As the regular season comes to a close, Lima Central Catholic is already assured a playoff spot.
However, LCC will have one major test before the postseason when the Thunderbirds travel to take on Lucas in the season finale Friday night. Lucas is ranked No. 6 in Division VII.
Playing as an independent, LCC always has a mixed bag for a schedule and this year was no exception. For every Troy Christian, there is a Mogadore and for every Woodlin there is a Shelby.
“Once you get down and look at our schedule it is like most leagues,” LCC head coach Scott Palte said. “You have your upper half, your middle teams and your teams that are not doing so well. We’ve played teams that are at the higher end of their conference and some teams that were at the middle and teams that were at the bottom.”
Palte adds that despite the travel and unfamiliarity with their opponents, the Thunderbirds get to see a mixed bag of styles and talent.
“It is a lot of fun going to play those teams and get a new experience,” said Palte, referring to traveling to play powerhouses Mogadore or Shelby. “Those are good football programs not to mention the local ones like Delphos St. John‘s and Spencerville. It is a good challenge.”
The Thunderbirds began the year with the crosstown rivalry loss to Lima Senior, 49-45, but since that time Palte said the team has shown improvement from week to week.
“After losing that first game of the season our kids really grew from there,” Palte said. “We have done a really good job each week and some kids have stepped up. I think a lot of kids have risen to the occasion and seized the opportunity.”
The explosive Thunderbird offense has received a lot of the credit for the team’s success. LCC is averaging 48.4 points a contest and has scored 40 or more points in eight of its nine games this year.
Blessed with a talented backfield that features Rossy Moore, Shaun Thomas and Dylan Wilson, the LCC has thrived. Thomas spearheads the attack and has scored 19 touchdowns and rushed for 100 yards or more seven times and for 200 yards or more yards three times. Thomas would probably have bigger numbers if not for having to sit out the second half of most games due to blowouts.
The Thunderbirds are averaging 377 yards on the ground a game.
While the backfield has thrived this year, Palte said their success starts up front with the offensive line.
“Our offensive line, Gavin Laird, Liam Stevick, who has started from week four on, Zac Jacobs at center, Caleb Heider, and Ethan Truex, have done a great job for us upfront,“ Palte said. “They have gotten better each week. They are physical and fast and have made some really nice holes and seams for our skilled players.”
Palte added that the offensive line takes pride in seeing teammates break off big yards and trust the skilled players to take advantage of even the slightest of holes to run through and make the most of it.
“Those offensive linemen know who they are blocking for and the type of guys we have and they can do a whole lot and if they can get a small hole they will find it and once they are through they are fast and not many people are going to catch them,” Palte said. “They realize they don’t have to kill anybody, they just have to do their jobs, get in the way, get some movement and those skills guys will find the holes.“
Also not to be overlooked is the Thunderbird defense. LCC is giving up 18.3 points a contest.
LCC has held teams to 14 points or less four times. The defense has recorded two shutouts this season.
“Our defense has really improved,“ Palte said. “After week one we were embarrassed. We gave up a lot of points and lot of big plays. I think our guys have gotten a lot better since the year has gone on.”
Palte points out that the defense has spent a lot of time on the field due to the quick strike offense.
“Most games they are out on the field quite a bit, and they have made plays that needed to be made and they have gotten progressively better,” Palte said.
Palte points to guys like Joey Rhinehart at the defensive end spot who has taken over since week two and Sam Hardesty who has also improved since the season began.
With Lucas as the final contest, Palte said this is an excellent test as they prepare for the postseason.
Lucas, which beat LCC last year 21-14, sports a 9-1 mark. The Cubs are averaging 39.4 points a game and giving up 11.5 points a contest.
“The nice thing is both of us will be playing week 11 and it is just a matter of where and what seed we get,” Palte said. “What a great test for both teams going into the playoffs. It is a really good football team with a unique style of play. They run very tight double split, double wing formation with a lot of guys in small area and it is a tremendous challenge.”
Palte added that is especially important considering the region LCC will be facing in the postseason that features a number of state ranked schools. The region is so competitive that Gibsonburg, which will probably end the year undefeated at 10-0, will not make the playoffs.
Western Buckeye League
Going into the final week of the season, three teams have a shot at the WBL title.
Two of those teams, Wapakoneta and Ottawa-Glandorf, square off against each other in Ottawa. Whoever wins this game will win the title and share it with Kenton, if it defeats Elida. Ottawa-Glandorf, ranked fourth in Division IV region 14, could assure itself of a home game in the playoffs. Wapakoneta and St. Marys are also heading to the playoffs. Wapakoneta is third in the Division III Region 12 and St. Marys is fourth.
Three teams, Allen East, Spencerville and Columbus Grove, all sport 5-1 marks in the NWC and since none of these schools face each other, the league could be looking at another three teams sharing the title. Allen East plays Ada, Spencerville battles Delphos Jefferson and Columbus Groves travels to Bluffton.
Postseason wise, Allen East will be the lone NWC team to make the playoffs.
Northwest Central Conference
Perry has already clinched a share of the NWCC league title and will try to bolster its playoff standing as the Commodores travel to Lehman Catholic. If Perry loses and Hardin Northern wins, the Polar Bears could share the league title with the Commodores.
Waynesfield-Goshen and Hardin Northern face off with the winner securing a playoff spot. W-G is ranked eighth in the region and Hardin Northern is ninth.