The haters hate and the jealous pretend indifference. But the true fan of high school football again waits this weekend to see if one small rural conference known as “the MAC” can vie for three of the state’s seven football titles for a third consecutive year…just because they can.
I wasn’t here for last week’s regional final round of the football playoffs, out of town with colleagues from other fields of endeavor in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
But when I returned there was the usual spate of messages relative to the outcomes in Division V, VI, and VII from people grown accustomed to coverage of the Midwest Athletic Conference on Press Pros…with familiar questions.
“I see that Marion, Coldwater and Minster are in the semi-final round again,” said Nick, from Youngstown, Ohio. “What’s the chances they can all three win get to state and win again.””
Another stated his question in the form of a fact. “What a surprise,” said Russ Massey, from Portsmouth. “The MAC just keeps on rollin’.”
Well, while it is true that this website features consistent coverage of the MAC football throughout the year, if there’s one thing we’ve learned from recent experience it’s this. Never assume.
Take last year, for instance, a lot of people assumed that Marion Local WOULD win its fifth consecutive title, that Coldwater WOULD win its fourth, and that Ft. Recovery would at least compete with favored Mogadore. But while Recovery and Coldwater did win, the surest thing of the three in the minds of those who watched…DIDN’T WIN. Marion lost the football and momentum on Kirtland’s one yard line while driving for the finishing score, and saw the momentum, the game, and a shot at history go out the window when the Hornets came back to win.
So no, my dad used to say. Never assume anything in sports. It’s why they play the game.
But as to the premise of why people do assume it’s true that Marion has played the season with the memory of that fumble clearly in their minds – the title, if you will, that got away. There’s no question that they’ve dedicated this season, and persevered through a couple of injuries to key players, to atone for that loss. The Flyers meet Patrick Henry on Friday night in the Division VI semi-final game at Lima and even Patrick Henry coach Bill Inselmann knows that denying Marion the opportunity is like something Don Quixote might have undertaken. The real drama in the state come Friday will be…can Patrick Henry be the team that says “no” to the Flyers?
Coldwater, for those who know them more intimately, is a different story from the four previous state winners that featured standout fixtures at nearly every key position on the field. There are no Brody Hoyings on this team, no offense intended – or even Aaron Harlamerts or Kraig Schoenherrs. This is a team that coach Chip Otten talked about recently in terms of having spare parts from those previous teams, finally getting their chance to be part of the legacy. Senior, and first-year starter Dylan Thobe has assumed the reins at quarterback, but he didn’t assume the thunder and lightning complement of offensive parts that created impossible matchups every time they lined up.
“This is a group that we talk about in terms of proving people wrong, that’s our motto,” says Otten. “We want to prove to people that we are good enough to get back to Columbus for another shot at it. This is a team of kids like Nate Rindler, who finally got his chance, and is making the most of it. And if anyone has a better playmaker than Neal (Muhlenkamp),” he says, his voicing trailing off….. “Well, it seems he helps us win one way or another every game.”
Coldwater plays newcomer Coshocton on Saturday, the supreme test of those parts so far, in the Division VI semi-final at Olentangy High School.
And then Minster…who back in early October looked like the biggest longshot in Ohio football, continues its amazing turn of fortune with Saturday’s Division VII semi-final matchup with McComb, a team seeking to atone for some of its own MAC disappointments, having lost recently (three years ago) to Marion in the Division VII round.
No one associated with MAC football assumed anything back then after Minster had suffered four consecutive defeats to the likes of Marion, Recovery, St. John’s and St. Henry. But look again. Since then the Wildcats have reeled off seven in a row, including Ft. Recovery last week, and seem like the destined team, and certainly the sentimental favorite in the southwest Ohio at this point.
And in fact they are a team that favors that 2014 team that stunned Kirtland, with a play-making quarterback (Jared Huelsman) and an impact complement at running back and wide receiver (Bryce Schmiesing). Jonathan Niemeyer and Isaac Schmiesing give them an ability to stretch the field with the passing game…and the best secret of all may be their rapidly improving offensive line. They have size and they play with purpose.
“Never had a team work harder than what these kids have worked,” says coach Geron Stokes, flatly. “They’re dogs. They just come in everyday, watch film, go out and get better.”
For sure, the familiarity of playing within the region is over. Now, as Marion and Coldwater know all to well, the state comes calling with the best of what’s out there. Now it’s different helmets and different challenges.
But then put McComb, Coshocton and Patrick Henry in the MAC and let them play for three months. See if their respective records looks anything like their collective mark of 37-2. Odds are…no!
Which means the odds are not that out of mind that once again, this week, the MAC threatens to send three back to Columbus. That’s not a prediction, by the way.
Just a historical observation.