High school football: LCC, Columbus Grove face MAC teams

The Midwest Athletic Conference stands in the way of two teams advancing to the state finals.

Lima Central Catholic will face New Bremen in the Division VII state semifinal game in Wapakoneta and Columbus Grove tackles Marion Local in the Division VI state semi final game at Spartan Stadium in Lima. Both games begin at 7 p.m.

A rematch

Two years ago, 1 yard stood between Lima Central Catholic making it to the state finals when New Bremen stopped the T-Birds on a two-point conversion attempt that fell short and gave the Cardinals a ticket to state that they eventually won.

This year, LCC is looking to vanquish that past memory and make new ones when they take on the Cardinals.

The Thunderbirds come into the game after downing Antwerp 43-7. This is coming off the heels of beating McComb 30-24 the previous week, meaning the T-Birds knocked off the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in the region in consecutive weeks. LCC was ranked fourth in the region.

“We have taken care of the football,” said LCC head coach Scott Palte about his team’s run through the playoffs. “We have done a good job in the turnover department. We have done a really good job on the line of scrimmage and running the football and controlling the line, opening holes and our backs have done really well.

Against Antwerp, T-Bird signal caller Carson Parker had 18 carries for 158 yards and Gabe Cira plowed for 19 carries for 135 yards.

Defensively, LCC shut down Antwerp’s high powered offense. It didn’t hurt the T-Birds’ cause that Antwerp’s passing game was hampered by the weather but LCC also had a role in shutting down the Archers.

“We did a good job of preventing the big play and making teams earn the yards they get,” Palte said. “Just a real solid locked in effort by our kids and I am proud of the way they played.”

Palte attributes this playoff run, the team’s third straight trip to the regional finals, to this team’s hard work, grittiness and senior leadership with 14 dotting the roster.

In the past two seasons, the T-Birds may have featured more speed or more skilled individual players but Palte said this team demonstrates the dedication as a unit to success.

“They have shown great leadership throughout the year whether they were winning or they were losing,” Palte added. “Our seniors came to work each day with a lunch pail mentality and they have worked hard to get better. We preach we have to get better each week and hopefully we are playing our best football in week 11 and obviously we get a chance to prove it and I think our kids have done that. The seniors have a hard-nosed mentality that has kind of rubbed off on the rest of the guys on the team.”

The T-Birds face another tough test in New Bremen which has losses to Marion Local, Coldwater and Delphos St. John’s. LCC beat Delphos twice this season, once in the regular season and once in the postseason.

The Cardinals come into the game coming off a 24-0 victory against Fort Loramie, a team that beat the T-Birds on the last day of the regular season.

In their first two playoff games, the Cardinals outscored opponents 88-15 and then escaped with a 26-22 against Ansonia in the regional semifinals.

During the regular season, New Bremen led the MAC in rushing, averaging 247.80 yards a game.

Cardinal Hunter Schaefer led the club in rushing with 1,141 yards and 15 touchdowns.

Defensively, the Cardinals ranked fourth in the MAC, giving up an average of 133.70 yards a contest.

Palte said in order to compete against the Cardinals they need to do what has gotten them to this point and that is take care of the football and stop New Bremen’s potent running attack.

“We need to take care of the football,” Palte said. “We need to establish the line of scrimmage and establish the run and stop the run and obviously that is the key for both teams. Both teams like to run the ball. You have to take care of the football and make a big play on special teams.”

Marion Local ahead for Columbus Grove

Like LCC, Columbus Grove made its third straight regional final appearance. Like the T-Birds, the Bulldogs will need to get through a MAC team. And not just any MAC team. Marion Local has been steamrolling opponents all season and throughout the playoffs.

Last week, the Flyers downed Northwest Conference champion Allen East, 55-0, in the regional final.

Columbus Grove is 1-2 against Marion Local in the playoffs. The Bulldogs lost to the Flyers, 13-7, in the state semifinals in 2001, beat them in the state title game, 28-26, in 2003 and then lost again in the state semifinals, 55-9 in 2014.

So, it is no surprise you find the Bulldogs practicing on Thanksgiving to gear up for a chance to make it to the state finals.

Columbus Grove comes into the game after producing a dominating 34-0 performance against Columbia. Prior to that, the Bulldogs defeated Colonel Crawford 14-7 in overtime.

Andy Schafer said he is not shocked that his team has made it this far in the postseason and after the playoff brackets were released the Bulldog head coach said he felt this team could make a deep run.

“We felt like every game was going to get a little bit bigger,” Schafer said. “By not playing someone out of the gate that wasn’t unbelievable allowed us to get better. That being said I had a lot of confidence going into postseason because I really felt like our team could grow and they certainly have.”

The Bulldog defense continued its stellar play in the postseason and the primary reason the team has reached this point.

Schafer said at the onset of the season he spoke highly of his linebacker corps that features Tadd Koch, the NWC defensive player of the year, and AJ Schafer, the All-Northwest District player of the year last season, but as he was talking to the team Monday he told them that this wasn’t just a linebacking team anymore.

“We have really good defensive linemen and we have really good defensive backs that have caught up with our linebackers and so it is really nice to see a good team,” Schafer said.

While the defense has done its due diligence, the offense has also made tremendous strides throughout the season. Bulldog running back Trenton Barraza, who opened last week’s contest with an 85 yard touchdown run and finished with 140 yards with three touchdowns on 18 carries, has been the mainstay on offense.

Schafer said the team has seen improvement from quarterback Brenton Renner, who has had a up and down year, and the emergence of Zach Reynolds at the receiver spot and AJ Schafer out of the backfield.

“Offensively we continue to improve,” Schafer said. “Other than the Crawford game where it was one of our weakest offensive games but other than that we have played pretty solid. All things considered with the horrible conditions that we had last weekend, it was nice to put up 34 points.

“In the past we have leaned on one or two guys and this year it has really not been that way,” Schafer said. “There was a time when it was just Trenton Barraza and then all of sudden AJ came out of nowhere and started running the ball really well and has never been a running back so he kind of had to learn it a little bit and the nice thing about that is you had the speed of Barraza and the power of AJ and then Zach Reynolds started to get hot and did a good job on the edge. Then Zach gets hurt a week later and here comes Shep Halker who really stepped it up on offense.”

Schafer points out that all this is possible because of the “next-man mentality” the program has fostered throughout the years and adds that has kind of been the story of the season.

“We have zero selfishness on this team,” Schafer said. “They just don’t care. Whoever is hot we let them ride it and the receivers have done a good job of blocking and it is really, really good to see.”

Schafer knows all-hands will have to be on deck when they face Marion Local.

“Certainly, respect to coach (Tim) Goodwin and all that he has built over there,” Schafer said. “They do an amazing job and they are well coached. They are extremely athletic and they run on a high motor of confidence. I think the biggest thing with Marion Local is the mental game. They have the confidence.

“For our guys, it is the opposite. Everyone has kind of doubted you. Everybody has kind of written you off. Someone came up to me after the regional final and said it is nice to see the unexpected. I didn’t even know what they were talking about because I expect to win every game. I expected to be here and I expected to win. I don’t know if that is good or bad but our players are wired the same way. We are excited to be here. We are ready to play them. If you are playing Marion Local in week 15 of the playoffs that means that you are good and that means you have made it this far and you are still in. We are practicing on Thanksgiving and there are a whole lot of teams who would like that opportunity.”

Reach Jose Nogueras at 567-242-0468.