Thursday, November 30th, 2023

Defense continues to step up for Flyers

By Gary R. Rasberry

Defense wins championships. It's a phrase many coaches will use when talking about playoff teams.

That has certainly been key to the success of the Marion Local program, especially over the last few seasons.

During the Flyers' 47-game winning streak, opposing teams have been held to just 261 points, an average of 5.6 points per game. During the 2022 season, which the defense posted 11 shutouts in 16 games, the Flyers allowed 39 points, the fewest in the Tim Goodwin era and second-fewest behind the 1971 team that allowed 34 in 10 games.

This year, Marion has allowed 96 points, with 53 of those coming in its closest three games: Wapakoneta (29-26), Versailles (14-13) and Coldwater (35-14). In the postseason, the Flyers have shut out four of their five opponents with only MAC rival Minster getting seven points in the regional semifinal.

What makes this year's defensive prowess more impressive is that Marion had to replace seven seniors who were first team All-MAC on defense a season ago, including linebacker Darren Meier, who was the MAC, Northwest District and state Division VII Defensive Player of the Year.

"We had to replace a ton on defense," said Goodwin. "We've progressively been getting better through the season. But they're Marion Local kids, they always play hard."

Photo by Nick Wenning/The Daily Standard

Marion Local's Griffin Bruns (15), Devin Francis (27) and Landon Arling (14) tackle Versailles' Lane Bergman on Sept. 22. The Flyer defense continues to be dominating against opponents, allowing just seven points in five postseason games.

Landon Arling took over the role that Meier had last season, leading a linebacking corps that had to replace three of the four starters. He believes that getting key playing time in playoff games as underclassmen after the first team had put the game out of reach helped get the current starters prepared.

"The coaches always put the younger guys in big games after we have (the win) secured," said Arling. "Gives them the experience that we need.

"That feels great. You come in as a freshman, you don't know what to expect on the varsity field. Everybody's watching you and respecting you."

"With the team we had last year, the guys got a lot of time," said Goodwin. "It's all part of (the program)."

The "team" aspect shows in the defensive stats. Eighteen players have at least one sack, with Arling, Adam Winner and Wyatt Greenwood sharing the lead with four sacks each. Eleven players had recorded at least one interception, with Daniel Everman taking the lead with his third Friday night on a pick-six against Patrick Henry. Six players have a fumble recovery and five players have 70 or more tackles.

"The defense is really unified," said Arling. "We don't have to talk much. We know how the other guys play.

"We want to play as a good team. As a family."

Four defenders earned first-team All-MAC honors from the coaches' vote, with another on the second team. Arling, the team leader with 110 tackles, was named the Northwest District's Co-Defensive Player of the Year in Division VII while defensive end Kyle Ungruhn (30 tackles, three sacks) was the district Co-Lineman of the Year, which usually honors a standout two-way lineman.

"It feels good," said Arling of making another trip to state. "You put in the work and it pays off, no matter what."

Thursday, November 30th, 2023

Marion ready for Bulldogs

By Tom Haines

For the 12th time in 13 years, the Marion Local football team will be playing for a state championship.

On the other side of the field on Saturday is Dalton, which had never gotten out of its region until it beat Danville two weeks ago.

"I was just thinking about this this morning, looking at the 14 finalists and how many of us are repeat customers," Marion Local coach Tim Goodwin said on Tuesday. "Certainly that's a part of the equation, the extra weeks of practice that our kids get. They're getting into games too, two or three playoff games, they're getting a quarter of action. So that's a factor for sure."

"It's something we talked about in the offseason: we want to normalize playing at the state level," Dalton coach Broc Dial said. "We've been knocking on the door the last several years, playing some very good teams."

Marion's return was hardly guaranteed, as the Flyers replaced 15 seniors, including seven starters from a defense that gave up just 39 points, and rolled in a new quarterback, new receivers and three new offensive linemen.

The first game of the season, Marion gave up 26 points to Wapakoneta, but scored 14 points late in the fourth quarter for a three-point win.

"We almost gave up as many points the first game as we did the previous season," Goodwin said. "Wapak was a good team and a veteran team, and we were just young, and we made a ton of mistakes. But we figured a way to win that one, we scored twice in the last five minutes and pulled that one out. It definitely springboarded us the rest of the season, and showed the fact that we did have talent, we just had to get better."

Across the state, Dalton lost 14-7 to Kirtland in the first week, a rematch from its 33-0 regional semifinal loss in 2022.

