As the regular season schedule concluded last Friday, a look back at those teams we wrote about in August…from a perspective now of what they actually accomplished by season’s end.
And in 2018 area football turned out to be a ‘pandora’ of teams that actually did what we said they might, or even a bit more., in our August “teams of intrigue” column.
Owing, of course, to strength of schedule, or the actual league in which they play, you might be surprised to read about those teams of intrigue now, and compare to the hyperbole of August. We spent the weekend looking over our own shoulder, and here’s what we found.
The number one team, in our minds, turned out to be the Coldwater Cavaliers; because in a year when it was ASSUMED that the six-time state champions were too small and too young, they probably pulled off the too biggest wins of anyone we saw. They beat last year’s Division IV state runner-up Clinton Massie on Week 2, and then trumped that by beating last year’s Division VI state champion, Marion Local, in Week 10. Along the way they amassed an 8-2 record with their offense-by-committee attack – their bend-but-don’t-break defense – and lo and behold, the Cavaliers actually topped anyone’s best expectations by qualifying for the post-season for the 55th year in a row. Actually it’s not that many, but it seems that way.
Number two is Marion Local, simply because people expected them to be Marion Local, go undefeated, and win another state title in Division VI. And for that reason we didn’t even include the Flyers in that August column. There’s no intrigue anymore. But they did what they always do, except for a season-ending loss in double overtime last Friday to Coldwater; and of course, the state title part is yet to be determined. There were questions before the year as to their offensive line, and there are still questions about the offensive line. There were questions about their depth and experience on defense, and that, too, is still a work in progress. But the Flyers have plenty of the other annual attributes to make another run at Canton – a dynamic passing game with Nate Bruns, Matt Rethman, and Nick Tangeman. And if you discount the offensive line too much they take it personally, and start opening holes for the run game with Nolan Habodasz. They also have Tim Goodwin teaching Football 501 (which is Masters Degree level), so don’t feel sorry for 9-1. Like a lot of other people, you probably expect too much from Marion Local…because they always deliver.
Number three, you have to give it to the Lehman Cavaliers for finishing their year with a 7-3 record, for again making the Division VII playoffs, and doing it with a roster that never had more than 23 healthy bodies on it at any given time. In fact, for most of the year, it seemed, they played with about 20. “I don’t like it,” said coach Dick Roll prior to the year. “But I just tell the kids that Lima Perry made the playoffs last year with the same number of kids. So, we’re going to compete every week, and see what happens.” And you know what, they did what Roll said they were going to do. No, they don’t play in a very good league. But when you only have 20 kids, you win 70% of your games, and you beat teams that have twice the manpower that you possess, that has to qualify very highly for making the most of a bad situation. Kudos, Dick, to you and the Cavs.
Number four, no team resurrected its fortunes at a critical point of the season more than the St. Henry Redskins, who began the season with the hype of having a big, physical offensive line – with a running attack that would cast its fortunes with senior Zach Niekamp (who actually asked to play running back the previous winter) – and the complementing prospects of a talented group of underclassmen that had yet to do much under Friday night lights. A lot of hat, the people in Texas would say. But are there any cattle? They started fast, with three straight blowout wins, but then lost to Anna in overtime in Week 4. And two weeks later the Redskins hit rock bottom, offensively, losing to Marion Local. Then, at 4-2 for the season, they asked quarterback Sam Lefeld to prove that he could add a passing element to their attack, and Lefeld responded in spades, throwing the ‘Skins past Minster, and adding just enough through the final four weeks to where teams couldn’t load up to stop Zach Niekamp. They responded by winning their final four games in a row, finishing 8-2, and garnered the #5 spot in the Division VI playoffs, Region 24.
Number five, when we wrote about Troy in August we said it then – that this was a team that in no way should do worse than 8-2 for the season. The reason? They returned the GWOC North’s best running back in Jaydon Culp-Bishop, they had the complementing parts to put around him, and even though they were rebuilding on their offensive line the defense would give them time to put it all together. That’s exactly how it worked, as Culp-Bishop got his yards, the defense finished fifth in the GWOC, and the offensive line eventually found its way. Their only loss came against Miamisburg in Week 5, and as it turned out, the Trojans did exactly what we said they would (actually one game better), finishing third in Region 8, Division II, and will play Harrison this Friday in round one of the playoffs.
