Thursday, September 13th, 2018
Bulldogs made state football run in 1983
By Robb Hemmelgarn
In today's climate, if a team doesn't advance to the football postseason, it's more than likely considered a disappointing campaign on numerous fronts. In the 1970s and into the early 1980s, however, it nearly took moving mountains for local teams if they wanted their seasons to slide into Week 11.
By 1983, only two local squads had ever sniffed the playoffs - St. Marys in 1977 and Marion Local in 1981 - but in the fall of 1983, it was time for the Celina Bulldogs to have one of those "once-in-a-lifetime" years.
"We were 1-7 at one point my sophomore year in 1981 and then finished 7-3 the following season, so we were definitely on the upswing heading into 1983, but the culture still wasn't accustom to having that winning attitude yet," former linebacker Greg Eichenauer explained. "We knew we certainly had the potential to have a strong season, but I'm not sure anyone could have predicted how spectacular of a season it would actually turn out to be."
With third-year head coach, Jerry Harris and future All-Ohio quarterback Jeff Wiley at the helm, the Bulldogs got their season going with a 32-point win over Greenville, utilizing a passing attack in an era when airing the ball out was a rarity for teams. They opened the Western Buckeye League slate in Week 2 with a 36-6 victory over Shawnee before adding Kenton, Elida and Bath to their list of victims in the first half of the season.
"It's really hard to believe it has been so long," admitted Wiley, who was a junior in 1983. "We definitely had high expectations in 1983 with many starters back, especially in key positions. We scrimmaged Urbana, who was a state semifinalist in 1982, and we played right with them, so that gave us a good measurement of confidence heading into the regular season."
The Bulldogs opened the second half of the year with shutouts over Ottawa-Glandorf and Defiance before traveling to Wapakoneta in Week 8 to lock horns with the once-beaten Redskins.
"I'll never forget that game and going to Wapakoneta - they were very talented all across the board, had a lot of players back, and they were very, very big," Wiley recalled. "With us being unbeaten and them having only one loss, the atmosphere was amazing. I remember Greg (Eichenauer) making a huge stop on fourth down late in the game and then Rick Ross pulling in a long pass right after that to help seal the victory. That game was truly what 'Friday Night Lights' are all about."
After having edged the Redskins 20-13, the Bulldogs were back at Celina Stadium for a date with the St. Marys Roughriders, a crew they hadn't beaten since 1974.
"We knew it would be difficult to keep those kinds of high-energy emotions up for two weeks in a row, but we were ready for another standing-room-only crowd," Wiley commented. "It was one of those back-and-forth games that ended up coming down to a field goal. We never really even kicked extra points that season, but in the end, it was Dave Knous splitting the uprights that ended up being what we needed to win the game 9-7."
Eichenauer reflects on those two victories paying major dividends in helping their team finish the regular season a perfect 10-0 following their Week-10 win over Van Wert and advance into the playoffs for the first time in school history.
"I think it ended up being very important for us to play both Wapakoneta and St. Marys at the end of the season," he remarked. "They were both very strong teams and to beat them in consecutive weeks at the end of the year gave us an even bigger boost of confidence heading into the post-season."
Celina joined just seven other teams in Ohio in advance to the Division II playoffs (compared to 32 teams advancing today), and moved to 11-0 with a 38-19 triumph over Kettering Alter. The victory bumped the Bulldogs into the state semifinals, where they upended Lemon-Monroe 29-0. With that, the Bulldogs emerged as the first team in our area to ever reach the state title game on the gridiron.
"We felt that we would likely be in the playoffs after finishing the year 10-0, but back then only two teams from each region made it, so it was very difficult - undefeated wasn't always a guarantee," Wiley explained. "When we got in, the entire city was behind us and it was amazing. The biggest difference was that the weather was colder and ugly, but it was incredible to play in the postseason since not a lot of teams from our area had ever made it, let alone advanced that far."
Unfortunately for Bulldog fans, though, the dream season slipped away from them with a six-point loss to Brecksville in the state final at Ohio Stadium. For those on the sidelines and in the stands, however, that majestic season 35 years ago will likely never be forgotten.
"Having the opportunity to play in the state game at 'The Horseshoe' wasn't something I feel I fully appreciated until years later," Eichenauer admitted. "All the time that the players and coaches put into a season and to have it end in such a special way was really neat. You don't necessarily need all the talent in the world if you have a group of players and coaches who work well together and believe in one another and we certainly had that in 1983 - those are times I will never forget."