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Rogers takes strong rushing game into the playoffs

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Rogers won't run out of running backs in any game as, from left, Steve Lewis, Martuan Sample, Drushaun Humphrey, Ronnie Rease and Clarence Calhoun are all capable of running around or over opponents. The Rams take a 9-1 mark into the playoffs.

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Depending on which Rogers football team shows up tomorrow night at 7:30 against sixth-ranked Akron Buchtel, the City League-champion Rams have a chance to become the league's first public school ever to win a football playoff game.

If it's the Ram squad that hammered St. Francis 36-7 with a solid ground game and stingy defense back on Sept. 29, Rogers could parlay this inaugural home postseason contest into a Nov. 10 Division II regional semifinal berth against tomorrow night's Bowling Green/Anthony Wayne winner.

If it's the lackluster Rogers squad that depended solely on its defense in sleepwalking through a 22-0 win over St. John's Jesuit on Oct. 13, or the Rams that hardly showed up at all in a season-opening 34-14 loss at Mansfield Senior, the playoff-proven Buchtel Griffs will likely be headed to the next round.

Buchtel, making its eighth postseason appearance, won state titles in 1987 and '88, and was state runner-up in '95 and '96.

“You're only as good as your last game,” first-year Rams coach Rick Rios said, “and we always bring up Mansfield. We make sure they remember that game and tell them `you're only one game away from being labeled overrated.'

“The kids have really taken that to heart. They know they have a big challenge this week. Some people out there still don't believe we can get to where we want to go, and that's kept us humble.”

Both teams are 9-1, with Buchtel's losing to Division I power Massillon Washington (40-7, Aug. 25), the only team to beat 9-1 Mansfield Senior (27-7, Sept. 15) this year.

The keys for the ninth-ranked Rams will be establishing their high-powered rushing attack, and slowing Buchtel's Tim Murphy, a powerful and speedy running back who will play at Pittsburgh University, and 6-5 quarterback Charlton Keith, who is headed for Wake Forest.

“When Murphy hits the hole, he's coming hard,” Rios said. “If he gets into the open field, you might not catch him. Keith doesn't complete a lot of passes, but he's got a cannon and he's capable of throwing a big one on you.”

Led by 6-3, 232-pound junior back Drushaun Humphrey - who has mixed some spectacular big-play ability in with stretches of mediocrity this season - Rogers is averaging 310 yards per game on the ground.

“Overall, it's a team effort,” Humphrey said of the running game. “My line gives me a seam and I run. They treat me with holes and I treat them with touchdowns. I try to make big plays all the time, and it hurts me sometimes. I'm working on that.”

Humphrey has 1,107 of the Rams' 3,098 rushing yards on 129 carries (8.6 average), and has scored 19 touchdowns.

“This (playoff) game means a lot to the team,” Humphrey said. “The City championship was all right, but we want to win the state.”

His backup at tailback in the I-formation and his fellow halfback in the wishbone is 5-11, 195-pound senior Martuan Sample, a transfer from Scott who has 659 yards on 110 carries (6.0) and 11 TDs.

The next leading rusher in the deep Rogers backfield is 6-1, 175-pound junior quarterback Ronnie Rease (82 carries, 500 yards, 12 TDs). Rease has also completed 25 of 73 passes for 668 yards and six scores.

“It's a luxury having this backfield behind me,” Rease said. “When the defense keys on everybody else, I can sneak one in on the sly.”

Rounding out the regular backfield rotation are starting fullback Loney Awls, a 6-0, 195-pound senior (59 rushes, 241 yards); Steve Lewis, a 5-9, 180 senior transfer from Scott (55 carries, 414 yards), and 5-8, 215-pound senior Clarence “Chachi” Calhoun, a backup fullback.

“We have three different styles in our running game, and nobody can key on any one of them,” said Lewis, who has speed. Awls has power, Sample strength and agility, and Humphrey has everything.

“The nice thing about the depth is it keeps people from keying on Dru,” Rios said. “If I were a defensive coach (for opponent), I'd go in saying, `You've got to stop No. 6 Humphrey) first.' But if you worry too much about that, Martuan's going to get one, or Steve Lewis is going to get one.”

Where Rogers has been most dominant and most consistent since week one, however, is defending the run.

Led by All-Ohio linebacker Diontre Earl, a 5-11, 228-pound masher, Rogers has surrendered just 1,707 yards in total offense (171 per game) to its 10 opponents, with just 731 of those yards (73 a game) coming on the ground.

Earl leads the Rams in tackles with 113, including 15 for losses.

TICKETS: Tickets for the Buchtel-Rogers game will be on sale at the Rogers athletic office today and tomorrow from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Tickets are $5.

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