By Rob Kiser
It was a Piqua football season like no other
And when it was over, the Indians brought home the 2006 Division state championship trophy with a 13-2 record.
The 10th anniversary of that season will be celebrated Friday night at Alexander Stadium/Purk Field when the Indians host Meadowdale in a 7 p.m. game to open the season.
“It is kind of both ways,” Piqua football coach Bill Nees said. “Sometimes, it seems like it was a long time ago and sometimes it seems like yesterday. It will be nice to have them on the sidelines before the game amongst our current players. None of them have any eligibility left, so we can put them in uniform.”
The team will be honored at halftime with a short video presentation and there will be a reunion after the game at Mulligan’s — with the public invited.
“It doesn’t seem like 10 years at all,” current Piqua assistant coach Justin Hemm, who was the quarterback of the team. “I see a lot of guys once or twice year — maybe about 20 of them. But, it will be nice to have them all together again at once.”
There were many amazing games during that season.
But, ironically, the season opener stands out for Nees.
The Indians made a road trip to Columbus and were stunned by Division I Grove City 48-41.
In a game where Brandon Saine, who would go on to be named Mr. Football and play at Ohio State, rushed for 127 yards and returned one kickoff for a TD and another inside the Grove City 20, it was the defense that Nees remembers.
“We had this awesome defense — just some incredible players,” Nees said. “We had all these expectations, then we gave up 48 points in the first game. But, after that, we settled down and Northmont was the only team that scored more than two touchdowns on us.”
After four straight relatively easy wins, the Indians faced Trotwood-Madison in what would turn in to be an epic battle.
With the game tied at 28 with under three minutes remaining , a Trotwood receiver caught a pass and was headed inside the Piqua 10 for what would be a sure-fire field goal to win the game — only to have Piqua linebacker David Rolf strip him of the ball.
After a Piqua punt, Trotwood had a 29-yard field goal attempt to win the game on the final game — only to have David Rolf block it.
In the overtime, Saine — who rushed for 184 yards, scored a touchdown and on Trotwood’s possession, David Rolf’s older brother Pete recovered a fumble to seal the win.
With both teams in Division II, a playoff rematch was much anticipated — but Trotwood was stunned by Edgewood and never got a second chance.
Piqua rolled to eight straight wins before facing Northmont in week 10.
Piqua was in control much of the game, before a controversial fumble call sparked Northmont to a 21-14 win.
“If you look at it, both our losses were to D-I programs,” Nees said. “We pretty much cruised through the D-II and D-III teams.”
A playoff run with many road blocks never even slowed the Indians down — Piqua outscored its opponents 148-51 in five postseason games — with Phil Collier — better known as Mr. November — catching six touchdown passes and returning three interceptions for touchdowns in the postseason alone.
It started with a trip to snowy Lake High School in Millbury — a field and school that since has been destroyed by a tornado and replaced — to face defending state champions Toledo Central Catholic and receiver Dane Sanzenbacher, who went on to play for Ohio State and the NFL.
While Sanzenbacher made his plays, the Indians rolled to a 33-14 win.
Then at a sold-out Lima Stadium, a four touchdown performance by Collier paved the way to a 40-21 win over Wapakoneta.
That left a regional final matchup with the top-ranked team in the AP Poll — Ashland.
It was no contest, with Piqua rolling to a 27-0 win. Collier scored two more touchdowns, Tyrell Knox returned a fumble for a score and Saine rushed for a touchdown.
Then came a relatively close game — playing Turpin in the state semifinals at Welcome Stadium.
In Piqua’s biggest challenge of the postseason, Piqua was leading 15-9 in the fourth quarter when Nees elected to go for it on a fourth-and-one in Piqua territory. Hemm sneaked for the first down and Saine had a long TD run several plays later to put the game away.
“The great thing about that team is the camaraderie we had,” Hemm said. “I really think that had a lot to do with the success we had. That was a really close group.”
Then it was on to Massilon Tiger Stadium to play Pickerington Central in the state championship game.
On a windy night, Pickerington went right down the field to take a 7-0 lead — but never scored again as Piqua rolled to a 26-7 victory.
Saine had an amazing night, rushing for a then championship game record 226 yars rushing.
After an 80-yard TD run in the first quarter, he ran 52 yards on a fake punt for a score in the second quarter and added a 29-yard TD run before half. Saine had 195 yards rushing in the first half alone.
Bryant Fox and Wes Reed had interceptions, Colin Nickolai recovered a fumble and defensive lineman Jafe Pitcock finished off the win with an 8-yard interception return for a touchdown.
As you might imagine, some of the stats Piqua amassed in the season were staggering.
Behind the offensive line of Ben Davis, Lee Middletown, David Spiggle, Adam Grisson and Kyle Perkins, Saine rushed for 2,272 yards and 37 touchdowns.
Hemm rushed for 1,340 yards and 10 TDs, while completing 94 of 177 passes for 1,665 yards and 22 touchdowns.
Collier led the receivers with 35 catches for 728 yards and 15 touchdowns.
The defensive numbers are equally impressive.
Dusty Snyder tallied 15 sacks, while Jafe Pitcock added 10 and Taylor Abram had nine and Shea Selsor had eight.
Snyder also had an amazing 25 tackles for loss and led the team with 97 tackles.
Pete Rolf had 83 tackles, including 18 for loss, Taylor Abram had 81, including 14 for loss and Pitcock had 78 and 11 for loss.
Dominic Allen was also a big part of that defensive line with five sacks and five quarterback knockdowns.
Collier had seven interceptions, while Pete Rolf, Reed and Fox all had three.
David Rolf, always with a nose for the ball, forced three fumbles and recovered five.
Late in the season, Hemm started what would become what would become a “Fad” in Piqua, getting a mohawk haircut at Glamour on Maine. By the time the playoffs rolled around, they were raising money for United Way with the haircuts.
In a way, it symbolized what led to the greatest season in Piqua football.
“As I said, the closeness of the team is what I remember,” Hemm said. “I think it had a lot to do with the success we had on the field.”
And 10 years later, that season will be remembered as Piqua kicks off what they hope will be another memorable season.
Rob Kiser is Sports Editor for the Daily Call. He can be reached at (937) 451-3334.
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