The 2019 Archbold football team continues to make its mark on the program’s history, as this Friday when they meet the Anna Rockets in the Division VI, Region 23 championship at Lima Senior, will be the deepest they’ve advanced in the postseason since 2002.
That year, the Blue Streaks fell to eventual Division IV state champion Kenton 52-0 in the regional final.
Fast forward to now, they get an Anna squad who has outscored its opponents 554-164 this season. The Rockets are averaging 50 points per game in their last seven contests, following a 17-14 loss to Marion Local – who is still alive in the Division VII playoffs – in week five.
Anna (11-1) fell into a 14-0 hole against Fairview in the regional semifinal and led just 27-20 at the half, but ended up cruising to a 54-20 win. It is the farthest their program has ever advanced in the playoffs, having only existed since 1999.
Archbold (11-1) already has experience with the Midwest Athletic Conference in these playoffs, defeating perennial power Coldwater in the opening round, 27-21. The Streaks followed that up with a 31-30 win over Northwest Ohio Athletic League foe Liberty Center last Friday.
Before Fairview, Anna defeated fellow MAC school Minster 47-21 in the first round.
“Anna is a solid opponent from top to bottom and they have very few weaknesses,” said Archbold coach David Dominique of the Rockets. “Throughout this season, we have played a number of very good teams and Anna would be right up there at the top when compared to them.”
The Anna offense is led by its one-two punch on the ground.
Riley Huelskamp, a senior running back, has amassed 2,103 yards and 34 touchdowns to only two fumbles through 12 games. He had six rushing scores versus the Apaches last week.
Senior quarterback Bart Bixler adds 1,267 yards rushing and 24 TDs. He has thrown for only 1,366 yards through 12 games, but has completed 71 percent (89 for 125) of his passes, tossing 14 TDs to four interceptions.
Kamren Steward leads the receiving core with 32 catches on the season for 452 yards and a pair of scores. Huelskamp has caught 16 passes for 240 yards and two scores.
“In order to find success on defense, we are going to need to play disciplined, gap control football,” explained Dominique. “Their QB (Bixler) and RB (Huelskamp) are some of the best we have seen all season at making people miss so our guys are going to need to a do a good job of tackling in space. For us, we are going to have to take good pursuit angles and get a number of defenders to the ball on every play.”
The Streaks will need to duplicate their offensive performance from the first two rounds of the playoffs – and maybe a little more – to have success versus the Rockets. They are averaging 372 total yards per game and 29 points per game in the playoffs so far.
The offense is led by sophomore dual-threat quarterback DJ Newman who has shown much growth throughout the season. He comes into the contest completing 68 percent (133 for 195) of his passes with 19 TDs to 7 interceptions, also adding 607 yards rushing and 8 scores.
Newman is the Streaks second leading rusher.
The QB’s favorite target is Antonio Cruz who has 59 catches on the season for 869 yards and 12 TDs. They also have Elijah Zimmerman with 23 catches for 433 yards and six scores.
As of late Brandon Taylor, who started the season as the starting quarterback, has made an impact with 28 catches for 438 yards and three TDs. Last week against Liberty Center, he caught the go-ahead TD on a fourth down play from midfield.
The ground attack is led by Noah Gomez, who has accumulated 906 yards and 12 TDs. He averages just over 100 yards per game.
“We need to take what they give us on defense,” said Dominique on a key for his offense Friday night. “They do a good job of mixing up their looks and bringing a variety of pressures, so we must communicate well up front. The turnover battle is going to be key, so we must take care of it on the offensive side and score whenever we get into the red zone.”
Perhaps Archbold can take a few nuggets from the Fairview film in the stretch where the Apaches were able to build a 14-point cushion in the first half. However, the challenge will be to sustain that momentum.
On defense, the Rockets have four players with at least 71 tackles on the year. Inside linebacker Isaac Egbert is at the forefront with 92 total tackles. Malachi Minnich has 76, Steward 72, and Huelskamp 71.
Huelskamp, who plays defensive back, along with Isaac Lininger each have three interceptions on the season.
Archbold will have to be sound in all phases to get the ‘W’ this week. And that starts with a good week of practice.
“The message this week will be similar to what we have done all year long, preparation is going to be critical in order to find success against a talented (and) experienced team,” said Dominique. “We are going to have to play disciplined football and execute the game plan come Friday night.”
Reach Max Householder at 419-335-2010