Thursday, November 29th, 2012
Roughriders captured state title 20 years ago
Last Curtain Call
By Robb Hemmelgarn
In the early 1990s, St. Marys football was king.
With fortunes built on punishing running attacks and relentless, suffocating defenses, Skip Baughman's crew captured their first state championship in 1990, only to land back on the main stage two years later, where 20 years ago this week, they put the exclamation point on their remarkable 13-1 campaign while solidifying themselves as one of the premier programs in all of Ohio.
"When we won state in 1990, we all enjoyed what we thought was a once-in-a-lifetime experience," explained Roger Duncan, who coached the offensive line at St. Marys from 1967-1998. "I will never forget getting back there again in 1992 and the feelings that came along with winning it all again. It definitely made us greedy for more."
The climactic finish to the 1992 football season set up like a storybook battle with the previous two state champions set to clash for supremacy in Division II. The Roughriders and Fostoria Redmen previously bashed helmets in the 1990 state semifinals a week before the 'Riders went on to hoist the gold trophy. The Redmen hadn't suffered a single loss since their previous meeting with the Roughriders and were riding a 27-game winning streak.
"By reading the newspapers and hearing people talk, you would have thought we had no chance in that game," Duncan chuckled. "They were the defending state champions and had quite a win streak going. We won it all two years before that and beat them along the way to that state title, but no one seemed to give us much of a shot."
In opening series, future Ohio State Buckeye and NFL defensive back Damon Moore, Fostoria's quarterback, slithered through the Roughriders' defense for a 60-yard gain. While the sprint was impressive, it proved to do nothing but poke the giant. With first down inside the red zone, the Redmen seemed poised to dent the scoreboard, but a few moments later on fourth down, St. Marys' Dean Miller dropped Moore for a 15-yard loss.
"That first big play they ran took them down inside the red zone and it sort of caught us off guard," Duncan recalled. "Our defense gambled on that play and their guy hit a seam and off he went. After that, we really shut them down though."
Things remained calm until early in the second period when Fostoria lined up to punt and a bad snap was recovered by St. Marys on the 29-yard line. It took seven plays for the Roughriders to make Fostoria pay for the earlier miscue, as fullback Shawn Lamb bullied his way into the end zone on a five-yard run. The snap on the ensuing extra point was off-target, but Roughriders' holder Tony Hirschfeld scooped up the ball and lofted it toward the end zone to hit Jake Sutton for the two-point conversion.
The Roughriders' defense popped the ball loose on Fostoria's next drive, and St. Marys set up shop on the Redmens' 20-yard line. In a drive powered by a pair of runs from future Michigan player Mike Elston, St. Marys extended its lead to 14-0 following a missed PAT kick.
"Skip put a lot more faith in Tony Hirschfeld at quarterback," Duncan explained. "Some years we would have guys back there whose job was to simply hand off, but with Tony he gave us a running and throwing option as well. Of course it was also great insurance to have Lamb and Elston lining up right behind him."
The teams returned to the field following halftime, and the Roughriders didn't miss a beat. In a 69-yard series that was highlighted with a 17-yard sweep by halfback Mike Wahrer, the Blue and Gold crossed the goal line a few moments later when Hirschfeld bootlegged into the end zone to push his team in command by 21 points.
"With the state championship game there is always so much excitement and adrenaline flowing, so it is nice to get to a point where you feel like you can breathe a little," Duncan commented. "When we scored the touchdown to go up by 21 points, there was definitely a sense of relief. We knew that if we just played like we had been and didn't do anything goofy with the ball that things would go in our favor."
Refusing to surrender, the Redmen quickly scored on a 45-yard touchdown run, but Moore failed on the two-point conversion, leaving St. Marys with a 21-6 lead. Later on, Luke Kleinhenz snagged one of Moore's passes and raced 39 yards before being pulled down at Fostoria's three-yard line. Elston, who currently coaches at Notre Dame, finished the excitement off with a touchdown on the next play, and Jeff Hughes' PAT kick gave St. Marys a 28-6 advantage.
A late touchdown and conversion by Fostoria wasn't enough as the Roughriders were crowned Division II state champions for the second time in three seasons.
Defensively, the Roughriders picked off two passes and pounced on three fumbles, while Elston punished Fostoria's defense with 115 yards on the ground, to close his season with nearly 1,200 rushing yards.
"That period of time was really something special. All of those kids really got along with one another no matter what grade they were in," Duncan concluded. "There was a time in which that particular game seemed literally like yesterday, but that isn't the case anymore. Back then, I could tell you the score of every game and almost every detail from the time I began coaching. Anymore, it gets a little tougher and they all start to run together. One thing is certain though, the 1992 season was one that a lot of people still hold very dear and it was great to have experienced it firsthand."