It is the biggest game of the year for Leipsic when the Vikings take on Patrick Henry in the Division VII, Region 26 final at Defiance High School’s Fred Brown Athletic Complex at 7 p.m. Saturday, and one of the biggest in the football program’s history but for the Viking players it is just another game on the schedule.
“We have a positive attitude every week” said Viking quarterback Drew Liffick. “Going 1-0 is the main thing. It is just a regular game. We really don’t pay attention to it (the hype). Obviously it is out there but for us it is just another game.”
“It was just another day in the office,” Viking offensive lineman Ryley Spangler said about the win in last week’s playoff game against Edgerton.
This type of blue collar, workman like attitude began prior to the season, and it continued during the year and remains in the playoffs.
Coming into the season, Spangler said expectations were high for the Vikings, yet they did not put undo pressure on themselves and entered the year with a yeoman’s like approach, and it paid off with a 9-1 regular season. The team’s only loss came against Liberty-Benton.
The loss came in week eight but true to this team’s even-keeled attitude, the Vikings put the loss behind them by bouncing McComb, then No. 1 ranked in the state, and followed it up with a win against Arlington, a playoff team.
The victories at the end helped springboard the Vikings into the playoffs. In their two playoff games, the Vikings scored a convincing win against Mohawk, 30-8 and followed it up with another solid performance against Edgerton last week, 39-6.
“There were a lot of expectations, and we worked hard to get here,” Spangler said. ” Last year we lost in the second round to a good team in McComb so we wanted to perform as well as last year.”
Liffick echoed his teammates’ sentiment.
“It is tremendous to be in this position,” Liffick said. “This is the third team to make it this far in team history and if we win we will be the first team to win a regional finals game.”
Liffick said one of the keys to this team’s success is it that each player puts in his best effort.
“This group of guys have performed to their highest point and losing a bunch of seniors from last year we needed so many people to step up and they did,” Liffick said.
The “next man up mentality” is something that is ingrained in the Vikings’ football culture and it was evident at the end of the season when top running back Cole Williamson went down. While most teams might struggle losing their top runner, the Vikings did not miss a beat.
“We are all there for each other, and we have each other’s back and if one guy goes down the rest are there to pick it up,” Spangler said.
A prime example of this came in Leipsic’s win against Edgerton where Lorenzo Walther, who took over for the hurt Williamson, rushed for 141 yards on 19 carries and three touchdowns.
“Lorenzo Walther has been a big key and stepped up when Cole got hurt and Juan (Pena) has done well and our passing game has really improved,” Liffick said. “I think I have exceeded expectations but there is plenty of room to work.”
The two seniors take their leadership role serious, and the duo is there to provide guidance for the younger players that proved to be essential with the loss of some key players from last year on both sides of the ball.
“You always have to have that vocal leader, and we lost a great one in Cole Rieman from last year, so instead of one person stepping up a lot of the seniors stepped up and juniors and sophomores even stepped up,” Liffick said.
One area that Leipsic thrives on is winning the battle in the trenches and it is perhaps the main reason for the team’s success.
Led by Spangler on both sides of the ball, the Viking lineman said the team likes to push people off the ball and watch the skilled players do their thing. Spangler was voted Blanchard Valley Conference offensive lineman of the year and was a first-team, All Northwest district selection.
“We take pride in getting low and driving through guys,” Spangler said. “We like running the ball a lot. It is a confidence booster to see those guys run for big plays.”
Liffick and the rest of the skilled players have benefited by their efforts up front. During the regular season, on the ground, the Vikings rushed for 2,467 yards, and through the air Leipsic passed for 1,210 yards to average 367.7 yards a contest which was third best in the BVC.
Defensively, the Vikings limited their opponents to 213.6 yards a game during the regular season and they were tops in the BVC this year.
Leipsic’s Juan Pena was a force on the the defensive line. Despite being 5-10 and 192 pounds, the senior was the BVC defensive player of the year, first team all district and recorded 86 tackles and 10.5 sacks. He also had 31 tackles for loss.
Viking head coach Joe Kirkendall said the team’s success against Edgerton was the guys up front.
“Offensively we got off the ball really well and defensively we were just very disciplined,” Kirkendall said. “Guys did their jobs. When we needed to close down they bounced and when we needed keep our linebackers clean they did. Our defensive line did a really good job of handling their physicality and not only holding their ground and then following and pursuing. Everyone did what we asked them to do, and it made it simple.”
The Vikings will need another big effort this week if they are going to advance against a Patrick Henry team with a well-balanced attack.
In eight games, Will Morrow rushed for 935 yards and 13 touchdowns and was a first team all Northwest Ohio Athletic League selection.
Receiver Kolton Holloway is a huge weapon for the Patriots. The senior hauled in 36 catches for 925 yards and nine touchdowns.
Defensively, linebacker TJ Rhamy anchors the Patriots’ defense. A two time NWOAL defensive player of the year, Rhamy recorded 71 tackles and five sacks. He also happens to be their quarterback and last year passed for 1,300 yards and rushed for 1,100 yards.
“They present some diversity on offense,” Kirkendall said. “With Kolton Holloway they have the ability to throw the ball some and obviously they have two runners in Rhamy and Morrow so they are a little more balanced but we have seen that in our league. Defensively, they are very, very aggressive and do a lot of movement and blitzing so it presents some challenges for us.”