They weren’t perfect, but as Cuyahoga Heights discovered…they were Marion. And in the end, with incentive special enough to win their ninth state football title.
(Ed. Note: Three weeks away from the opening of another high school football season, it’s altogether appropriate to appreciate the highlights of last year, and Marion Local’s ninth state title in 18 years under coach Tim Goodwin. Lest anyone in Maria Stein forget, one more time in today inside feature.)
Columbus – This one, like so many of the others…Newark Catholic, Shadyside, and Youngstown Ursuline…had its drama.
The Marion Local Flyers weren’t perfect, but as first-timer Cuyahoga Heights discovered Friday…they were Marion Local, and by day’s end, state champions for the ninth time in Tim Goodwin’s 18 years as head coach.
The Flyers used 323 yards of total offense and a fast first half start to sprint away, and then hold on, to a 21-17 win. It was one that looked like some of their best past titles, a couple of their shakiest, and at a point in the fourth quarter…a bit reminiscent of the one that got away last year against Kirtland.
“We felt good about the way we played at halftime,” smiled Goodwin in his post-game comments. “We had chances to play better in the second half, but you have to give some credit to Cuyahoga Heights, too. We had way too many turnovers, but we were able to make a couple of big plays at the end…the interception…and we got some pressure on their quarterback.
“At times it felt a little bit like last year…but we made that drive at the end, even though we didn’t score. We were able to settle down and finish. Today helps with getting over last year, but veteran coaches will tell you that sometimes the losses hurt worse than the wins feel good. It is what it is…but we’re state champions (again).”
Cuyahoga started confidently, driving the ball on the opening possession of the game to the Marion 14 before settling for 31 yard field goal by kicker Mark Shafer.
Marion answered, putting together an impressive drive that ended with Nate Moeller scoring from a yard out to take a 7-3 lead.
They weren’t done. On their next possession Duane Leugers capped a 99 1/2 yard, 19-play drive with another 1-yard run for a touchdown that at the time had the feeling of being too easy!
Bang…right back they came again on their next drive, this time Leugers again with a 22-yard scamper through the secondary. Maybe it would be easy!
Marion was executing – power football. Blocks were crisp, clean, and running backs Moeller, Jack Homan, and Matt Rethman were running in rhythm. It looked like the best of days, and titles, past. It looked like…vintage Marion!
But as LaSalle found in Friday’s Division II final, titles don’t come easy, regardless of reputation or pedigree.
The Flyers seemed to lose a bit of their edge in the halftime locker room, while Cuyahoga obviously made some adjustments.
“Mostly it was an adjustment in attitude,” said Cuyahoga center/linebacker Chad McDaniel. “We have eight seniors on our defense and we just decided to lay it all on the line. Sacrifice your body if you have to, but go down fighting.” Words to that effect.
Following a Marion turnover in third quarter, Cuyahoga quarterback Brett Lowther finally punched it in from 2-yards out to cut the deficit to a manageable 21-10.
No problem. This was Marion Local, right? Winners of eight titles previously. That should be enough to steady the ship, get back on track…and in the end zone. Except it wasn’t.
Forced to kick it away on the first play of the fourth quarter, Marion’s Jared Bergman had his punt blocked by McDaniel, and recovered on the three yard line. A moment later, at 11:44, running back Lucas D’Orazio ran it in to make the score 21-17.
There was unrest in the stands. The turnovers, some motion penalties, and suddenly…an interception at the end of the first half that short-circuited what seemed to be a certain fourth touchdown for the Flyers now loomed big. Really big!
Marion started downfield and took it to the Cuyahoga 35 yard line. Things looked in order…only, Duane Leugers coughed up the football. Holy Kirtland, a team that Cuyahoga had beaten twice this year to get this far.
The Redskins took over the ball, full of momentum, and sure, in the words of senior Brett Lowther, to make good on finishing the comeback.
But then…a sophomoric moment, literally.
