It wasn’t supposed to end this way. Not with program history, momentum, and the full-throttled support from appreciative families and fans packed in their corners.
But there’s no getting around what first Marion Local, then Alter ran into during the high school football championship weekend at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium, Canton’s refurbished jewel that’s anchored next to NFL history.
First up on Friday was Marion Local, a beast of a football program that along with Coldwater, is the latest to separate itself from the 10-team Midwest Athletic Conference. The Flyers seemed destined to win their third straight Division VI state championship.
»» RELATED: Marion Local falls to Kirtland
The players and coaching staff dedicated this run to former coach and grad Dan Thobe, who succumbed to a brain tumor at age 46 in midseason. Marion Local ball caps were etched with the initials “DT” in tribute. Many players’ helmet decals also were arranged in “DT.”
But Marion Local had no answer for Kirtland, another emerging small-school power located 30 minutes to the right of Cleveland in Lake County. It was the third time in four years the teams had played for a state championship, making this an instant rivalry.
Marion Local had shut down Kirtland’s run-heavy offense 34-11 in last year’s title game. In the rubber match – Kirtland defeated Marion Local in the 2015 title game – it was Marion Local’s offense that required a kick start. There was no getting over Kirtland’s 303-41 advantage in rushing yards and time-hogging offensive possessions.
»» RELATED: Alter falls to Kenston
»» PHOTOS: Alter vs. Kenston, state final football
The Bombers bucked the ever-popular spread offense trend, instead featuring three running backs and passing just three times, all completions. How does that work? Having a dominant offensive line. Two of Kirtland’s offensive linemen were at least 6 feet 5 and 300-pounds plus. Another was 6-1, 280.
“That was definitely one of the most physical teams we’ve played,” said Flyers senior linebacker Sam Huelsman, the D-VI All-Ohio defensive player of the year.
»» RELATED: Alter, Marion Local advance to title games
»» RELATED: Quick start propels Marion Local
Final: Kirtland 16, Marion Local 7.
“We were severely out-gunned in terms of size and strength and weight,” admitted Marion Local coach Tim Goodwin, whose Flyers have played in eight straight state championships, winning six. “We were able to get on top of them last year. That’s not good for their (run) offense, obviously. That was the huge difference.”
It also was the first time a MAC team had not won a football state title since 2003.
»» RELATED: It’s next man up for Alter football
»» RELATED: Alter defeats Norwalk in D-III state semifinal
That left it up to Alter in the next game to bring home a D-III championship. All the storied Knights had to do was overcome relative upstart Chagrin Falls Kenston. Among its media followers was a writer who labeled Kenston the fifth best team in Geauga County, also next to Cleveland.
It looked promising early for the Knights. Junior linebacker Mason Henry had a strip-sack and recovered the fumble on Kenston’s third play. That led to Alter QB Connor Bazelak whipping a 19-yard touchdown pass to Derek Willits, who made a one-handed catch in the end zone. It seemed to be the start of something good, especially since the combo had been so effective in the previous week’s state semifinal defeat of Norwalk.
Instead, Willits didn’t catch another pass. Breakout sophomore Branden McDonald, a load at 6-1 and 224 pounds, had 101 yards rushing and further established himself as the next great Knights back (1,612 yards rushing this season). But the Knights’ offense couldn’t sustain anything after that opening scoring drive.
»» PHOTOS: Alter vs. Norwalk, D-III football state semi
»» RELATED: Alter senior QB delivers
More telling, an Alter defense that had been so dominant had a meltdown.
Final: Chagrin Falls Kenston 42, Alter 6.
“I’d like to think we’re capable of playing better football than that,” said a glum Alter coach Ed Domsitz. “We were thrashed.”
Both Marion Local (13-2) and Alter (13-2) should be commended for representing area high school football at the highest level. That they endured crushing losses is a tribute to the heights both teams have ascended to. These programs expect to contend for – and win – state championships. It stings when that doesn’t happen.
»» RELATED: Marion Local has a winning combination
“I appreciate and I’m very proud of what our team accomplished, especially our seniors,” said Domsitz, who was inducted into the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association hall of fame last summer.
“They’ve led this effort for the last 15 weeks. Our fans, our kids, our coaches got to enjoy a 15-week season and that’s something special. We’ll get beyond this and move on.”
»» RELATED: All-Area football Division I
»» RELATED: Troy’s Jackson D-II defensive player of year
»» RELATED: All-Ohio football Division II
»» RELATED: All-Ohio football Division III
»» RELATED: All-Ohio football Division IV
»» RELATED: All-Ohio football Division IV
»» RELATED: All-Ohio football Division V
»» RELATED: Catholic Central senior first team All-Ohio
»» RELATED: All-Ohio football Division VI
»» RELATED: All-Ohio football Division VII
»» RELATED: Fort Loramie falls in D-VII state semi
»» PHOTOS: Fort Loramie vs. McComb, football playoffs
»» RELATED: All-Area football Divisions II-III
»» RELATED: State football championships schedule
»» RELATED: All-Area football Divisions IV-V
»» RELATED: Fort Loramie rallies around new coach
»» RELATED: Divisions VI-VII All-Area football
»» RELATED: It’s a first for Fort Loramie
»» RELATED: It’s Coldwater vs. Marion Local
»» RELATED: Football playoffs an Alter tradition
»» RELATED: Lebanon leaving GWOC
»» RELATED: Final football power rankings
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