Dan McGill picked the right time to renew a passion with West Liberty-Salem football.
Initially an assistant coach for nine years, McGill was out of the Tigers’ program for five years until returning this year as its head coach.
The rest is playoff history.
“I was looking at all of our game film at other teams and asking our coaches, is this guy back? Is that guy back?” McGill recalled. “A lot of key players throughout the league were back. Going in, I really believed that the league was as balanced as it’s ever been. It certainly proved to be just that.”
Three Ohio Heritage Conference teams play in high school playoff regional finals this weekend. WL-Salem (10-2) gets a rematch with Mechanicsburg (10-2) in the Division VI, Region 22 final at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Wapakoneta’s Harmon Field.
OHC champion Triad (12-0) will play two-time defending state champion Marion Local (12-0) in a D-VII, Region 26 final at Piqua’s Alexander Stadium — Purk Field at 7 p.m. on Saturday.
The winners advance to next week’s state semifinals.
This is new territory for WL-Salem, which never has ventured so deep into the football postseason. And the Tigers did it with a relatively new team, having returned just two starters on offense and four on defense.
“I knew that we had some talented kids, but the vast majority of them were first-year starters,” reflected McGill. “It’s hard to tell what they’re really going to be like until you start playing games.”
That answer is a resounding awesome. The Tigers’ only setbacks were 32-22 to Mechanicsburg in Week 7 and 33-29 to Triad two weeks later. The loss to Mechanicsburg snapped a 30-game regular-season OHC win streak that WL-Salem had mounted over three seasons.
Receivers Taylor Cordell and Landon Williams both have more than 40 receptions. Sophomore quarterback Brandon Upton has accounted for more than 2,000 total yards.
Defensively, Ben Burden has more than 100 tackles and Kyle Crawford was “our most disruptive D-lineman,” McGill said, with more than 14 tackles for a loss.
Mechanicsburg has played in two other regional finals, falling to eventual state champ Marion Local in 2006 and to Lehman Catholic two seasons later.
Regardless of who wins, the OHC is guaranteed at least one state semifinal team. The winner plays the Haviland Wayne Trace (11-1) vs. Ada (9-3) winner next week.
“We just hope that the right team wins,” McGill added. “It’s exciting for the league.”