
The offensive line is led by senior tackles Gavin Gerhardt (6-5, 315) and EJ Wilson (6-4, 290). Gerhardt has committed to Cincinnati and Wilson to Furman. Cade Kadel returned at left guard, while Bryce Carr stepped in at center and Paxton Bartley at right guard as first-year starters. And tight end Cameron Kinney is, of course, a blocker more than he is a receiver.
“We have the best O line in the area,” Pollander said.
Smitherman came to Xenia three years ago after being head coach at Stebbins.
“They’ve always had a lot of talent in Xenia,” he said. “I always felt like they were so close and just couldn’t jell. And I wanted to come in and give them some discipline and see if we could jell and make this thing happen.”