“Our motto is PTW – Prove Them Wrong. This was the class that everybody said couldn’t win the league. I challenged each kid and told them (some of the things they heard) that they couldn’t do it because they were too short, they couldn’t do it because they weren’t tough enough. I told them they proved everybody wrong to this point so let’s finish it off.” – Coach Chip Otten
Clayton – Coldwater Cavaliers quarterback Dylan Thobe responded to the question with a sly smile.
So, how many straight state semifinal games has Coldwater reached? Eight?
“Yeah, it’s something like that,” Thobe said, grinning after Coldwater’s closer-than-it-looks 35-21 victory over Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy in the Division V, Region 20 championship. “We have a pretty good reputation around Coldwater.”
Thobe and company added to the Cavaliers’ storied playoff history on a cold and blustery night at Northmont High School’s Good Samaritan Stadium.
Coldwater (12-1) won its 23rd straight playoff game – the longest current streak in Ohio and one win shy of tying Marion Local’s state-record 24 wins from 2011-2015. Coldwater won its 68th career playoff game, good for No. 3 all-time in Ohio behind St. Ignatius (69) and Newark Catholic (72). And Coldwater moved within two wins of winning its fifth straight Division V state championship.
All those were reasons to smile for Thobe and his teammates.
But there was another.
Despite qualifying for the state semifinals every season since 2009, that Coldwater reputation took a hit prior to this season. With just two returning starters there’s no way Coldwater can win the rugged Midwest Athletic Conference, critics said. The Cavaliers’ streak of 20 straight playoff appearances – the longest active streak and just two behind St. Ignatius’ state record (1988-2009) – will surely end, they said. And if the Cavaliers happen to luck into the playoffs, then there’s no way the Cavaliers will make it to Week 15.
“Every group is a little different. But this really is a special one,” Coldwater coach Chip Otten said. “Our motto is PTW – Prove Them Wrong. This was the class that everybody said couldn’t win the league. Couldn’t make the playoffs. Wouldn’t advance in the playoffs. That was the last thing I told them before the game (Saturday). I challenged each kid and told them (some of the things they heard) that they couldn’t do it because they were too short, they couldn’t do it because they weren’t tough enough. I told them they proved everybody wrong to this point so let’s finish it off.”
On the first play from scrimmage, Coldwater junior Brad Giere took Thobe’s hand-off up the middle for a 51-yard touchdown. The Cavaliers led 7-0 just 19 seconds into the game.
“It’s like you’ve been spotted seven points,” Otten said. “You feel like you got a free touchdown. Brad really made a nice cut and hit it. It gives you confidence.”
After forcing CHCA (12-1) to punt, Coldwater senior Zach Klosterman then blocked the kick to set up Coldwater’s offense on the CHCA 37. Six plays later, senior Nate Rindler took a hand-off around the right end – picking up some key blocks near the goal line – for a 14-yard score. Coldwater led 14-0 just five minutes into the game.
But this one wasn’t as easy as the team’s first two playoff meetings when Coldwater beat CHCA 44-14 in the regional semifinals last season and 34-3 in the state semifinals in 2014.
CHCA – boasting the power running of Kesean Gamble and his 1,369 yards and 22 touchdowns – pulled to 14-7 with 2:06 left in the first quarter on Gamble’s 2-yard run.
Then Thobe responded. He hit Klosterman in stride down the middle for a 38-yard TD with 10:59 to play in the first half. Then, with 13.7 seconds left before halftime, Thobe scrambled right and saw junior Sam Broering sprinting down the back of the end zone. He fired a strike to Broering for the 28-7 halftime lead.
No team had scored more than 28 points on the Eagles in a game this season. The Cavaliers did it in a half.
“They just do things well,” said CHCA first-year coach Mark Mueller. “They’re tough kids. Yeah, that’s all you can say. They’re well coached and tough kids. We made mistakes against them and you can’t do that.”
Coldwater’s defense held CHCA’s powerful offense in check. Thobe stopped one drive with an interception. Klosterman batted away a fourth-down pass deep in Coldwater territory. And senior Andrew Siefring forced a fumble that set up Coldwater’s TD to end the half.
CHCA scored on Gamble’s second 2-yard TD run to open the second half, pulling to 28-14. After a punt, CHCA made it 28-21 on a Danny Vanatsky 5-yard run.
Coldwater senior Neal Muhlenkamp, one of two returning starters along with senior lineman Troy Sanning, restored the lead to two scores on the Cavs’ first play of the drive. He took the hand-off up the middle, spun out of a tackle at the 45 with six defenders around him and out ran the Eagles for the 65-yard back breaker with 10:32 left in the game.
“I was focusing on holding onto the ball. No turnovers,” Muhlenkamp said. “I had to fight and get in there. I wouldn’t have got there without my offensive line. … I just wanted to get in the end zone and do it for my team. A great feeling once I got in there.
“Our senior year, we wanted to prove everyone wrong after we lost all those seniors last year. We’re out to get it and we’re fighting. … People thought we might not be able to keep it going. Us seniors, we want it pretty bad.”
Muhlenkamp led Coldwater with 105 yards rushing on six carries and a team-high 54 yards receiving on four catches. Thobe completed 10 of 14 passes for 128 yards and the two TDs.
Coldwater advances to play Coshocton (12-1) in the Division V state semifinals next Saturday at a neutral site to be announced Sunday afternoon by the OHSAA. Coshocton beat Wheelersburg (12-1) 30-20 in the Region 19 championship.
“We’re going to give it a shot,” Otten said. :We’re going to play a team we’ve never played before so it’s a new challenge. We’ll go play. When you’re practicing Thanksgiving week you’re happy. … I’m proud of these guys because this was the group that wasn’t supposed to get this far.”
Added Thobe: “My friends, they’re older and graduated last year, they kind of gave me crap that we might not make the playoffs. It’s nice to prove them wrong. Our team motto is Prove Them Wrong and Play To Win. Even some of the Coldwater fans were against us. It’s nice to show people we can still do it. … Tradition around the MAC is so good and it’s nice to keep that going.”
CHCA’s Gamble finished with 192 yards on 28 carries. Vanatsky completed 16 of 35 passes for 168 yards and two scores. It should have been four, but CHCA receivers dropped two passe in the end zone with the Eagles trailing 28-14 and 35-21.
“A couple catches were there,” Mueller said. “We didn’t make them and they did. That’s what good teams do. We’re proud of our kids and how they fought, but you can’t do silly things.”
Like count out the Cavaliers.
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