Knight time for the Devils
Fifth-seeded Lisbon will encounter what could be its toughest test of the season when the Blue Devils travel to fourth-seeded Louisville St. Thomas Aquinas (9-1) for a Division VI first round matchup at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
It is the Blue Devils second straight trip to the postseason, with the last set of back-to-back appearances coming in 1998-1999.
“They’re very good, no question about it, but I think we can play with them,” Lisbon coach Jim Tsilimos said. “We just have to worry about making sure we execute the fundamentals.”
The Knights had to navigate a tough schedule to get to this point, with all but one of their wins coming against bigger schools. The two most notable victories came in weeks four and five when the Knights defeated defending Division V state-runner up Canton Central Catholic 12-10 and followed it up by handing Division IV playoff qualifier Crestwood its only loss of the season by a score of 38-34.
The Knights two losses were both against strong playoff teams and both were close. Aquinas hung with unbeaten and state-ranked Marlington in a 20-17 week three loss. Last week they fell to Division VII regional championship contender Warren JFK (9-1) 28-27 in overtime.
“They schedule up all season, that should serve them very well this time of the year,” Tsilimos said.
The Knights averaged 31.2 points per game and feature a balanced, up-tempo offense.
“They run a lot of no-huddle and they have a lot of different formations they come at you with,” Tsilimos said.
Leading the way is junior quarterback Jarryd Palek, who completed 59 percent of his passes for 1,198 yards to go with 13 touchdowns and five interceptions. His favorite target is senior receiver Aaron Hoffman (30 receptions, 640 yards, nine touchdowns).
When Aquinas wants to run the ball, they will come at the Blue Devils with 6-1, 210 senior Nathan Rich, who ran for 1,290 yards and 16 touchdowns. He also made 82 tackles at linebacker.
“They love to run that big back and then go play-action off of that and throw the ball deep,” Tsilimos said. “They are going to move the ball.”
Tsilimos said the key for the Blue Devils will be their ability to bend but not break and force some turnovers.
The Blue Devils were plus-nine in turnover differential this season.
“It’s going to come down to us getting some stops and forcing turnovers,” Tsilimos said.
When the Blue Devils are on offense they will lean on mostly on the triple-option which served them well almost all season.
Cam Summers led the team in rushing with 998 yards and nine touchdowns. His explosive backfield mate Jason Thompson finished the regular season with 752 yards and 17 touchdowns. Quarterback Colin Sweeney added 443 yards and nine touchdowns.
“We’re going to need to execute the option very well and put a lot of pressure on them with it. We also have to be able to throw the ball when we need to.
The Blue Devils only game against a playoff team this season came in week five against South Range, which resulted in a 55-8 loss. The team is pleased with the direction it taken since that defeat, though, and is ready for what lies ahead Friday.
“Our kids have gotten better every week,” Tsilimos said. “I know they are very excited for the challenge.”