SHARONVILLE — It’s taken Arvie Crouch less than two full seasons to get the Hamilton High School football program where it’s at.
“We’re growing, man,” said Crouch, who coached at Mount Healthy from 2009 to 2021 before making his way to HHS. “Hopefully we can continue to grow and get better. We’re ahead of schedule, I’ll tell you that right now.”
No. 7 seed Hamilton celebrated its first-ever playoff victory last week following a 13-10 win over Sycamore, which has set up a rematch against No. 2 Princeton on Friday night in a Division I, Region 4 quarterfinal at Pat Mancuso Field in Jake Sweeney Automotive Stadium.
“I’m proud of my team and happy for my kids and how hard they’ve worked,” Crouch said. “It’s starting to pay off for them. We’re just going to go in and try and play our best game and see what happens.”
The Big Blue (8-3) went toe-to-toe in Week 5 against the Vikings (11-0), the Greater Miami Conference champions and the state’s fourth-ranked team.
Princeton quarterback Deangelo Birch hit Daelyn Jarman on a 14-yard touchdown pass with 12 seconds left to knock off Hamilton 22-16 back on Sept. 15.
The Big Blue are 5-1 since.
“I think there were some question marks going in there before,” Crouch said of his team’s previous matchup against Princeton. “I think they answered those questions in their head by the way they played. They understood and said, ‘Hey, we can play with these guys, and we’re damn good ourselves.’
“I just know that they’re very confident, and I’m really happy about that,” Crouch added. “They’ve done a helluva job of practicing this week. They’re smart kids. We’re hoping to put one together on Friday night.”
Crouch said his Big Blue are the healthiest they’ve been in weeks.
“And that’s a good sign when you’re saying that while you’re in the playoffs.”
Junior quarterback Antonio Mathis has thrown for 1,557 yards and 11 touchdown passes. His favorite target is junior R.J Shephard-Ruffin, who has 39 receptions for 511 yards and seven scores.
Senior running back Cournell Bennett-McCoy has rushed for 956 yards and six touchdowns.
“They’ve really turned it around,” Crouch said. “These are great kids. They just didn’t have much confidence probably because of the last few years. We’re almost in every game now. We didn’t win a lot of them last year. They’ve just kept grinding and do what we ask of them. Now they’re starting to understand why. They’re getting a lot of whys answered this season. They’re understanding what a program should look like and what the expectations are within that program. I’m just really happy where we’re at.”
Junior end Trey Verdon anchors the defense with 70 tackles, including eight sacks and 12 for loss of yards. CJ Bryant (115), Gracen Goldsmith (105) and Carter Isaacs (100) are in the GMC’s top five in tackles.
“We’ll see what happens,” Crouch said. “This will be a great test for our program and where we’re at and what kind of grit we have. I think our kids are going to step up to the plate and play their best game possible.”
Junior PJ Nelson leads Princeton with 74 tackles and 11 sacks. Birch has thrown for 1,131 yards and 10 touchdowns.
ELDER AT LAKOTA WEST
The No. 3 Firebirds (9-2) take on the No. 6 Panthers (7-4) in a Division I, Region 4 quarterfinal at Firebird Stadium.
Elder leads the series 6-1 dating back to the 2004 season. Lakota West won the last meeting 30-10 in the 2022 postseason.
The Firebirds tout both the Greater Miami Conference’s best offense and defense, while outscoring their opponents 357-77.
The Panthers have won three out of their last four.
BELLBROOK VS. BADIN, at Fairfield
The No. 1 Rams (11-0) face the No. 9 Eagles (8-3) in a Division III, Region 12 quarterfinal at Fairfield Alumni Stadium.
Both programs won their respective conferences during the regular season, with Badin taking the Greater Catholic League Coed crown and Bellbrook the Southwestern Buckeye League Southwestern Division title.
The last time both teams played was in the 2021 regional finals. Badin won 21-9.
The Eagles have won six straight, including last week’s 48-0 rout of Wilmington.
The Rams blanked Goshen 41-0 in their playoff opener.