By Josh Brown
CASSTOWN — The players on the Miami East football team spent this season learning a bit about the program’s history.
The Vikings also made some of their own.
The Miami East football program celebrated its 60th anniversary with a stellar season, going 8-2, finishing tied for second in the Cross County Conference and qualifying for the postseason for a seventh straight season, the current longest running streak of all of Miami County’s teams. And Saturday night, the Vikings will make a long trip north take on Liberty Center in the Division V, Region 18 quarterfinals.
“Seven in a row and nine overall, and this year was our 60th anniversary” Miami East coach Max Current said. “We played our 600th game in school history when we played Fort Loramie (in Week 4). It’s been kind of neat. We’ve been giving the guys a little history lesson about the program every now and then.
“Week 2 before our Lehman game, our first coach (George Buriff), his son came and we had a presentation before the game. Coach Buriff died this past winter, and we are wearing coach Buriff’s initials on our helmets this year to honor him. The 1965 season was the last year he coached at East, then he moved to Florida. It’s been kind of a neat year, just letting the guys get to know the past a little bit and let them know where we came from.”
Where they’re heading this year, though, is somewhere completely new.
After reaching the playoffs in their first year as a D-V team in Region 20 last season, the Vikings — along with a handful of other Region 18 teams — were moved to Region 18 this season.
“It’s just that you don’t know anything about anybody,” Current said. “I’m not familiar with anybody in the region, just from what you read or see online. Coming into the season, we saw the defending state runner-up (Pemberville Eastwood) is in our region — they got second to Wheelersburg. The only teams I knew anything about, they moved us, Milton-Union, Versailles, Anna, Brookville and Greenon into this region, and Indian Lake was already in it.
“In that aspect, it may not be all bad, you know? In years past, we had Marion Local, Coldwater, Mechanicsburg — everybody knew about them. That works on your psyche a little bit. We don’t really know anything about these guys other than what we’ve watched on film this weekend.”
But the Vikings are fast learners.
Liberty Center went 9-1 during the regular season to earn the region’s No. 2 seed, winning its first nine games and not really being challenged until the final two weeks in a 28-14 victory over 7-3 Bryan and a 34-19 loss to 7-3 Patrick Henry in the season finale. The Tigers did not qualify for the postseason last year but reached the regional semifinal in 2016. And the Tigers do plenty of things on the field that Miami East is familiar with.
“They’re similar to us,” Current said. “They run the wing-T, and they’ve got two backs that were going for 1,000 yards. And we’ve got two backs that had 1,000 yards. Their fullback is 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, so he’s a big horse that we’ll have to tackle, and then they’ve got a speed back and run some sweeps and jets with him, kind of like we do with Vinnie (Villella) and Justin (Brown). Their quarterback has thrown for 1,100 yards going into Week 10, and we’ve thrown for about 700. Offensively, we’re similar teams, and defensively, they run a 3-4, kind of a 50 at times — they try not to line up the same way two plays in a row, give you different looks. But they’re aggressive — they get off the ball and get after it.”
This year, Miami East — which earned the No. 7 seed — used its one-two punch of Villella and Brown to devastating effect, with Villella rushing for 1,292 yards and 21 touchdowns and Brown adding 1,101 yards and 15 touchdowns to go along with 388 receiving yards and four TDs through the air. Quarterback Ian Gengler was 34 for 66 for 687 yards and nine touchdowns with only two interceptions on the season. And defensively, the Vikings posted three shutouts during a four-game winning streak to close the regular season.
Last year, the Vikings claimed the No. 1 seed in its first season in D-V, falling to Reading 27-25 in the regional quarterfinals. Miami East’s only postseason victory came during this current streak, a 38-14 regional quarterfinal win over Tri-County North in 2013.
And now they’ll face an entirely new challenger, but not a new challenge.
“They’re a physical team, but we like to think we’re a physical team, too,” Current said. “We’ll line ‘em up, give ‘em our best shot and see if we can have a nice two-hour bus-ride home after a victory. They’re a good team — but everybody’s good at this point. We like to think we’re good ourselves.
“This is a chance to check out what everybody else does in the state. When it comes down to it, they’ve got to block and tackle just like you do.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.