Coming into the 1993 high school football season, Eugene “Skip” Baughman, who guided his teams to state titles in two of the last three years (1990 and ’92), dodged the retirement questions reporters asked him as he headed into his 35th year of coaching.
With an eminently successful career (259 wins) and those two state titles and a growing urge to turn his attention to his grandchildren more than trying to tweak his ground-oriented ball-control offense, he knew he didn’t have many more autumns to guide the young men of St. Marys clad in their royal blue and gold. And, if it would be indeed the last year, before the season started, well, he wasn’t telling anyone.
When asked about his team’s prospects for the upcoming season, Baughman saw the glass as half full when he told the press, “Although we graduated eighteen seniors, we have thirty in this class. We aren’t crying the blues.”
With 14 starters back and a terrific senior class long on leadership, Baughman was hunting a repeat and feeling good about his personnel on both sides of the ball.
While Mike “Mr. Everything” Elston, had graduated and accepted a full ride to the University of Michigan the previous May, there was still plenty of talent. Quarterback Tony Hirschfeld was back as were senior running backs Luke Kleinhenz and Shawn Lamb. Additionally, junior speedster Adam Kerns was primed to disappear into much larger masses of humanity and suddenly squirt out of the melee and turn on his jets.
The offense would be as it always was, heavy on that tried-and-true dive, trap, sweep and counter and short on balls thrown in the air, and they would operate behind an experienced offensive line, anchored by John Gibson, Andy Maher, Bill Kellermeyer and Jake Sutton.
Defensively, Baughman would again employ a wide-tackle six, featuring defensive linemen like Louie Fry, Mike Daniels and Tim Carpenter, with holes filled by outstanding linebackers Jeff Kogge and Teddy Liette. There were also seasoned defensive backs like Cory Rammel and Josh Coldiron.
Such young men were so easy to root for, since I knew them not only for what they did on the field but also for the work they produced for me in my English class. The above names were indeed as much students as they were athletes during my St. Marys teaching career.
And so the regular season began with Sidney, as it remains today, the lone non-WBL game. In typical fashion, 267 of the ‘Riders 322 total offense was on the ground in their 34-20 road win. The junior Kerns had TD runs of 11 and 13 yards, and Hirschfeld took care of the shorter stuff with his own five-yard score.
Against Mike Mauk’s wide-open offense, surely an antithetical attack to Baughman’s, the ‘Riders knocked off Kenton in Game 2, 38-30, largely due to a couple of short TD runs by Hirschfeld and a 19-yarder by Shawn Lamb, enough to offset Mauk’s talented QB Mark Molk, who threw for 300 yards in a losing effort.
Games began to line up like dominoes with home wins over Elida (27-6) and Jerry Cooper’s Bath Wildcats (21-0), the latter of which was a revenge game to atone for the only loss of the ’92 state-championship season. In that Bath game, Lamb was the workhorse (28 carries for 239 yards), and every single yard of St. Marys’ 349 total yards was plowed real estate. The defensive stars that night were linebackers Kogge and Liette.
A road win in the battle for Grand Lake supremacy versus Celina, 35-19 in Game 5, found the ‘Riders heading into the second half of the regular season a perfect 5-0. For Luke Kleinhenz, it was sort of a coming-out party as he scored his first two TDs of the year on runs of 42 and 17 yards. Always a rivalry for the communities who both overlook Grand Lake, the game had increased juice as both teams entered at 4-0.
Following a 34-20 win over Defiance, Kleinhenz had another terrific night, scoring three times and gaining 132 yards in a 41-14 pasting of Wapak for win No. 7, followed by a 35-7 win over Ottawa Glandorf.
The last two regular season games were polar opposites, one tight and one a blowout, as the Roughriders began to peer over the horizon to the post-season, something all ‘Rider Rooters had come to expect.
In Game 9, on a Halloween eve, St. Marys went on the road to Van Wert seeking a 20th consecutive win in a streak that stretched back to the 1992 season. And, for those who cherish defense, The ‘Riders 15-7 win was just the ticket.
Following a first-quarter Cougar score, St. Marys countered with two of its own on opposite ends of the spectrum, a Tony Hirschfeld 1-yard plunge and an 81-yard burst by junior speedster Adam Kerns.
The win that assured The Roughriders their fifth straight WBL crown didn’t come without some drama as a final-minute goal-line stand by a stout defense turned the upset-minded Van Wert offense away four consecutive times.
Recalls former long-time assistant coach Roger Duncan, whose son Tim was the starting center on offense, it was actually a game that was bound to come.
“After the success we’d had in 1990, ’92 and ’93, every time we went out on the field, we got every team’s best game. So, while we did have games where we just had too many really athletic and intelligent players and would win pretty big, we knew somewhere along the line there would be games like that night.”
As tough as that Game 9 win was, the final regular-season game was a laugher, a 65-6 pasting of the Shawnee Indians. The ‘Riders rolled up 522 yards of total offense, with 448 of it on the ground. Both Adam Kerns and Shawn Lamb scored twice, and the scoring summary even included a rare sighting, a touchdown pass of 19 yards to end Jake Sutton.
In a regular season of opposite results, that put the ‘Riders heading into the playoffs at 10-0 while Shawnee prepared to head to the gym for basketball season at 0-10.
Next month, I’ll look back of the playoff run and Baughman’s boys quest for state title No. 3 of the 1990s.