By Josh Brown
MARIA STEIN — Miami East knew what kind of daunting challenge it faced.
And while, as the game wore on, there was little the Vikings could do to slow down the juggernaut that is the Marion Local offense, they still left the Flyers knowing they’d been in a fight.
Top-seeded Marion Local began its hunt for its fifth straight state championship in convincing fashion Saturday night, scoring touchdowns on back-to-back one play drives right before halftime to build a 26-point lead. But No. 8 Miami East refused to quit fighting to the bitter end in a 48-23 defeat in the first round of the Division VI, Region 22 playoffs Saturday night at Marion Local High School.
“My senior class tied the school record for wins as a class, made it to the playoffs four years in a row and won the league title this year,” Miami East coach Max Current said. “Not many classes can say that.
“They’re a fighting bunch.”
The Flyers (10-1) will face West Liberty-Salem, a 21-7 winner over Cincinnati Country Day, Nov. 14 in the regional semifinal, while the Vikings’ season came to an end with an 8-3 record.
“Nobody gave us a shot to win the game,” Current said. “And with good reason. Marion Local is going for its fifth straight state championship. That’s impressive, I don’t care who plays them.”
Never tell the Vikings the odds.
“That’s a great measuring stick for where we want to be,” Current said. “We told the kids that they’re just high school kids, not the Packers, and just to go out and play as hard as they could. Our guys have played hard all year long. I tell them I can never fault their effort. Maybe their execution, but never their effort. They played hard tonight.”
The Viking defense began the game strong, but the Flyer defense answered by forcing a three-and-out of its own. Marion Local then took the ball 70 yards in six plays, with quarterback Duane Leugers connecting on a 21-yard screen pass to Kyle Homan and a 41-yard strike to Hunter Wilker before hitting Matt Kahlig with a 5-yard fade in the end zone for the game’s first score with 6:37 left in the first quarter.
Miami East’s leading rusher, Kurt Brower, was injured while playing defense on the drive and did not return in the game — making everything the Vikings accomplished on offense from that point on all the more impressive.
The Vikings went three-and-out again, and Marion Local embarked on an 11-play, 68-yard drive, converting a pair of third downs along the way before being faced with a fourth-and-inches at the 15. Aaron Heitfeld took a pitch around the right side, turned the corner and took it 15 yards for a touchdown to make it 14-0 Flyers with 53 seconds left in the first.
Miami East answered with its first solid drive of the game, going 78 yards in 12 plays. The Vikings had a second-and-goal from the 1, but a false start penalty backed them up to the 6-yard line. On fourth-and-goal from the 3, though, Braxton Donaldson found Logan West in the middle of the end zone for a 3-yard touchdown, making the score 14-6 after the point after missed.
Marion Local responded immediately, taking the ball 60 yards in a mere three plays. Kahlig broke a 38-yard run on the drive’s first play, then Leugers hit Wilker with a screen to the left side, and Wilkers took it 17 yards for a touchdown that made it a 15-point game with 7:19 left in the half.
After the Flyers forced a three-and-out, they took possession at the 50-yard line. On the first play from scrimmage, Leugers hit Wilker in stride for a 50-yard touchdown to make it 28-6 with 5:47 until the break.
Colton Kowalak kicked a 30-yard field goal for the Vikings on the ensuing drive, but Marion Local scored on the first play of its next drive. Leugers slipped out of a sack and stayed on his feet,giving himself enough time to find Kahlig open along the sideline for his second consecutive 50-yard touchdown pass, and the score was 35-9 at the half.
Leugers was 3 for 3 for 117 yards in the second quarter — all three for touchdowns.
“They exposed our young secondary a bit,” Current said. “We’ve had a freshman playing on defense and a freshman on offense all year, and they’ve played well. Now they’ve got a full year under their belts. And we’ve got some juniors that are good players, too. Arron Adams has come on strong the last couple weeks and got some good reps at halfback tonight.”
After hlding the Vikings on the opening drive of the second half, the Flyers made the score 41-9 thanks to a 33-yard touchdown run by Derek Albers, a score which turned on the running clock via the OHSAA’s mercy rule. But Arron Adams shut that down on the next drive, breaking a 52-yard touchdown run to cut the deficit to 41-16 with 3:22 left in the third.
“That’s the first time we’ve had a running clock against us since they instituted it,” Current said. “We actually had it on us twice tonight, but we shut it down both times.”
Jack Homan turned the running clock back on, capping off the ensuing drive with a 5-yard touchdown run to make the score 48-16 with 11:36 left to play. But the Vikings refused to give up, putting together another solid drive capped off by a 2-yard Levi Adducchio touchdown to make it 48-23 with 3:48 to play. Miami East couldn’t recover the onside kick, but the Vikings did recover a fumble on the first play of Marion Local’s possession — the game’s first turnover — but the Flyers forced a turnover on downs and Marion Local ran out the clock from there.
“From Week 1 to Week 11, you say you want to get better,” Current said. “Well, I’d say we definitely got better from Week 1 to now. These kids fought hard tonight.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.
Miami East’s Caden Hellyer (51) tries to chase down Marion Local’s Aaron Heitfeld (25) Saturday night at Marion Local during a Division VI, Region 22 playoff game.