Prep football: Despite newcomers, Lebanon seeks playoff return

Lebanon quarterback Dakota Allen, shown during a 55-20 loss to visiting Miamisburg on Oct. 14, 2016, has graduated and moved on to Eastern Kentucky University. Junior Kyle Short is the Warriors’ new quarterback this season. MARC PENDLETON/STAFF

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Lebanon quarterback Dakota Allen, shown during a 55-20 loss to visiting Miamisburg on Oct. 14, 2016, has graduated and moved on to Eastern Kentucky University. Junior Kyle Short is the Warriors’ new quarterback this season. MARC PENDLETON/STAFF

Coming off its first playoff appearance in 15 years, the Lebanon High School football program is riding a wave of enthusiasm.

An increase in numbers with 120 players — 50 of them freshmen — has coach Shawn Lamb excited, especially as he faces the task of replacing 17 starters from last year.

The senior-laden Warriors went 7-4 with a loss to Sycamore in the first round of the Division I, Region 4 playoffs, ending their first trip to the postseason since 2002. Lebanon had won three Greater Western Ohio Conference titles since then, but just missed the playoffs on a number of occasions.

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“It was exciting for all our players,” Lamb said. “To have a chance to get back to the playoffs for the first time in a few years — it seems like we were always the first one out. We want to build on that. The thing we’ve noticed is there are several who didn’t play last year or are new and came out, so we’ve seen an increase in our numbers and that’s exciting, but we talk about how last year is over. This senior class and this team will be remembered for what happens this year, and that starts with Week 1.”

Even with so many newcomers to the program, Lebanon will still be led by several seniors and juniors who know the system.

So despite returning just one starter on offense, Lamb has not made any big changes to what the Warriors are running. Junior quarterback Kyle Short, who served as the backup to 2,000-yard passer Dakota Allen last year, steps up to run the show this year with a whole new cast of players around him.

“He’s done a really nice job taking over the reins,” Lamb said. “He’s got an accurate arm, and he’s an intelligent kid. We’re not asking him to win games for us. We’re just asking him to manage the offense and put us in good situations and help us get out of bad situations.”

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Lebanon could be a little more balanced this season with some talented running backs emerging, including senior Tyler Inloes and sophomore Brendan Lamb, who did not play last year as a freshman. Sophomore Ethan Marsh, the team’s backup quarterback, is a versatile athlete who could see time at tailback, wide receiver, linebacker and safety.

The lone returning starter on offense is 6-foot-4, 280-pound junior guard Luke Lane, who is getting looks from some Division I colleges, and he will be joined on the offensive line by senior tackles Colin Truett and Connor Perry, senior guard Brian Allen and junior center Ethan Demitt.

“The kids have been in our system and they’ve all been running our offense the last two years, so it’s not like they are not used to what we’re doing,” Lamb said. “We’re not all young. Some of them are seniors, it’s just they are first-year starters. They know the playbook, it’s just being able to do it at a high level. We haven’t cut back on anything.”

The biggest change is on defense, where Lebanon is switching from a 3-3 odd-stack defense to a 4-3 in order to get more guys at the line of scrimmage to stop the run. The Warriors ranked 15th in the 20-team GWOC in run defense last year, allowing 227.4 rushing yards per game.

Lebanon’s defense will be anchored by three-year starting linebacker Zack Ball and junior Nick Straw, who led the team with 115 tackles last year but is out with a broken wrist to start the season.

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“That’s an important piece we are missing, but with him and Zack Ball, I feel like we have two of the better linebackers in the league,” Lamb said.

Two other starters are back, including senior cornerback Jake Tewart and junior safety Noah Frankenburg, and the defensive line will feature players like junior Adam Creech and senior Blake Justice.

Overall, the defense has looked pretty solid so far, Lamb said, but on both sides of the ball, it’s difficult to see how things will play out in real game situations.

“Our inexperience is going to be a challenge,” Lamb said. “We have 18 guys that didn’t start stepping on the field in Week 1, and you never know how they are going to react. We might have to fight through some nerves. Health is another concern because we have several starters who have missed time this preseason due to injury, and some positions are not as deep as they were in the past.

“The guys have worked hard and are getting into game shape. I’m confident in their abilities. It’s just a matter of taking what we learned and applying it in games.”

The Warriors open at home Aug. 25 against Kings and host their first GWOC National West game Sept. 29 against Northmont. They went 1-2 in league play last year with the losses coming to playoff teams Miamisburg and Springboro.

“We have a tough schedule, so we’re going to be tested every week,” Lamb said. “Last year we went 7-3 and finished second in computer points. If you can win seven games and finish second in Division I, Region 4, that’s pretty good. It’s reflective of how good our schedule was. We know if we have a good year, our schedule will put us in position to make the playoffs and even get a home game. That’s good news, but it humbles you because if we don’t play well every week, we’re going to get beat. That’s a lot of pressure.”


LEBANON WARRIORS

Coach: Shawn Lamb, 13th season (73-48)

OHSAA designation: Division I, Region 4

Playoff history: 11-8 in nine appearances (1980, 1988, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2016)

2016 record: 7-4 overall, 1-2 in the Greater Western Ohio Conference National West Division (third, tied)

Schedule: Aug. 25 — Kings, 7 p.m.; Sept. 1 — at Loveland, 7 p.m.; Sept. 8 — Fenwick, 7 p.m.; Sept. 14 — at Beavercreek, 7 p.m.; Sept. 22 — Springfield, 7 p.m.; Sept. 29 — Northmont, 7 p.m.; Oct. 6 — at Centerville, 7 p.m.; Oct. 13 — at Miamisburg, 7 p.m.; Oct. 20 — Stebbins, 7 p.m.; Oct. 27 — at Springboro, 7 p.m.

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