Following the 10-0 regular season, Skip Baughman and his St. Marys Roughriders were in search of a third Division II state title in the last four seasons as the playoff commenced. Now in his 35th season, Baughman, no doubt, heard the whispers that perhaps after the season that perhaps that would be the perfect time to hand the program over to longtime assistant Bob Priddy, his heir apparent as assistant head coach.
However, Baughman ignored the retirement whispers and focused on winning four more games.
In the first round of the playoff season, the ‘Riders drew Columbus Watterson in a game played at Troy’s Memorial Stadium. As it turned out, the contest showed the Roughriders’ chief strength, which was an ability to control the ball on offense for inordinately long stretches of time.
Following the 21-14 win — one in which St. Marys had the ball 18:24 of the first 24 minutes, and in the second half, except for just five Watterson plays, the final 18:33 — the old coach quipped to Bill Begley of The Lima News, “We like to think of the football as ours. We like to get a hold of it and not let the other guy play with it.”
Doing just what Baughman said kept the ball out of the hands of the lightning-fast 5’9, 155-pound Darrick Jordan, who scored both Watterson TDs.
Offensively, the ‘Rider ground game featured Shawn Lamb (90 yards on 24 carries) and Adam Kerns (89 yards on 10), who also scored on a 51-yard burst.
Recalls assistant coach Roger Duncan, “Adam maybe was 5’6” at the most. We used to laugh because he was one of the only players we had that Skip could look eye-to-eye. But he was so fast. He’d just disappear into a pile of defenders, and then all of a sudden, boom, he’d pop back out and there he’d go.”
St. Marys’ win set up a second-round match at the same stadium to play another Columbus team, Eastmoor.
After the 35-8 St. Marys win, Begley asked Baughman about the predictability of his offensive attack of fullback trap, halfback sweep and wingback counter. “When you’re a dumb old man like me, you stick with the things that have worked for you before.”
In what turned out to be a 23rd consecutive win dating to a regular-season overtime loss on the road to Bath in ’92, the ‘Riders relied on the run. Employing a flawless ball-control offense, the Roughriders rushed for 325 yards, had zero turnovers, scored on five of six postseasons and controlled the clock for over 30 of the game’s 48 minutes.
Shawn Lamb gained 138 yards on 22 carries; Adam Kerns, 127 on 15 carries; and Luke Kleinhenz, 50 yards on 15 carries. The trio combined for five TD runs.
Recalls long-time ‘Rider assistant Duncan, “Of course, heading into the season, we knew what we had with Shawn (Lamb) and Luke (Kleinhenz), but Kerns was such a great third option for what we wanted to do.”
The win secured a regional title. The Roughriders headed into the state semifinal game against the Indians of Piqua, coached by former LCC T-Bird Bill Nees.
Recalls Duncan, “While we’d never played them in the regular season, we did scrimmage Piqua as our third preseason game. It was Coach Baughman’s eye for detail, I think, that helped to kick-start our game planning for them. He impressed on all of us to really take note of everything we could in those scrimmages as far as what Coach Nees liked to do.”
The game against Piqua was at Dayton’s Welcome Stadium.
The Roughriders would have to contend with standout defensive standout Antwon Jones, at 6’2” and 285 pounds — far bigger than any St. Marys offensive lineman, and a top 100 prep player on the national front. Jones was a future Notre Dame defensive lineman.
The St. Marys brain trust felt, Jones — who’d already recorded 18 sacks and 34 tackles for losses and co-winner of Ohio’s top defender — may have had some vulnerability running right at him as opposed to away from him, where he could use his quickness to tackle at angles. That’s just what St. Marys did behind a couple of experienced and skilled interior linemen, Coach Duncan’s son Tim, now an educator and football coach as well, and Andy Maher.
The strategy worked for a 21-7 win. Piqua’s head man, Nees, said after the game about the St. Marys attack, “They run basic plays, but there are four or five variations of them. And, if you give them enough opportunities, they’ll grind it out against you, which is what happened tonight.”
It wasn’t a game without drama, however. After a ‘Rider initial 80-yard, 13-play drive, culminated by a Tony Hirschfeld one-yard TD sneak and a second-scoring drive made it 13-0 St. Marys, with 10:10 to play in the game, St. Marys punter Luke Kleinhenz had a punt blocked deep in St. Marys territory, and the ball was recovered in the end zone by Piqua’s Ryan Honeycutt to slice the lead to 13-7.
But a final 10-play drive covering 67 yards punctuated by another Hirschfeld two-yard TD plunge secured the victory, sending the Roughriders to a third state final in four years.
After the game Baughman said, “There’s no pressure at this point. The pressure was winning the Western Buckeye League. This is fun.”
Of course, fun to Baughman was watching game film for hours, poring over every detail one final time. The opponent would be the Blue Streaks of Uniontown Lake out of Stark County, not far at all from the Tuscarawas River.
Before the game, three St. Marys standouts were accorded statewide honors. Junior linebacker Ted Liette was a Division II first-team All-Ohio selection while Andy Maher was named a second-team All-State selection as an offensive lineman. Mike Daniels, one of the Blue and Gold’s stout defensive linemen, was an honorable-mention selection.
Back at Massillon, St. Marys ran their state-final record to a perfect 3-0 with an efficient 21-0 Blue Streak whitewash, this time in a driving December rain. There was also a huge surprise, one ‘Rider fans laughingly called Air Baughman.
The last thing the Blue Streaks expected of Tony Hirschfeld was his unleashing not one but two touchdown passes in his three completions in just five attempts.
One pass was a 36-yarder to one of Coach Duncan’s favorite ends, Billy Koeper, and then, after a Shawn Lamb 13-yard TD run, the last of a nine-play, 80-yard drive, Hirshfeld found a leaping Luke Kleinhenz for a 14-touchdown pass on a third and eight. Hirschfeld later added a 15-yard TD pass, again, to Kleinhenz.
The passing was the result of astute coaching that recognized a weakness behind Uniontown’s 10-man defensive front, one designed to stop the three-headed rushing monster of Lamb-Kleinhenz-Kerns, all of whom went over a 1,000 yards rushing for the year.
Following his team’s 25th win in a row before 11,000 mostly rain-soaked spectators at Paul Brown Tiger Stadium — a game that was the last of a brilliant career (272 wins-95 losses-7 ties) — Eugene “Skip” Baughman was asked a question as to how his Division II Roughriders might fare against Division I power Cleveland St. Ignacius, winners of four of the last five D I crowns.
With a glint in his eye, he said, “St. Ignatius may just be the St. Marys of Division II.”
And that is precisely the way many will remember Skip Baughman, following his ride off the field atop the shoulders of Andy Maher and other players, after a final game that was certainly the cherry on top of his sundae.