Having played Kirtland in the state final three times before, including last season, that result got Goodwin's attention. On top of that, he said that regional semifinal game played a role in his preparation for the Hornets.

"That was actually the film that I watched the most, because Dalton moved the ball against Kirtland more than anyone else that we had film on," he said. "They caught my eye last year, and then when they turned around and opened the season with Kirtland and it was a 14-7 game - and actually, Dalton was throwing the ball in the end zone to tie it up right at the end - that definitely catches my eye."

For Dial, that loss, plus a win over Mogadore the next week, helped his players build confidence that they could compete against top-tier opponents.

"I've known Tiger a few years now, since the first time we played them, and we decided that would be a great game, great opener," Dial said. "Gives our kids some confidence to play at that level, is really what we were trying to do. Helped propel us moving forward."

After the Wapakoneta game, Marion cruised through four wins before coming up against Versailles, a team the Flyers beat in the regional final last year and which is playing in the Division V state final on Friday.

The Flyers escaped with a 14-13 win and weren't threatened again until the regional semifinals, when Minster was within seven until Kyle Otte scored with four minutes to go.

In the regional final, they led Ansonia 7-0 at halftime before pulling away to another big win.

"Week 10 Coldwater, that was a big game, and it ended up 35-14, but it was close for a good while," Goodwin said. "Minster in the playoffs, that was close for a long while. So our kids are ready to go 48 minutes."

Dalton didn't lose again after Week One. Division V Norwayne got to the Dalton 3 in the final seconds, but the Bulldogs held on for a five-point victory.

Their closest game in the playoffs was that regional final win against Danville, a 31-8 decision. They blasted Caldwell 55-7 in the state semifinals to secure their first state title game appearance.

"We wanted to prepare for this moment, and have been preparing for this moment as a program," Dial said. "I think our kids are excited to go play. We talk a lot to our players, 'Doesn't matter where you play at, when you step between those white lines, it's a game of football. The best team's going to win.' "

Photo by Nick Wenning/The Daily Standard

Marion Local running back Ethan Heitkamp stiff-arms Patrick Henry's Thomas Smith in the Division VII state semifinals on Saturday.

Marion has four players over 500 yards rushing, led by quarterback Justin Knouff with 694. Ethan Heitkamp has 567 and 24 touchdowns, Drew Lause adds 512 yards, and Parker Hess has run for 510. Right behind them is Kyle Otte with 394 rushing yards and 170 receiving yards.

Knouff has also opened up the passing game for Marion, with 1,992 yards through the air and 25 touchdowns against seven interceptions. Victor Hoelscher gives the Flyers a top-notch receiver with 1,048 yards and 12 touchdowns, and Andrew Pohlman has 389 receiving yards.

"It's certainly one of the more balanced teams that we've had," Goodwin said. "We have a number of skill players we feel comfortable targeting in the pass game or giving the ball in the rush game, and not every year do you have a dual-threat quarterback. That was actually a surprise to us. That's been the biggest surprise of the year, how well Justin has been able to run the ball and make plays with his feet when the pass game breaks down."

Goodwin had fewer concerns about the offense. On that side of the ball, he said the line took the longest to come together.

The Flyers' two returners, Kyle Ungruhn and Adam Winner, both earned spots on the All-MAC first team, and Ungruhn was named the Northwest District's Co-Lineman of the Year. The line ultimately paved the way for an average of 344 yards of offense per game.

"We had a little bit back up front, but the offensive line, it seems like, always takes a little bit longer than other groups just because of all the communication that has to happen," Goodwin said. "We're a lot better up front than we were at the beginning of the year."

The Flyers' defense has allowed an average of 6.4 points per game, forced 24 turnovers and recorded 40 sacks. Dalton's defense has 30 sacks, 49 tackles for loss, and 33 takeaways.

The Bulldogs' offense is led by Greyson Siders, who has run for 1,875 yards on an average of 10.7 yards per carry and 29 touchdowns. Sammy Tomlinson has 934 yards rushing and 18 touchdowns, and Brady Hignight has caught 28 passes for 428 yards.

Quarterback Colin Pearson has thrown for 1,704 yards, completing 63.8% of his passes, and has 18 touchdowns against five interceptions.

"I heard a great quote from Mike Leach before, that it wasn't so much balancing running and passing but getting a lot of players involved," Dial said. "We've been fortunate to have some good talent, a lot of kids that can handle the ball and do something with it."

