LIMA – Archbold could not keep up with an athletic Anna team, falling behind 28-0 in the first half and ultimately bowing out of the Division VI playoff race with a 42-7 loss in the Region 23 championship Friday at Spartan Stadium on the campus of Lima Senior High School.
However, after the game Blue Streak coach David Dominique couldn’t help but reflect on his team’s memorable season, which included a Northwest Ohio Athletic League co-championship and their deepest playoff run since 2003.
“Not many people gave us a chance to get to this point this year,” said Dominique. “(We) were picked third in the NWOAL. Able to come out with a (league) championship and get to the regional finals. It just says a lot about our seniors. The four years they’ve been here we’ve never had a losing season. And before that it wasn’t always looking pretty. Very proud of all of our players. They left it on the field. Anna’s a heck of a football team. They earned this outright.”
Archbold’s seniors close their careers with a 32-13 record over four seasons.
The Blue Streaks opening drive seemed to be indicative of how the game would go. They advanced to the Rockets’ 27-yard line using a good mix of run and pass – including an 18-yard run from Caleb Hogrefe and 13-yard completion to Antonio Cruz.
But on fourth-and-5 at the Anna 27, DJ Newman’s pass to Cruz in the neighborhood of the end zone went just off his hands, turning the ball over on downs to the Rockets.
The state’s top-ranked team in Division VI wasted no time.
Anna quarterback Bart Bixler called his own number on the first play of the drive and rambled for 36 yards down to the Archbold 37. The Rockets then went to senior tailback Riley Huelskamp on four straight plays and he churned his way down to the one. Bixler finished it off with a QB sneak for a score, giving Anna a 7-0 lead at the 5:29 mark.
Archbold went three-and-out on the ensuing possession, leading to another Anna score.
Huelskamp – who finished with 156 yards and three scores on the night – went around the right end and galloped into the end zone from 41 yards away for a 14-0 Anna lead with three minutes left in the first quarter.
“Every time you think you had him, you didn’t,” said Dominique of Huelskamp. “And around him, their o-line’s one of the best ones we’ve seen. That quarterback’s very good. They are a good team. Well-coached. They deserved that regional championship.”
The Streaks tried to answer, once again advancing into Rocket territory. Nevertheless, on fourth-and-6 at the Anna 49, Newman tried to connect with Cruz on a comeback route but it was knocked away by the Anna defender.
This led to an eight yard score from Huelskamp and a 21-0 lead with 11:01 left in the half.
“It seemed like we were so close so many times. But they have a great defense,” said Dominique on his offense’s struggles. “They had guys in position. They made it tough on our playmakers. You know what, our kids never quit. And that’s what it’s all about. There’s a lot of pride in Archbold football.”
Things went from bad to worse when on a first-and-10 play at the Anna 34, Newman’s backwards pass could not be hauled in by the receiver and Anna’s Brandon Shannon scooped it up and went 62 yards to paydirt. It gave the Rockets a 28-0 lead they would take into the locker room at the half.
They then initiated the running clock on the opening drive of the third quarter thanks to Nolan Emerson’s 36-yard touchdown reception, which he caught after it was deflected by Archbold.
Archbold briefly negated the running clock by way of an 18-yard TD from Newman to Cruz, trimming the deficit to 35-7 with 4:13 remaining in the third quarter.
But it would reinstated on a three yard score by Huelskamp in the early minutes of the fourth.
Anna outgained Archbold 299-272. Newman completed 11 of 22 passes for 117 yards, one TD and an interception. Noah Gomez tallied 70 yards rushing on 16 carries, while Cruz caught five balls for 83 yards and a score.
Anna (12-1) now faces Mechanicsburg (11-2) in the state semifinal this Friday at Wapakoneta’s Harmon Field.
Archbold ends the season at 11-2, but can take a lot from this season, in particular this deep playoff run, and use it as a benefit next season.
“It’s a good springboard into next year. I think these last three weeks have taught us a lot about ourselves. We’re very excited for the future,” explained Dominique.
The extra practice time will also aid the Streaks next season, according to Dominique.
“We are gonna be experienced next year coming back,” he said. “We are gonna miss these (11) seniors, don’t get me wrong. But you always have to replace people. These young guys, I told them in that last huddle, ‘remember this feeling. Remember this and let it drive you throughout this offseason. And take that work ethic that all those seniors had all these years to get us to this point.’”
Reach Max Householder at 419-335-2010