No longer a Cross County Conference pushover, National Trail (8-2) rode lanky quarterback Garrett Griffin into the high school football playoffs for the first time in program history.
And they did it the hard way, securing a playoff spot by winning 15-12 at CCC heavyweight Tri-County North in last Friday’s regular-season finale.
Like last season, the CCC will have four teams in the postseason. Trail, TC North (7-3) and top-seeded Miami East (9-1) are all lumped in Division VI, Region 22. Conference champion Covington (10-0) earned a No. 2 seed in D-VII, Region 26.
“Anytime you get four teams from a conference in the playoffs and three in the same region that means your conference is winning out-of-conference games,” Trail coach Tony Sonsini said. “That’s important in the Ohio point system.”
Sonsini, in his third season, has quickly produced few other Trailblazers coaches. After a 1-9 debut, Trail was 6-4 last season and takes an 8-2 record into Friday’s first-round game at Ohio Heritage Conference rep Mechanicsburg (8-2). Sonsini guessed the last time Trail had consecutive winning seasons “was in the ’70s.”
What is known is Trail hadn’t had a winning season since 1995 until last year.
Sonsini’s success at the New Paris program parallels the breakout of Griffin. A 6-foot-5, 175-pound slinger, he’s thrown for 2,891 yards, 36 touchdowns and just five interceptions.
Trail has a three-pronged receiver corps in Devin Mize (57 catches, 943 yards, 12 TDs), Phillip White (35 catches, 737 yards, 10 TDs) and Josh Lee (50 catches, 687 yards, 10 TDs). Massive three-year starting junior Josh Baker (6-4, 320) anchors the offensive line.
It’s a pass-happy scheme that has served the Blazers well. Their only losses are to Covington and East.
“We just preached to our kids all week, if you win, you’re in,” Sonsini said of the North win. “Nobody other than ourselves in that locker room expected us to win. It was the most exciting moment for me as a coach.”
It’s no secret who Trail will lean on. “We will continue to ride Garrett as far as we can,” assured Sonsini.
North slid to the No. 8 seed and drew a rematch at East in their opener. East won 24-21 in overtime in Week 8. West Liberty-Salem, another OHC rep, joins the CCC trio in Region 22. The Tigers open at Williamsburg (7-3).
Divisions II, III, IV and VI will play at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays. Divisions I, V and VII will play at 7 p.m. on Saturdays. Schools earn a percentage from presale tickets, which also are less expensive ($7) than at the gate ($9).