Duane Leugers scored three times and the Marion Local defense kept Kaleb Romero under control for most of the night as the Flyers broke Mechanicsburg’s heart yet again and advanced to the Division-VI State Semifinals.
Sidney – Prior to Friday night’s D-VI, Region 24 championship game between Marion Local and Mechanicsburg, most of the talk centered around Mechanicsburg’s all-everything quarterback Kaleb Romero. And justly so.
The 5-11, 195-pound senior entered the game with over 1900 yards rushing and 30 touchdowns. He had thrown for over 1200 yards, and 17 more scores. The Indians averaged more than 40 points a game, and had not had a game closer than 30 points while going 12-0.
Romero is also 150-3 as a high school wrestler with his senior season yet to come. He will wrestle for Ohio State next season.
Not many people were talking about the Marion Local defense. Turns out they should have been.
The Flyers kept Romero under wraps most of the night, Duane Leugers scored three touchdowns, and the Flyers stayed unbeaten against the Indians all-time with a 26-15 win before a standing-room only crowd at Sidney Memorial Stadium.
The Flyers improved to 12-1 and advanced to the D-VI state semifinals next week. They are now 7-0 all-time against the Indians. Furthermore, a team from the Ohio Heritage Conference has never beaten a team from the MAC.
“Great win for our football team tonight,” said an elated Flyers coach Tim Goodwin. “I can’t say enough about Mechanicsburg. They got a great football team. We just made a few plays. I’m proud of our guys. We played great defense tonight. That’s saying something because usually when we play great defense, we get a shutout. Tonight we played great defense and gave up two touchdowns. That’s a tribute to Mechanicsburg.”
Marion Local got things going on its second possession of the night. Starting at their own 27, the Flyers went 73 yards in 12 plays, with Jack Homan scoring from the 2. Tyler Mescher’s extra-point made it 7-0 with 2 minutes left in the opening quarter.
“That was a hard-fought Game,” said Homan a 6-3, 205 pound senior. “Their offensive and defensive lines, and their quarterback played tough all night. That’s a great team.”
It was more of the same on the Flyers next possession. Eighty yards in 9 plays, with Leugers pushing in from the 1. The extra point was blocked, but the Flyers carried a 13-0 lead into the locker-room.
“Those drives were execution,” Goodwin affirmed. “That’s what we have been lacking. We have moved the ball against everyone, but against good teams we have struggled in the red zone. Just stupid stuff. Shooting ourselves in the foot. We don’t have any toes left. Tonight, every time we got in the red zone, we scored. That’s championship football.”
The Marion defense made life miserable for Romero and his offensive mates in the first half. Mechanicsburg ran just 17 plays to the Flyers 28, and while Romero had 88 yards on 11 carries, 61 of those yards came on just two plays.
The Indians, who converted more than 63% of its third down opportunities through 12 weeks, also went 0-5 in those situations in the first half. The Indians first half drive chart read fumble, punt, punt, punt punt.
Homan, who was the MAC Defensive player of the year, talked about that unit which has allowed 66 points all season.
“We have been together for a couple of years now. We like to blitz and keep people guessing. We like to hit people. It’s all part of the game.”
Not many in the near-capacity crowd thought the Indians would go away quietly, and they didn’t. With Romero operating in a mostly empty backfield, Mechanicsburg marched 80 yards in 18 plays. Romero scored with 46 seconds left in the third quarter, and the Indians trailed 13-7 heading into the fourth.
Championship teams respond when challenged, and the Flyers did just that. On first down, Leugers found Ryan Thobe open over the middle for 42 yards to the Mechanicsburg 28. It was the final catch of a big night for the 6-1, 165 pound senior, who finished with 6 catches for 125 yards.
“That play from Duane to Beans (Thobe) was huge,” Goodwin said. “We thought we had an advantage with our receivers against their secondary, but then Kahlig (senior wide receiver Matt) got dinged up early. Ryan really stepped up for us. Duane ran the ball hard and played a great game.”
Leugers finished that drive with a 1 yard run, then sealed the deal with a 5 yard jaunt into the end zone just over three minutes later. That drive started deep in Mechanicsburg territory after the Indians punter dropped the snap, picked it up and dropped it again before being smothered by a wave of blue shirts at the Indians 23 yard line. That started a mass exodus for the parking lot by fans on both sides of the field.
Unofficially, Leugers ran for 90 yards on 13 carries to lead the Flyers, while Homan finished with 43 on 15 carries. The Flyers senior quarterback was 11 for 15 for 169 yards and an interception.
Romero finished with 162 yards on 27 carries, but 85 yards came on three plays. The senior finished his high school career 6 for 11 through the air for 58 yards and a late fourth quarter touchdown.
Goodwin said the Flyers were not surprised by the Indians insistence on running the football.
“It’s week 13. Everyone is going to do what they do. It was strength on strength. The strength of our team is our run defense and our front seven. We told our guys, he (Romero) is going to break a lot of tackles. You just have to keep coming. We have been in this situation before with Brody Hoying (Coldwater) and other players. We know the mentality. We knew we weren’t going to tackle him one on one. We just had to keep coming, and that’s what we did.”
The Flyers will now get ready for unbeaten Patrick Henry, a 21-19 winner over Ayersville in the Region 22 title game. The site will be announced by the OHSAA on Sunday. The Flyers and Patriots have met once before, with the Flyers winning 42-20 in the D-V state semifinals in 2007.
“This is a great experience,” Homan said, referring to the Flyers sixth straight appearance in the state semifinals. “I love playing with my teammates, and we want to keep this going for a couple of more weeks.”
Goodwin was asked if the Flyers big game experience was an advantage at this time of year.
“I think, more importantly, our kids are used to competing. Just used to working, and getting exposed and getting yelled at by their coaches when everything is not going right. There isn’t anything Mechanicsburg can do about it. Their league simply doesn’t prepare them like ours does. I’m not sure there’s anything they can do about it. It’s just a fact.”