One of the keys to Lima Central Catholic’s postseason run this year is the Thunderbirds’ ability to jump on teams early. In the last two games, the offense has marched down the field to help LCC gain big early leads.
Winning the battle of the trenches is one of the reasons for this. Yes, the Thunderbirds are blessed with top talent like Rossy Moore, Quintel Peoples and Shaun Thomas, before his injury, as well as quarterback Evan Unruh. However, it is the big boys up front who have enabled those players to shine.
Seniors Zac Jacobs, Gavin Laird, Liam Stevik, along with junior Kaelan Howard and sophomore Jacob Lauck are the unsung heroes that make up the Thunderbird offense line and are the backbone of the Thunderbird offense.
“Our line has done a great job all year long,” Palte said. “We had three returning starters from last year and we knew we had a lot of linemen guys to choose from and these guys competed in the preseason and Kealon Howard won that right guard starting job and sophomore Jacob Lauck won that left tackle job and they have done a great job for us and have improved as the season has gone on.”
Palte added that because of the depth on both sides of the line, four of the offensive linemen have been able to focus on playing offense.
“We have really good skilled players but I don’t care how good your skilled players are if your don’t have the blocking up front and they have done a great job,” Palte said. “There has been a lot of holes I think I could have got five yards running through. They have done an excellent job and it is just not all our backs making people miss everyone. They do a great job of making the holes and our backs attacking the holes.”
Jacobs, a three-year starter on the line, said this team takes pride in opening the holes and providing protection for their skilled players and added that from the beginning he felt this was a team that could make an impact in the season.
Jacobs added that after back-to-back seasons he felt this team was ready to take the next step especially after last year when the team was bounced from the playoffs early. This was a motivating factor for the Thunderbirds this season and it taught Jacobs and the rest of the team not to take anyone lightly.
“We came up short a little bit and we wanted to get better and we have been together since the sixth grade so this was our final time so we wanted to be good,” Jacobs said. “We knew that we had something special from the beginning and knew that if we all stuck together that we would get through it even what happened at the beginning of the season but we battled through it.”
Jacobs is referring to early in the season when the team had to deal with the covid issues that sideline several players for some games and yet the Thunderbirds only lost one time in that span.
“We knew that every game mattered especially this season with a six game schedule,” Jacobs said. “We just don’t take any game lightly and we play like it is our last.”
Because Jacob was one of three starters back on the offensive line, he knew that his role as a senior was to help the younger players joining the line and provide leadership when necessary and with the way Thunderbirds have been pushing people around that seems to be the case.
Jacobs understands that he and his mates up front are not going to receive the accolades that the Moores and Thomes receive but if they do their jobs everyone looks good.
“I want to get on the defender and drive them,” Jacobs said. “We know what our backs can do and we know if we block and get to the second level there is not many people who can stop them so we did do our jobs,” Jacobs said. “We are used to it (not getting any glory) because it happens to every linemen.”
Jacobs is more concerned about getting win and knows that because of the o-lines efforts they have been part of the team’s success in the postseason by manufacturing scoring drives and putting points up early.
Jacob added a prime example of that came last week against Crestview when the Thunderbirds kept the ball on the ground and scored and then on their second drive the line opened up a big hole for Quintel Peoples who scampered 31-yards for the score on a one play drive.
“We ran run plays just to show that we could run and dominate like they (Crestvew) wanted to but we did it instead,” Jacobs said.
An added incentive for the Thunderbirds this past week against the Knights was to show that even though they were without Thomas and Jacobs said the rallying cry became let’s do it for him.
Now Jacobs and co. face another stiff challenge this week against Hopewell-Loudon who, like Crestview is big and physical up front.
Like the Thunderbirds, Hopewell Loudon has a highly explosive offense led by dual threat quarterback Ashton Boar. The Chieftians are coming off a 42-35 win over Arlington in which Boar ran for 193 yards and passed for 222 yards and threw touchdowns.
As a team the Chieftains are averaging 41.5 points a game and have scored 35 points or more in eight of their nine contest.
As in the two previous playoff games, Palte is looking to grab the momentum early and knows it will be a tough task.
“We had a really good game against Crestview and I am hoping that momentum continues because we have another really good team against Hopewell-Loudon,” Palte said. “It’s exciting and our kids are excited.”
Jacobs and Palte realize what is at stake against Friday night.
“i don’t we realized until now how close we are and we would be the second team in school history to play in the state semifinals if we do happen to win and our goal is to be the first team to play in the state finals,” Jacobs said. “We just need to keep play our game.”