"I think they're very similar to us," Goodwin said. "They've got a lot of skill kids, they can move well, they're very diverse on offense. They do some high-level stuff that puts your defenders in conflict and gives you muddy reads for the linebackers. It's going to be a big challenge."

Thursday, November 30th, 2023

Versailles gets ready for Kirtland rematch

By Gary R. Rasberry

For the second time in three years, Versailles and Kirtland will battle for a state football title when the two teams play Friday morning at 10:30 a.m. in the Division VI final at Canton's Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium.

The Tigers and Hornets met in the 2021 Division V final in Canton, where Versailles won its first state title since 2003 with a 20-16 victory. Kirtland knows the Midwest Athletic Conference well, having faced four MAC schools in state finals: Coldwater (2011 and 2012), Minster (2014), Marion Local (2015, 2016, 2022) and Versailles (2021, 2023). The Hornets are 3-5 against MAC teams in title games.

"What strikes me is how wonderful the fans are," said veteran Kirtland coach Tiger LaVerde. "Before and after the game, win or lose, they're like 'Great game, coach! Nice team.' They're so positive, they're kind people who understand high school sports, and these kids will go out and give it their all."

Kirtland is going for its sixth state title with Versailles trying for its eighth overall and third as a member of the MAC.

The Hornets, whose only loss came in Week Three against Division V state finalist Perry, will bring their calling-card rushing game back this season. The running game is led by Will Beers, who has a team-high 1,414 yards to go with 16 touchdowns. Fellow running back Rocco Alfieri went over 1,000 yards for the season in the state semifinal win over Garaway, standing at 1,067 yards and a team-high 27 touchdowns. Quarterback Jake LaVerde, son of the coach, has thrown for 1,104 yards and 16 touchdowns this season while adding 464 rushing yards and eight touchdowns.

"They use misdirection well. They have plays and counters to (those plays)," said Versailles coach Ryan Jones. "They put guys in conflict. The coaches understand schemes. That makes it difficult on defenses. Their players do a great job of executing."

Kirtland has posted seven shutouts this season, including the past two wins over Mogadore (42-0) and Garaway (17-0).

"It's two teams that play extremely hard," said Jones. "The games we have of them on film, (Kirtland) plays extremely hard. When they blitz, they come as hard as they can, and it's hard to stop them."

Photo by Nick Wenning/The Daily Standard

Versailles quarterback Michael Osborne escapes a crowd of Marion Local defenders on Sept. 22. Osborne was named the Midwest Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year.

Versailles' only two losses this season have come to Marion Local and Coldwater. The 1-2 punch of running back/kicker Joel Gehret and quarterback Michael Osborne has been potent all season. Gehret, between running the ball and kicking point-afters and field goals, has tallied 216 points with 1,125 yards rushing and 23 touchdowns. Osborne, the MAC Offensive Player of the Year, went over the 1,000-rushing yard mark in last Friday's state semifinal win over Columbus Grove, rushing for 1,070 yards and 11 TDs while passing for 1,663 yards and 17 touchdowns.

Receiving-wise, Jace Watren leads the teams with 584 yards and seven scores while AJ Griesdorn, who leads the defense with eight interceptions, adds 358 yards and three scores.

"They like to run the ball," said coach LaVerde. "They've well coached and great on defense. Pretty good against the pass, pretty good against the run. They run the ball well and pass the ball well. That's what we try to do."

Monday, November 27th, 2023

State Championships Schedule

Thursday, November 30

Division II

No. 1 Massillon Washington (15-0) vs. No. 3 Akron Hoban (13-1), 7 p.m.

Friday, December 1

Division VI

No. 1 Kirtland (14-1) vs. Versailles (13-2), 10:30 a.m.

Division III

No. 1 Toledo Central Catholic (15-0) vs. No. 4 Columbus Watterson (14-1), 3 p.m.

Division I

Springfield (10-5) vs. No. 1 Lakewood St. Edward (13-1), 7:30 p.m.

Saturday, December 2

Division VII

No. 1 Marion Local (15-0) vs. No. 5 Dalton (13-1), 10:30 a.m.

Division V

No. 1 Perry (15-0) vs. No. 2 Liberty Center (15-0), 3 p.m.

Division IV

No. 5 Cleveland Glenville (12-2) vs. Kettering Archbishop Alter (12-3), 7:30 p.m.