Matt Rethman, who is literally a sophomore playing in the secondardy, stepped in front of a third down pass by Lowther and made a finger-tip interception at midfield, returning the ball to the Cuyahoga 31. Order restored, right?
Not so fast, Lee Corso.
With 7:00 on the clock Leugers started a clock-killing drive that took the ball to the 14 yard line. He went for the dagger and looped a pass over the drawn-in linebackers for tight end Tyler Mescher in the back of the end zone. But he left too much air under it and the ball was wrestled away from Mescher by linebacker Tyler Selig for an interception.
With 3:25 left Cuyahoga had yet another life. But five plays resulted in a pair of sacks and a turnover on downs.
Marion took the ball on the ‘Skins 19. Surely, this would end it. Think again.
Unable to kill the clock, Marion turned it right back on downs, giving Cuyahoga one last chance with 61 seconds left.
Lowther hit three quick throws downfield to drive to the Marion 35. But on first down, with 35 seconds left, he was sacked by Jack Homan, and not the first time the two had met on the afternoon. And incomplete pass ran the clock to :07 seconds. One last play…a pass downfield on which Duane Leugers came frightening close to committing interference, but there was no call. The clock bottomed out. It was “title time” again for Marion…number nine.
“Us seniors wanted to go out with a bang,” smiled Joel Goodwin in the post-game conference room. Mission accomplished.
“Our defense saved the day for us,” added fellow senior Luke Moorman. Point well made.
Thoughts of last year when drama came calling in the fourth quarter?
“Yeah, admitted Duane Leugers. “I’m sure it was going through all of our minds. I know it was going through mine. Your heart’s beating fast. The blood’s pumping. We just had to go out and have our defense play the way it did. The defense kept us in this game.”
Cuyahoga had its chances, and too many for comfort for most of the Marion faithful that watched from the stands.
“They’re a great team, well-coached, disciplined, and they executed their offense in the first half so well,” said Cuyahoga coach Al Martin. “I thought we came out tight. We didn’t play as well as we could have, and that’s what we talked about at halftime – come out in the second half and play loose, make some plays and get back in the game. I’m proud of our effort for doing that.”
But when you’ve won eight previous titles it has to serve as an insulator, worth at least a tinge of doubt in the mind of the opponent, as to how vulnerable you are regardless of turnovers, penalties, and fate.
“We had prepared well to play them,” said quarterback Brett Lowther. “And we beat Kirtland and Newark Catholic to get here, two physical teams that played a lot like Marion Local.”
“Newark Catholic was the most physical game I’ve ever been in,” added Chad McDaniel. “Marion was the second most physical. We knew about them. They’re tough kids. We knew they were a good team.”
For the sake of numbers, Duane Leugers led the Flyers in rushing with 115 yards. Ryan Thobe grabbed five passes for 95 yards. Sam Huelsman, Jon Knapschaefer and Jack Homan were huge on defense, Huelsman with 7 solo tackles. But that was secondary.
Clutching to that ninth state title trophy as the Flyers left the field, athletic director and assistant coach Dan Koenig smiled and stated the obvious at such a moment: “Man, this never gets old.”
Old? No. But sometimes they do get more timely. Eight is never enough, they say, to parody the popular old TV series. But this one was even more special for Tim Goodwin because it came in the final year for senior safety, and his own son, Joel. A “coach” moment pales in comparison to a “dad” moment on a day like Friday.
“Honestly, for all the years together, and I’ve coached him through baseball in the first grade and into football, this one (title) was the most important. Not just for Joel, but for all these seniors. I know them better than any class I’ve ever coached simply because Joel’s in that class. Everything they’ve done since the first grade. There’s no doubt that today was a moment that we’ll talk about for the rest of our lives.”
Pausing for a second, he added with a broad smile. “This was awesome.”
Goodwin’s words left no doubt. Eight…could NEVER have been enough!