Marion Local blanks MAC rival Coldwater in historic playoff mismatch

Resigned to their inevitable postseason fate, Marion Local and Coldwater did their best not to focus on each other as their rematch neared. But as the wins kept mounting, so did the anticipation.

“It comes down to us a lot in the MAC,” assured Marion Local junior quarterback Nathan Bruns.

And sure enough, so it did on Friday night. But this time the stakes were infinitely higher, which is saying a lot for these two big-time, small-ball high school football titans.

Marion Local completed a two-game sweep of Midwest Athletic Conference rival Coldwater, 33-0. The surprising shutout launches Marion Local (13-0) into a Week 14 Division VI state semifinal against Findlay Liberty-Benton (12-1) at Lima on Friday. Liberty-Benton advanced by beating Hillsdale 37-17.

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MAC member Minster also reached the D-VII state semifinals, similarly blanking Delphos St. John’s 20-0 in another all-MAC, Region 28 final. Minster (9-4) will play Norwalk St. Paul (13-0) next week at Clyde.

Marion Local and Coldwater have separated from the rest of the MAC in football the last decade. Their regular-season matchups are must-see, drawing SRO crowds. The 50-50 raffles are legendary, just a few bills short of $30,000 in the 2016 season.

But this was the first time the rivals, both anchored in Mercer County and about 12 miles apart, had met in the playoffs. That’s astonishing, because it spans a combined 141 playoffs wins and 15 football state championships, 11 in the last decade.

State championship regulars – each has played in nine title games the last 10 years – this was the game no one wanted to see in Week 13. Ring up this first-time playoff matchup to the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s competitive balance initiative, which moved Coldwater down to D-VI, Region 24, same at Marion Local, the defending D-VI state champ.

“That’s the way it played out with the numbers and the competitive balance stuff,” Coldwater coach Chip Otten said. “It happens in every sport. All our MAC teams end up beating each other in everything anyway.”

This was a mismatch from the opening bell. Marion Local junior Matt Rethman dribbled the opening kickoff, righted himself, sprinted behind a wall of Flyers and went 98 untouched yards for a stunning touchdown just seconds into the showdown. The rout was on.

“It didn’t start out very well (because) I botched it,” Rethman said. “There was a seam and I hit it and there was just one man to beat. It was a good way to start the game.”

The Flyers doubled-down on that sudden success by overwhelming the Cavaliers with a right-leaning ground game. That’s where Notre Dame recruit and tackle John Dirksen (6 feet 5, 290 pounds) and mates Tyler Mescher (6-2, 245) and Sam Huelsman (6-4, 225) reside. Coldwater had no defensive answer to that.

Flyers running backs Alex Partington (75 yards rushing, one touchdown), Rethman (59 yards) and Nolan Habodasz (53 yards, one TD) were the benefactors of the Flyers’ super-sized front-liners.

“We kind of load up on that side,” Marion Local coach Tim Goodwin said, grinning. “We try to create some mismatches.”

Coldwater (9-4) faced a mighty task, but the blowout was surprising. Marion Local won their Week 3 regular-season contest 13-7 to open MAC play. The rematch was decidedly tilted before the game’s first play from scrimmage, then the Flyers’ offensive load took over.

“Man, they bring it,” Otten said. “They’re just a little bit bigger, faster and stronger. Hats off to them.”

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