By TED RADICK
LIMA — After eight straight trips to state championship games in Division VI and Division VII, this was supposed to be the year, after some steep losses to graduation from the 2018 team, that Marion Local wasn’t going to make it.
“Yeah, we heard the talk. All offseason long,” Flyers quarterback Kyle Muhlenkamp said. “We knew what we had in the locker room, we knew we have great coaches and, if we just worked, we knew we could make it.”
The Flyers have made it back to the state title game. With a convincing 40-6 victory over Patrick Henry in a Division VII state semifinal Saturday at Lima’s Spartan Stadium, the Marion Local juggernaut keeps rolling.
Marion Local (12-2) will play Lucas (12-2), a 15-12 winner over Canal Winchester Harvest Prep in Saturday’s other D-VII semi, at 10 a.m. Saturday at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton.
Patrick Henry ended its season with a 10-4 record.
Marion Local scored three times in the first half on plays of more than 70 yards, with two touchdowns on plays of more than 90 yards. The Flyers built a 33-0 lead at halftime and led 40-0 after three quarters.
“We came in expecting a dogfight,” Muhlenkamp said. “They’re a good team. The score, just because the score was what it was doesn’t mean anything. They’re a good team.”
Marion Local went up 6-0 early in the first quarter after tailback Peyton Otte took a pitch around left end and raced 97 yards for a touchdown.
The Flyers’ second touchdown, though, might have broken the Patriots’ spirit.
Marion Local got possession on its 21-yard line midway through the first quarter. A running play gained 8 yards, then the Flyers struck with another big play.
Muhlenkamp faked play action to Otte, then found Charlie Huelsman wide open for a 71-yard touchdown pass. No Patriot was within 10 yards of Huelsman when he caught the pass.
“Earlier we ran a play similar to that, and the safety jumped the shorter route and we thought we could get it again,” Muhlenkamp said. “With Charlie sneaking behind them, it worked out perfectly. He was wide open.”
So wide open that both quarterback and receiver admitted they almost had too much time to think about it.
“It’s hard. I hate it,” Huelsman said with a laugh. “It’s terrible, all you’re thinking is ‘just focus.’ Perfect pass, Kyle made it easy.
“I was running straight up the field, and I saw the safety take the crossing route. I thought, oh man, this could be a big one. Kyle, always on the money, threw a perfect pass.”
Muhlenkamp and Huelsman hooked up in the second quarter for 92- and 13-yard scoring passes.
In the first half alone, Muhlenkamp was 9 of 11 for 277 yards, and Huelsman caught six passes for 239 yards. The two combined for another 11 yards on Marion Local’s lone passing attempt of the second half.
The Patriots, scorched by those big plays, couldn’t recover.
“We ran the ball OK at times, but it was hard because they would score right away all the time,” Patrick Henry coach Bill Inselmann said. “It seemed like we could never get a rhythm going. Them scoring big play after big play, it was hard for us to get rhythm because defense is their strength.
“I didn’t expect them to score that many points.
“I thought if there was a year when we could play better with Marion Local, I thought it would be this year. So, it’s very frustrating. I just don’t know if there’s that big a difference between the (Midwest Athletic Conference) and the other leagues. I mean, we’re a good team and we’re beating other teams. But every time we play Marion Local, we just can’t stay close.”
Patrick Henry’s Wil Morrow ran 13 times for 65 yards, and T.J. Rhamy had 11 carries for 61 yards and a 4-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. Rhamy was 7 of 16 passing for 90 yards and two interceptions, his job made harder by Marion Local building a big early lead.
“They had some easy scores, which was demoralizing,” Inselmann said. “And that allowed them to mix up more coverages, drop more people into pass coverage and make it more difficult for us.”
Brandon Fleck had a 4-yard TD run in the second quarter and Otte added a 9-yard scoring run in the third for Marion Local.
“Our film showed them to be a really good team, and I don’t know what happened,” Huelsman said. “A few big plays early, I think, took them out of it. They just got on the bad side of the train.”
Marion Local coach Tim Goodwin could sympathize with the Patriots.
“Big plays are just a huge part of the high school game, really any game,” Goodwin said. “It’s hard to drive the ball, so if you can hit some big ones it just opens things up.
“Kyle Muhlenkamp made it work.”
Goodwin said the Flyers didn’t pick up any particular weakness in Patrick Henry that set up the big scoring plays, but thought maybe the Patriots didn’t get the full picture of Marion Local’s offense.
“That’s the fun part of the playoffs,” he said. “In the league, our opponents get every game on film, so you’re always searching for something. In the playoffs, you only get three games of film. So, you can pull something out and figure, hey, they might not have seen this.”
In the end, the Flyers get to play the season to the end. Marion Local was runner-up in Division VI to Kirtland last season, won Division VI titles in 2017 and 2016, was runner-up in 2015 (Division VI) and won four straight titles from 2011 through 2014 (2011-12 in Division VI, 2013-14 in Division VII).
It never gets old for Goodwin.
“It doesn’t, because every team is different,” he said. “They have unique personalities. A lot of people didn’t think much of this team. I didn’t know what this team was going to have.
“It seems like they have some grit, and we’ve had players step up at different times and have big games.”
Patrick Henry 0 0 0 6 — 6
Marion Local 13 20 7 0 — 40
ML — Otte 97 run (kick failed)
ML — Huelsman 71 pass from Muhlenkamp (Klosterman kick)
ML — Fleck 4 run (kick failed)
ML — Huelsman 92 pass from Muhlenkamp (Klosterman kick)
ML — Huelsman 13 pass from Muhlenkamp (Klosterman kick)
ML — Otte 9 run (Klosterman kick)
PH — Rhamy 4 run (pass failed)
First Downs 7 13
Rushes-yards 30-133 27-201
Passing Yards 90 288
Comp-Att-Int 7-16-2 10-12-0
Punts-Avg. 4-44.8 2-40.5
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 1-1
Penalties-Yards 2-10 2-10
rushing — Patrick Henry, Morrow 13-65, Rhamy 11-61, DeLong 4-6, Kistner 2-1. Marion Local, Otte 4-104, Fleck 11-48, Heitkamp 8-26, Muhlenkamp 1-19, Griesdorn 2-5, team 1-(-1).
passing — Patrick Henry, Rhamy 7-16-2-90. Marion Local, Muhlenkamp 10-12-0-288.
receiving — Patrick Henry, Morrow 2-45, Johnson 2-17, Holloway 1-15, Feehan 1-9, Schulze 1-4. Marion Local, Huelsman 7-250, Otte 2-28, Kemper 1-10.