Underdogs again

Kennedy faces battle-tested Minster in final

Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple John F. Kennedy’s Dan McCartney, right, shown here breaking a tackle from Steubenville Central Catholic’s Noah Fayak during a game earlier this season, is part of an Eagles team that plays Minster in a Division VII state final Saturday.

Every team faces some adversity during a season, but this was ridiculous. There sat Minster in the middle of the season with a 2-4 record and riding a four-game losing streak.

The Wildcats knew they had to win their last four games in order to reach the Division VII playoffs. But sitting there in Week 7 was Coldwater, a state champ each of the last four seasons in Division V or Division VI.

Minster handed Coldwater its only loss of the season, 33-18, then won its last three to finish third in the Division VII, Region 28 standings. Four playoff wins later, and the Wildcats are in the state title game Saturday at 10 a.m. against John F. Kennedy at Ohio Stadium in Columbus.

“They changed some things that they were doing at 2-4 and they looked like a different team,” Kennedy coach Jeff Bayuk said about Minster. “That momentum has really built to a crescendo here with the state championship this week.

“They are the best team we will have seen this year. They will spread it out, they’ll throw, they’ll run. Defensively, they’re pretty stout, they pack the box. They run a 3-3 stack, sometimes a 3-4, and they really put the pressure on you to do something quickly.”

The Wildcats are led by quarterback Jared Huelsman (6-foot-1, 185, jr.), who averages about 95 yards rushing per game (1,329 in 14 games, 18 TDs) and throws for 157 per game (2,200 in 14 games, 21 TDs). He also has recorded 13.5 tackles for loss.

Bryce Schmiesing (5-9, 190, sr.) averages 86 yards rushing per game and has run for 16 touchdowns. He also has 51 receptions to go along with 5.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss.

Jonathan Niemeyer (6-3, 185, sr.) has 61 catches for 1,145 yards and 13 scores, and Isaac Schmiesing (5-8, 160, jr.) has 24 catches and is the team’s leading tackler with 84.

Minster won the Division VI state title in 2014 with a 46-42 victory over Kirtland. The Wildcats have been in the playoffs six of the last seven years and have made nine other appearances in the postseason, including another state championship season in 1989.

“They are a very good football team, obviously. The only loss that Coldwater has this year is to them, and Coldwater is 13-1 and going into the final in Division V,” Bayuk said. “They play in a great league (Midwest Athletic Conference) out there with St. Henry, Marion Local, Coldwater, Versailles.

“We talked about that (the success of MAC teams). I don’t know how aware they were of it before this week, but they are aware of all those teams.”

John F. Kennedy (13-1) is no slouch when it comes to playoff history. The Eagles won a state title in 1991 and were state runners-up in 2006, 1992 and 1989. They have made 16 other appearances in the playoffs including, most recently, 2015 and 2012.

JFK has worked through some injury problems throughout the season and has shown excellent versatility in having several players working in new positions to fill in for injured teammates.

In the postseason, Kennedy has been dominant with four impressive wins, especially the last two, 48-13 over Norwalk St. Paul in the Region 27 final, and 48-7 over Canal Winchester Harvest Prep in a state semifinal.

“Our kids did a really good job of taking it to them early, and things sort of snowballed,” Bayuk said about last week’s win. “When you get a team that’s stunned like that early, it’s hard to recover. That was fortunate for us. Our kids played hard all year and we expect the same type of effort this week.”

The Eagles will hold a final walk-through practice Friday at about 1 p.m. They will leave Warren about 3 or 3:30, Bayuk said, and arrive in Columbus at about 6:30 or so.

The 10 a.m. start time on Saturday is something different.

“That concerns me. When kids get out of a routine it’s never a good thing. The only good thing about it is they (Minster) have to do it too,” Bayuk said. “We’re going to have to get up pretty early and kids don’t like getting up early.

“But we’re so excited to be going down there, we’d play at 3 in the morning if we had to.”