Number six is Anna…because early in the year the Rockets simply didn’t look like a team that would compete with the likes of St. Henry, Minster, Marion and Coldwater in the MAC. They got pushed around by Covington in a pre-season scrimmage, and in short, they didn’t look physical enough to win eight football games. But they did, finishing 8-2 while beating St. Henry and Coldwater in the process. They actually led Marion Local 20-7 at halftime, before losing 44-20 back in Week 5. But that was the LAST time they lost, and finished in #5 spot in Division V, Region 18. They’ll play Elyria Catholic this week in round one of the playoffs.
Number seven, when I saw the Piqua Indians in their pre-season scrimmages I held my head. They didn’t look good against Celina and Springboro, and far from what you expect with a Bill Nees football team. A perennial 6-4 team since they won the Division II title in 2006, it was questioned the week of August 24th if they could even finish 4-6? They lost badly on opening night to Chaminade, then won three straight against three suspect teams before losing badly, again, to Trotwood. At 3-2 at the halfway mark, their competitiveness was up for debate. But compete they did, winning tough against Sidney (14-12), and losing tough (27-25) against Butler, winning tough again against Tipp City, scoring the winning touchdown in the final minute with a 95 yard drive. Then, they almost beat rival Troy, before giving up the winning score in the final four minutes, 7-6. They finished 6-4, their defense finished third in the league in overall statistics, and no team surprised, or improved, more than Piqua during the span of those ten weeks…because all four of their losses came against teams that would eventually make the playoffs. Well done, Bill.
Number eight is Covington, who started off miserably against three tough playoff teams – St. Henry, Minster, and Fort Loramie – then, rebounded to run the table with seven straight wins to quality for Week 11 in Region 24, Division VI. Yes, you say, but Covington always runs the table in the Cross County Conference, then comes up short in the playoffs. But this is a different Covington team, the first team in their recent history (since 1999) that they started 0-3 and then made the post-season, which tells you something about their competitive will. They’re also one of the physically strongest teams in that Region 24, and the Buccs will hit you. And the reason for those three losses at the start? Turnovers – fumbles and interceptions – something that they’ve cleaned up significantly since Week 4. Kudos to coach Ty Cates and the Buccs.
Number nine would be Minster, the defending champs in Division VII. Geron Stokes was faced with a massive rebuild issue to replace Jared Huselsman and the offensive line, and actually finished a game better in the regular season than last year (7-3). Again favored to be at the forefront of Division VII, Region 28, the Wildcats play Riverside this Friday, at home.
Number ten would be Miami East, who dropped a few spots only because of a mid-season loss – a surprising loss – to Covington. Otherwise, the Vikings and Max Current finished with an 8-2 mark and in the Division V playoffs, finishing 7th in Division V, Region 18. Again, they don’t get a lot of credit because of the Cross County Conference schedule, but East is another physically strong team that hits first and asks questions later. And Liberty Center, their first round opponent, will discover that for themselves.
Our eleventh team has to be New Bremen, who surprised a lot of people by finishing 6-4, and came within a game (or one more win) of actually qualifying for the Division VII playoffs. Great job by Coach Chris Schmidt and the Cardinals, who will not be overlooked in next summer’s profiles on teams to watch. They’re building in Bremen, and the foundation more than took shape in 2018.
Our final team is Milton Union, and coach Bret Pearce, who took a bad 4-6 team from a year ago and flipped it to a better 6-4 team this year. The roster numbers are way down from where they were when Pearce stepped away as coach after the 2012 season. But look for that, too, to improve under the popular Pearce, who took five years away from football for personal reasons and family time. But after losing three of their first five this fall, the Bulldogs rebounded to win four of the final five and finish two games better than anyone expected. And this much is sure, we’ll write about them much more in 2019 than we did in 2018. They won’t exactly be starting from scratch.