A huge first half offensively, and a smothering defense throughout sent Marion Local to its thirteenth football state final with a ‘convincing’ win over Attica Seneca East in the Division VI state semi-final.
Lima – It was a somber Seneca East locker room, to say the least. Tearful for a group of proud, over-achieving kids who dared to dream for thirteen weeks and rode that dream all the way to Friday’s Division VI semi-final game.
The only problem was…the Seneca East dream turned nightmarish by having to play the ten-time state champions of Division VI, VII, and even Division V (once), the Marion Local Flyers. And Marion saw to it in the span of about 15 minutes that they’d get a chance to tie the all-time record for state title wins next weekend with a convincing 34-6 win over the Tigers from Attica, Ohio.
“A whole different ballgame,” said a local writer covering Seneca East to coach Ed Phillips.
“Yes, and we needed a few bounces to go our way against a team like that,” Phillips answered, with obvious respect. “We needed some momentum, and when they busted that sweep for a quick touchdown they took the momentum and we never got it back. They are what they are for a reason.”
And the reason he spoke of was, one, Marion Local, by the time they get fourteen games under their belt on any year is a very good football team. And two, no one in Ohio currently has as much big-game experience as the Flyers. They’re hardened, seasoned, and they live to play November football.
“It has to count for something,” admitted Marion coach Tim Goodwin. “This was a big deal for their crowd to be here, tail-gate, and have that kind of excitement over the atmosphere of a state semi-final game. For our folks they probably stopped for a few Kewpie burgers on the way. Our kids have played a lot in these kinds of games – a lot of them played fifteen games last year. So they’ve been here before and that makes it a little smoother.”
They couldn’t have been smoother had they listened to Perry Como on the bus. After forcing Seneca East three-and-out on their first four possessions, Marion took the resulting punts and went heavy metal, instantly.
Nolan Habodasz took that early sweep that Phillips mentioned and turned it into a 54 yard touchdown at the 9:04 mark of the first quarter.
At 2:36 Brandon Fleck scored from three yards out to make it 14-0.
At 8:42 of the second quarter Fleck scored again from point-blank range to make it 21-0.
And with 29 seconds remaining before the half Habodasz took a screen pass from quarterback Nate Bruns and weaved through traffic to the sideline, turned it upfield, and outran the Seneca secondary to the end zone – 33 yards – for his second score and a 27-0 halftime lead. The extra point attempt by Alex Klosterman was blocked. It was Seneca’s only highlight of the first half!
“We weren’t going to take them for granted…never,” said Nolan Habodasz later. “We expected them to have a lot of energy, we had to come out and match that, and play our game.”
They did that, and more, rolling up 253 yards of first half offense, while holding Seneca to just 54 yards and a pair of first downs.
And as if they needed additional momentum, Marion took the second half kickoff and immediately turned that into a 65-yard touchdown connection between Bruns and wideout Nick Tangeman, a play that saw Bruns have to maneuver in the pocket, then find Tangeman, who caught the ball in traffic, then turned upfield and tight-roped the sideline while outrunning Seneca defensive backs.
“We have some really, really nice kids and they made some great plays for us tonight, let’s be honest,” smiled Tim Goodwin, referencing Tangeman’s touchdown. “We’ve stressed it for the past couple of weeks…enjoy this, guys, and the pass protection broke down instantly on that play, Nate scrambled out to his left and made a throw, Nick made a heckuva’ catch, so two pretty special kids there hooking up to make a play.”
It was as thorough as Marion had played all year – as well-prepared as they had appeared all year, albeit Goodwin admitted that he knew nothing about Seneca East prior to this week.
“Didn’t even know who their coach was,” he said, post-game. “And it’s been a long time since we’ve played a team that I didn’t know who their head coach was. Typically, you know what the other coach wants to do. Deep down you know what his identity is. But not tonight. I had no clue what this guy would try to do. We knew they had a nice running back, but we’ve played against nice running backs. The one at St. Henry (Zach Niekamp) was the player of the year in our league.
“But we pride ourselves on efficiency and the ability to execute, be machine-like, under pressure. And I don’t know that we were all that tonight, but we had some good kids who made some nice plays for us.”
Nice enough to rack up 374 total yards before it was done, highlighted by Nolan Habodasz’s 107 yards rushing and 142 yards overall. But Goodwin was talking about his defense, too, and their effort in limiting Seneca East and its run game with 6’3, 225 pound Blaine Swartzmiller to just 159 total yards…and 60 of those yards came in the fourth quarter against the Marion JVs when Seneca drove the field and scored its only touchdown with a reverse halfback option pass to quarterback Chase Foos to finally get on the board as time ran out.
“Our defense has been playing better and better for the past couple of weeks,” said Goodwin confidently to a group of reporters. “I said last week that our defense played really well. Coldwater scored 19 on us and they have some really, really good skill athletes. So I’m pleased with our defense.”
So it is…that the Flyers improved to 13-1 and will make their thirteenth trip next week to the state final, seeking their eleventh all-time title, and that comes as no surprise to Ed Phillips and the Tigers who went home proud of their 12-2 record, wide-eyed, and wiser for the opportunity of playing a team where you have to have the complete game, experience, momentum, and a couple of bounces go your way if you expect to win.
“We’ll learn from this,” said Phillips. “It’s taken us a few years to get to this point and accustomed to playing playoff football. And this is the highest level we’ve ever been to. We needed the momentum, a couple of turnovers, and field position to win and we just couldn’t get that. They (Marion) showed multiple formations, they can pound it, they can throw it, and their quarterback is a difference maker. He’s an athlete – like Barry Sanders out there throwing the football.
“And the touchdown was important because the kids didn’t want to get here and not score,” said Phillips with a smile. “We’ve run that play a lot and there wasn’t a lot of fun in the game for us tonight, but that was a fun way to end it.”
For Marion, their fun now waits in the person of the Kirtland Hornets, who beat Fort Frye 35-18 to advance and set up the rematch of last year’s Division VI title game, a game in which Marion played with its customary pride and efficiency to beat Kirtland soundly (34-11) and square their Finals record with the Hornets at one game apiece. Kirtland had beaten Marion in 2015, and the word along Lake Erie is that they covet the rematch this year more than everlasting life. And that may be.
But Tim Goodwin covets a challenge. He and the Flyers live for football in November, and even better…football in December. Which means, you get a chance to win the last game of the year. Which means, you finish as champion.
“It never gets old,” said Nolan Habodasz Friday as he walked to the locker room.
Which Ed Phillips and Seneca East now know first-hand, and why, as he respectfully added, “They are what they are for a reason.”