Mechanicsburg advanced to the state semifinals for the first time since 2013.
“It speaks to the young men, it speaks to the coaches and the continuity we have on the coaching staff,” said Indians coach Kurt Forrest. “It speaks to the support from the leadership in our building and it speaks for the community and what football means to them. Most importantly, it’s the kids and the hard work they’ve put into it and the blood, sweat and tears and what they pour into it.”
The Indians are seeking to become the first Champaign County team to advance to the state final since Urbana lost to Elyria Catholic 14-9 in 1983. No Champaign County or Ohio Heritage Conference team has won a state football title since the playoffs began in 1972.
The Indians will have to beat a MAC team for the first time in school history to advance to the state final. Many programs and conferences across Ohio have struggled against the MAC, which has won 33 state football titles since 1989. The only conference to win more than 20 state titles is the Greater Catholic League with 24.
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“The MAC has been the measuring stick because of where we’re located,” Forrest said. “What’s every other league’s record in the state of Ohio against them? I’m guessing it’s not very good. They’re an unbelievable league with great coaches and great community support.”
The Indians have played several close games against the MAC, including a 9-7 loss to Marion Local in 2015. This year, the Ohio Heritage Conference and the MAC each have two teams in the state semifinals — West Jefferson is representing the OHC in D-V and Marion Local is representing the MAC in D-VII.
“We’re going to go compete our tails off just like they are,” Forrest said. “It is what it is, but I think our league is obviously showing we’re taking steps to become something that people are going to have to respect.”
Last week, the Indians jumped out to a 28-14 halftime lead to beat Covington 42-26 in the Region 24 final at Piqua's Alexander Stadium.
The Rockets beat Archbold 42-7 to win the Region 23 title and advance to the school’s first-ever state semifinal.
Forrest and Rockets coach Nick Marino, an Urbana grad, both played football at Wittenberg University.
“They’ve had an unbelievable season,” Forrest said. “I know Coach Marino really well. We’ve been friends through coaching and even before that for a long time. Our connections run deep.”
The two teams even scrimmaged in the summer, which he said “feels like about four years ago.”
The Rockets are led by two 1,000-yard rushers in running back Riley Huelskamp (1,516 yards through Week 10) and quarterback Bart Bixler (1,008 yards). Anna rushed for more a MAC-best 3,017 yards in the regular season. Bixler also threw for 1,080 yards through Week 10.
“They’re both unbelievably athletic kids,” Forrest said. “They’re huge up front and all across the board, they’re a great ball club. You don’t do the things that’ve done in that conference and that region without being unbelievable.”
The Indians, however, won’t go down without a fight, he said.
“We ask the kids to do three simple things every year: Show up every day, have a great attitude and fight like hell,” Forrest said. “They do those things and it shows. If you do those things, it doesn’t matter if its football or math class or at home, you’re going to have success in life.”