Lima Central Catholic head coach Scott Palte admits he was a little surprised by his team’s 62-20 dominating performance against Hopewell-Loudon Friday night in the regional finals but added that he is more than happy that his team is playing some of its best football.
The Thunderbird head coach is hoping for that to trend continues as the Thunderbirds face New Bremen (9-2) in the state semifinals at Wapakoneta’s Mercy Health Field Friday night.
“Our kids played really well and played hard with great effort and executed and did what we wanted them to do but I couldn’t have ever imagined ending up like it did,” Palte said. “Any time you can be in the final four of your divisions and still be playing is a great accomplishment for your kids, your community and your school and I am very proud of our guys and they have worked really hard and battled the whole year. They deserve to be here and I am excited about their opportunity to compete on Friday against New Bremen.”
Many expected Marion Local to be LCC’s foe this week but the Flyers were bumped off by the Cardinals, 24-17, in a tight battle. New Bremen got a crucial blocked punt to get the go-ahead score and then a big defensive effort helped secure the win.
In the win over No. 1 ranked Marion Local, Cardinal Dan Homan made the punt block and scored the 15-yard touchdown return for the go-ahead touchdown. In the final 90 seconds as the Cardinals held off the Flyers’ offense to secure the win.
Offensively, Cardinal quarterback Mitchell Hays passed for 118 yards and one touchdown and rushed for 90 yards and a touchdown. For the season, Hays has passed for 1,228 yards and 13 touchdowns and he has run for 708 yards and 11 scores.
“Obviously, New Bremen, no matter what conference they are in, is a great football team,” Palte said. “They play a great level of football. They are physical. They are talented and they are well coached and skilled.”
Palte did add that playing in the MAC means they face tough competition from week to week but at the same time his team is familiar with powerhouse programs including playing teams from the MAC the last three years.
“Our kids are aware of the level and physicality and detail and discipline they are going to face on Friday so I think they know another really good football team is going to be on the other side of the field,” Palte.
This is New Bremen’s first trip to the state semifinals.
Even though they are not facing Marion Local and the Thunderbirds are coming off a convincing victory in the regional finals, Palte said the team is not taking New Bremen lightly or coming in overconfident.
“This is a great veteran group and our seniors have played a lot of football,” Palte said. “They are even keeled when it comes to wins and losses and we talk about it all the time. Every week is a championship game and if we don’t win one week the next week doesn’t matter and we have kept a great mentality. I have not noticed any ups and downs any weeks. We prepare the same. We have gone out and worked the same and I don’t expect anything different other than to come out with the same level of focus and be ready to play.”
Palte, like games against MAC and talented teams, knows the game will come down to the play in the trenches and he expects his team to face another major challenge with the Cardinal offensive and defensive lines.
“They are very aggressive defensively and it really stands out,” Palte said. “They have played great defense all year. They have a lot of good football players on the defensive side of the ball and they fly to the football.”
New Bremen’s defense is giving up an average of 10.7 points a game and held opponents to single digits in seven of those games. The most points they gave up this season was 24 points and that was to Coldwater.
The Cardinals, on offense are averaging 26.1 points a game.
“Offensively, their quarterback he is a great runner and a great thrower and he is a very good player surrounded by other good players so we are going to have to be physical on both sides of the ball and try to contain and create some big plays on offense because driving against them is going to be physical.”
Palte adds that special teams may also play an important role in the game. LCC has had some big special team’s run backs for touchdowns in its first two playoff games and as mentioned, the Cardinals big blocked punt was instrumental in their victory.
“When you get a game like this you have to be solid in all three phases of the game,” Palte said. “You can’t turn the ball over. You can’t have a special team’s breakdown that leads to a block kick, blocked punt or a long return and in a game like this those are things you have to control. You have to just go and enjoy the moment and have fun and do your job each play and enjoy the fact that you get to play in a state semifinal game.”