Jackson Izzard of Jonathan Alder snares a pass for a two-point conversion during a recent game against London. The Pioneers will host Zanesville in the Division III playoffs on Friday. (Journal-Tribune photo by Tim Miller)
Fresh off a first-round bye, the Jonathan Alder Pioneers will open their Division III football playoff journey on Friday.
The Pioneers will take a 6-0 record into their home game against Zanesville (3-4) on Volunteer Field.
The Blue Devils advanced in the post-season by clubbing Buckeye Valley (3-4), 30-8, last Friday.
Zanesville will bring a spread offense into the contest that is approximately a 50/50 ratio when it comes to putting the ball in the air or keeping it on the ground.
The team is led by quarterback Isaac Mayle, who is described as a speedy runner in the Devils’ zone read offense.
“Mayle throws the ball well and has good feet,” said Jonathan Alder head coach Brett Glass. “He’s going to hurt you, though, more with his feet than his arm.”
Others who figure to tote the pigskin include running backs Jordan Martin and Tristan Banks.
“Martin is more of the smaller, more shifty runner,” said Glass. “Banks is more of a power runner.”
Martin has picked up 501 yards on 95 carries.
Banks has carried the ball 43 times for 249 yards.
Although Mayle may be more comfortable keeping the ball on the ground, he’s not afraid to go to the aerial attack.
Mayle took over the top quarterback spot during the fourth week of the season.
Since that time, he’s completed 46-of-66 passes for 577 yards.
When he does, his favorite receiver is Jack Tysinger. He’s caught 21 passes for 179 yards.
Casey Cassell is another solid receiver and a good athlete,” according to Glass.
The Blue Devils’ skill position players operate behind a solid offensive line.
That group is led by the likes of Brody Norman, Julian Jackson and Brayden Ziener.
“They average about 260 pounds per man,” said Glass. “Everybody we play is big, compared to us.”
The Devils will show multiple formations in their spread offense.
That means the Pioneer defense will have to keep its eyes open and play assignment football.
“That’s what you do with a read option offense like Zanesville’s,” said Glass. “We have to stop them and get our defense off the field as quickly as possible.”
The Blue Devils will throw a 3-3 stack defense against the Pioneers.
“They play tough against an opponent’s running game,” said Glass. “Their linebackers – Banks, Trey Whiteman and Kanye Evans – are very good at stopping the run.”
For years, Jonathan Alder has always first liked to establish its ground game.
Running back Will Heisler finished second in the Central Buckeye Conference this season in yardage with 743 and scored nine touchdowns.
An advantage the Pioneers have that other Zanesville foes might not have had, however, is their “air force” attack.
In just six regular season games, quarterback JT Keith led the CBC in passing yardage with 1,212.
He’s completed 108 passes in 156 attempts for a 69.2 percentage.
Keith has rifled 13 touchdown passes along the way.
The senior signal-caller has a trio of sure-handed receivers.
Jackson Izzard has snared 46 passes for 572 yards and nine touchdowns.
Tyson Mast has connected with Keith for 33 receptions and 257 yards.
Jonathan Keith, the quarterback’s younger brother, has latched onto 22 passes for 15.5 yards per catch.
Glass said a balanced offense is what the Pioneers will need in order to beat Zanesville and advance in the post-season.
“We’ve got to take whatever Zanesville gives us, whether it’s keeping the ball on the ground or passing it,” he said.
“We’ve also got to win the turnover battle and we can’t afford any costly penalties.”
Glass said he feels the Pioneers benefitted from the bye week.
“We got some guys who had some bumps and bruises healthy again,” he said. “We’ve got a mature team and they seemed to handle the bye week well.
“I guess we’ll really know on Friday.”