The best thing to happen to Anna’s record-setting football team?
How about an offense that is revving in unstoppable postseason gear? Nope. A slice of its first Midwest Athletic Conference title? Naw. The Rockets’ first time to play for a state championship? Not even close.
Losing to Marion Local was a season-adjusting precursor to all those heady achievements.
“It’s silly to say, but it opened our eyes,” reflected standout Anna senior linebacker Malachi Minnich of the turnover-wincing 17-14 loss to the visiting Flyers in a Week 5 midseason MAC showdown. “It made us prepare even better and made us hungry for the rest of the season.”
»» RELATED: “It’s a monster challenge”
The proof is Anna is among just 14 teams still playing, all of which advanced to this week’s state championships at Canton.
Top-ranked Anna (13-1) is first up among three area hopefuls and will play No. 2 New Middletown Springfield (14-0) for the Division VI state title at 10 a.m. Friday. Trotwood-Madison (11-3) follows against Mansfield Senior (13-1) at 3 p.m. Friday.
No surprise that Marion Local (12-2) joins the championship-seeking fun against Lucas (12-2) at 10 a.m. Saturday. Marion Local will be making its ninth consecutive state title appearance.
»» RELATED: Trotwood-Madison twins deliver
The D-II championship begins the three-day football fest with Massillon Washington (14-0) vs. Cincinnati La Salle (12-2) at 7 p.m. Thursday. There will be three games each on Friday and Saturday. All games will be at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium.
Since that loss Anna has been unstoppable on offense and just as dominant on defense. Mechanicsburg scored somewhat of a victory by losing only 36-6 to Anna in last week’s state semifinal at Wapakoneta. That was the fewest points Anna has scored among its wins.
»» RELATED: Legacy at work for Trotwood players
Much of that point production is attributed to D-VI All-Ohio first-teamers Riley Huelskamp, a running back, and quarterback Bart Bixler. They have accounted for nearly 5,000 yards of offense, 80 touchdowns and an abundance of recognition.
“They get a lot of clout, but it’s totally fine,” said Minnich, also first team All-Ohio. “We know how good our defense is. We use it as fuel to our fire.”
»» RELATED: It’s state championship week
• Just three of last year’s 14 state finalists are making a return trip — Massillon Washington, Kirtland (D-V) and Marion Local. Massillon lost to Akron Archbishop Hoban in the D-II state championship last year, but knocked out Hoban in a regional final two weeks ago.
Massillon has been crowed an Associated Press regular-season state poll champ 14 times – including this season – but has never won a postseason title. The Tigers have qualified for the playoffs 26 seasons and have lost four state championships.
»» RELATED: All-Area football teams
Top-ranked Kirtland defeated Marion Local in the 2018 D-VI championship. The OHSAA’s competitive balance initiative bumped Kirtland up to D-V and dropped Marion Local to D-VII. Kirtland owns the state’s longest current win streak at 29.
• Another MAC heavyweight, Coldwater, is long gone from the D-VI playoffs, but the Cavaliers left their mark. This was the 23rd consecutive season for Coldwater to qualify for the postseason, breaking a tie with Cleveland St. Ignatius (1988-2009) for the most in Ohio playoff history. Alter is tied with Steubenville for fourth, both with active streaks of 19 consecutive years.
»» RELATED: Anna eliminates Mechanicsburg in state semi
Archbold scored on the final play to stun Coldwater 27-21 in a playoff opener. That also snapped Coldwater’s 21-game, first-round win streak. Alter was bounced by Badin 38-21 in the second round of the D-III playoffs.
• Mechanicsburg head coach Kurt Forrest and Anna coach Nick Marino both had something more in common than playing in a state semifinal last week. They played football at Wittenberg University under current Tigers head coach Joe Finchem.
• All state finals will be televised live by Spectrum News 1 (Ch. 1) and are available for a fee for non-subscribers. The games also will be streamed online at OHSAA.tv free to Spectrum subscribers. The OHSAA Radio Network also will air each game live.
»» PHOTOS: Anna vs. Mechanicsburg, state semi
• Xenia senior offensive tackle Gavin Gerhardt and Fairborn junior linebacker Hunter Warner have been named first team All-Ohio Division II by the Ohio Prep Sportswriters Association. Gerhardt is verbally committed to the University of Cincinnati.
The D-III All-Ohio first team was loaded with area players. Making that cut on offense were quarterbacks Braden Woods (Franklin) and Ryan Minor (Chaminade Julienne), running back Alex DeLong (Hamilton Badin), receiver Carl Blanton Jr. (Trotwood), lineman De’Verell Williams (CJ) and kicker Ben Sauls (Tippecanoe). All are seniors.
»» RELATED: Trotwood OK with boys basketball delay
Three more area seniors were on the D-III first team defense: lineman Chris Custis (Wilmington), linebacker Mason Henry (Alter) and defensive back Sammy Anderson (Trotwood).
Sauls is committed to Boston College and Anderson to Cincinnati. The early signing period for NCAA D-I football is Dec. 18-20. The regular signing period for D-I football is Feb. 5 through April 1.
»» RELATED: All-Area football teams
The All-Ohio D-I team and Mr. Football also will be announced this week.
• Former Oakwood head football coach Howard Sales (1968-86) died on Monday. He was 86.
According to his obituary, Sales also was Oakwood’s athletic director during a 30-year career there. He was inducted into multiple athletic hall of fames and was a former president of the Ohio High School football Coaches Association. He also helped spearhead the local Miami Valley Football Coaches Association all-star game and also coached football at Fairmont and the University of Dayton.
»» RELATED: Trotwood-Madison returns to playoff form
A showing will be from 9:30-11 a.m. Saturday at Tobias Funeral Home in Dayton, followed by a celebration of life.
»» GIRLS HOOP: Fairmont defeats nationally ranked team
»» PHOTOS: Valley View vs. Cin. Wyoming, D-IV regional final
»» PHOTOS: Badin vs. Trotwood-Madison, regional final football
»» RELATED: Final football power rankings
»» RELATED: MAC teams state poll champs
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