Blue Devils prove their worth every day

LISBON — The Lisbon football team has been proving people wrong all season, so there is no reason for the players to think they can’t do it again now that the playoffs have arrived.

The fifth-seeded Blue Devils (9-1) will undoubtedly be underdogs when they face athletic and battle-tested fourth-seed Louisville St. Thomas Aquinas (8-2) at 7:30 p.m. Friday at St. Thomas Aquinas High School.

It is Lisbon’s first time making back-to-back playoff appearances since 1998-1999.

The Knights have more than held their own against several bigger schools this season, but the Blue Devils aren’t backing down from anyone.

“I know they throw a lot, which I like,” Lisbon senior defensive back/receiver David Toot said. “I’m excited for the challenge. We know we’re all going to have to step up.”

After losing several key players from last seasons 9-2 squad, the Blue Devils may not have been on everyone’s short list of the best area teams. but the senior class entered the season determined to create its own legacy and keep the programs recent success going no matter what anyone else thought.

“From day one, this whole season has been based around us wanting to prove we could be just as good if not better than last year,” senior safety/receiver Seth Davis said. “I think we showed everyone we aren’t who they thought we were going to be.”

Not long after the Blue Devils got eliminated by Brookfield in last season’s first-round playoff game, Toot said he began to think about the potential this year’s squad had.

“Even as far back as when last season ended, I knew we were going to be good again this year,” Toot said. “I had a lot of faith in this senior class and a lot of faith that the underclassmen could step in. We were very motivated to show what we could do.”

Entering the preseason, Lisbon coach Jim Tsilimos liked the athleticism he saw from his team but knew the Blue Devils would have to develop up front if they were to take the next step.

The Blue Devils needed to plug in three first time starters (junior Justin Larkins and sophomores Brice Blackburn and Seth Donaldson) alongside seniors Jake Liberati and Bailey McCullough.

The line helped pave the way for one of the better running attacks in the area, as the Blue Devils triple-option based offense ran for an average of 283.4 yards per game.

“It was a little rough at first, but we’ve come a long way,” Larkins said. “It means a lot to be able to make it to the playoffs with these guys. I’m really proud of everyone.”

“Ed Rankin does a good job coaching the offensive and defensive lines,” Tsilimos said. “We needed them to develop for us to be successful, and those three guys did a great job stepping in alongside Jake Liberati and Bailey McCullough.”

Another encouraging sign for Tsilimos came in a preseason scrimmage against defending Division VII state runner-up Mogadore when the Blue Devils defense gave up just one score.

“Our offense was still coming along, but I was very impressed with how physical our defense was against them,” Tsilimos said. “It seems like we’ve kept getting better since then.”

The only time the Blue Devils got knocked around this season came in a 55-8 loss to South Range in week five. The team learned from what happened, however, and quickly moved on.

“Our communication has cleaned up a lot since the South Range game,” Davis said. “At the beginning of the season we just assumed everyone knew what they were supposed to do at all times. We started talking a lot more, and everyone became more active. More people know everyone else’s assignments so if something breaks down, more people know where to go and what to do.”

Having athletic ability is nice, but Tsilimos has noted all season how well the team has meshed together as a unit, making it a fun group to be around every day.

“The main thing I’ll remember about this group is that they all genuinely like being here and being around each other,” Tsilimos said. “Our older players have done a great job with the younger guys, you don’t see a split in the locker room. That’s been a really important factor in our success this year.”

Davis said the positive atmosphere has helped the Blue Devils greatly when they’ve encountered adversity.

“We’ve played together for 11 years now,” Davis said. “We know each other well enough to where we can talk and get through things without yelling at each other and freaking out.”

Regardless of how much of an uphill climb the Blue Devils face Friday, they can count on everyone having each others backs as they try to keep surprising people.

“We’ve played great as a team all year,” Toot said. “We’re brothers out there.”

“Coming into this year we wanted to be better than last year,” Larkins said. “Everyone said it was impossible, but we didn’t think so. Now here we are.”