Heading into the final week of the regular season, the Patrick Henry football team found itself at a crossroad. Sitting at 6-3, the Patriots had dropped two straight to fall out of the Northwest Ohio Athletic League race.
Getting the chance to regroup before the postseason, the Patriots closed with a win at home against Delta, and now three wins later in the postseason, No. 10 Patrick Henry will meet No. 1 Marion Local in a Division VII state semifinal Saturday night at Lima Spartan Stadium.
“When you read a book, what’s everybody’s favorite part?” questioned Patrick Henry coach Bill Inselmann. “It’s the ending. The beginning and middle didn’t quite go the way we wanted, but we can still right the ending of the book. The kids have bought in to that, and we are playing our best football of the year. We want to get to Canton, that’s the end of the book.”
For the Patriots, they are playing their best football of the season. Inselmann gives credit to two things: getting his whole roster back, and challenging the group before the regional semifinal against Norwalk St. Paul.
In that game, Patrick Henry jumped out to a big lead in a 42-14 decision.
“We got healthier, that was one thing,” Inselmann said of the season turning around. “The Norwalk St. Paul game, I challenged them in the first half to play the best half we have all year. That lockerroom at halftime was as crazy as I have seen in 10 years. We’re just catching fire right now.”
Standing in way is state power Marion Local. The Flyers have played in a state championship game in every year since 2011, with six titles.
Marion Local enters this state semifinal at 11-2.
“We do have high expectations, but we weren’t sure about this year,” admitted Marion Local coach Tim Goodwin. “We had 18 of 22 starters graduate, including our whole offense.”
The Flyers have used a balanced attack on offense this year. The team has run for 2,243 yards on the season and passed for another 1,672.
“We don’t have a quick-strike team,” admitted Goodwin.
The defense has allowed just 1,044 yards rushing through 13 games (80.3 a game) and 1,457 through the air.
“We’ve played good defense the entire year,” stated Goodwin. “Lately, we’ve played well on special teams.”
Marion Local has also used its depth to wear down opponents. Three players have run for at least 10 touchdowns this season. Brandon Fleck leads the team with 939 yards and 12 scores, with Grant Meier and Dylan Heitkamp each scoring 10 times on the ground.
“They are so well-coached,” Inselmann said of Marin Local. “The big advantage they have over our program is their numbers. They have 60-some kids, we have 28 in the top three grades. The depth and experience they have, the better looks they get in practice, that’s the advantage they have. The good news is, you can only put 11 on the field.”
The coach of the Flyers did notice one standout player for the Patriots, quarterback TJ Rhamy. Rhamy leads Patrick Henry with 1,300 yards and 16 TDs on the ground, and have thrown for another 1,756 yards and 15 scores.
“The whole team feeds off that kid,” Goodwin said of the PH quarterback. “Everyone plays hard because of him. That is one position where they are more physical than us.”
Now, the Patriots have a chance to break through against the Flyers. Patrick Henry is 0-4 against the state power.
“In the past, we’ve said they are a great team and just hope to do our best,” admitted Inselmann. “We’re going to expect to win when we take the field Saturday. I will say this, these kids have so much confidence right now. They expect to beat them.”
Goodwin also knows this game will be different than any of the other games in the series.
“This is the fourth straight year we’ve played them,” said Goodwin. “We saw the seniors as sophomores, when they went 2-8. Now we get to see them as 18-year-old seniors.”
The winner of Saturday’s state semifinal clash will meet either No. 4 Canal Winchester Harvest Prep or No. 7 Lucas in the Division VII state championship game at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton. The date and time of that game will be announced Sunday after all the state semifinals have been completed.