Tough finish can’t put a damper on Rockets’ season

Yaneek Smith

Sports Editor

It wasn’t quite the ending Oak Harbor football team wanted, but that doesn’t undermine the season the Rockets had.
Oak Harbor, which saw its season end last week in a 24-20 loss to Eastwood in the second round of the Division V playoffs, had some indelible moments, highlighted by wins over Port Clinton, Huron and Genoa, all of whom qualified for the playoffs.
All three victories saw the Rockets rally to win, highlighted by a 47-36 triumph over the Comets in the first round of the postseason, which avenged the only loss of the regular season. Oak Harbor, in its final season in the Sandusky Bay Conference, won the Bay Division for the third time in five years. (The Rockets will move to the Northern Buckeye Conference next season.)
Some of the big plays this season came when Evan Hall, who suffered a broken ankle before the season began, sacked Redskin quarterback Cam Gillum, forcing a fumble that Jacob Sandwisch recovered on the game’s final play with Port Clinton driving; and when Michael Lalonde found Carson Ridener for a two-point conversion in overtime to give Oak Harbor a 29-28 win over the Tigers; and the barrage of 27 consecutive points in the win over Genoa.
“I am very proud of our team and the consistency that they played with all season. We accomplished our goal of winning the last SBC Bay Division championship and were also fortunate to get a win over our rival Genoa in the playoffs,” said Oak Harbor coach Mike May. “More importantly, I am proud of the work ethic and character of our team. We were a football team that enjoyed being around each other and continued to get better every week.
“One of our main goals each season is to protect our borders with Port Clinton and Genoa. After our loss to Genoa in the regular season, I think we got better each week and as a result, we were a different team when we met them in Week 11,” he said. “Our matchup with Port Clinton in Week 10 was an exciting game that we were fortunate enough to win. The highlight of the PC game was Evan Hall, who is a senior captain that broke his ankle before Week 1, made the game-saving sack on the last play of the game. I will never forget the environment in Rocket Stadium when we went for two and made it to win the game (against Huron). That was a huge win for us, and the kids did a great job executing that play.”
A number of players had fantastic seasons in the process — Lalonde, Ridener, WR Jaqui Hayward, WR Hayden Buhro, DL Jacob Ridener and LB Garry Brooks.
Lalonde, who is just a sophomore, completed 135-of-174 passes, good for a completion percentage of 78%, for 1,469 yards to go with 18 touchdowns and six interceptions. Hayward was a jack-of-all-trades, playing wide receiver and running back while rushing 80 times for 879 yards and 17 touchdowns and catching 34 passes for 451 yards and four scores. He led the Bay Division with 24 touchdowns and three two-point conversions, good for a total of 150 points, and returned a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns.
Carson Ridener missed the first five games of the season but was a force in his final seven games, rushing 121 times for 577 yards and seven touchdowns, and he caught 15 passes for 139 yards. The Rocket offense reached another level when he came back from injury. (Dalton Witter filled in for Ridener for the early part of the season, rushing 70 times for 339 yards and four touchdowns.) Ridener’s brother, Jacob, was a force on defense, finishing seventh in the conference with 95 tackles and broke a school record with 15 sacks, easily the most in the Bay Division.
Buhro carried the ball 53 times for 452 yards and 11 touchdowns, caught 46 passes for 621 yards and eight scores and finished with 66 tackles on defense. He was fourth in the league with 19 touchdowns and had 1,399 yards of total offense. And sophomore Garry Brooks finished with 82 tackles and two interceptions.
“We were very fortunate to have a lot of playmakers on the team. Our skill players are almost all multi-sport athletes, and it shows on Friday nights,” said May. “We did battle some injuries this season, but our athletic ability allowed us to move some of our players around to fill in some positions.”
In the win over the Comets, the Rockets, seeded sixth in Region 18, trailed 7-0 before scoring 27 straight points to go up by 20 points, only to see Genoa respond by scoring two touchdowns to cut the deficit to 27-21.
But Oak Harbor responded and held off the Comets. Lalonde completed 14-of-15 passes for 269 yards and four touchdowns, Hayward carried the ball 12 times for 118 yards and three scores and caught two passes for 86 yards and a touchdown, Buhro caught nine passes for 154 yards and three scores and Carson Ridener had 26 carries for 128 yards.
The victory against Port Clinton was a back-and-forth affair that saw Ridener score on a 15-yard run with 7:02 to play to account for the final scoring. A key play came with 12 seconds to play in the first half when Tyler Thompson picked up a squib kick and ran 65 yards for a touchdown to give the Rockets an 18-15 lead.
But the most exciting win came when the Rockets held off Huron in overtime. In the second quarter, Oak Harbor couldn’t stop the Tiger offense and fell behind 21-14 at halftime. But the defense tightened up in the second half and didn’t allow Huron to score until overtime when Beau Harkelroad caught a 6-yard touchdown pass from Dylan Hohler. The extra point made it 28-21 before Ridener scored on a 5-yard run and then caught the conversion from Lalonde to win the game.
The Rockets will lose a talented group of seniors, but they will return the vast majority of their production.
Buhro is a senior, as are Brandon Conners, Judson Overmyer, Trent Wilson, Keegan Witt, Lukas Lieske, Christian Paul, Leyton Losie, Sam Sensueler, Ian Arias, Zach Clune, Gavin Bolyard and Ric Edinger.
“I absolutely love this senior class. They are a class that struggled early on in seventh and eighth grade, but they stayed together and continued to work hard,” May said. “They started their high school football years with a league championship in ‘19 and ended with a league championship in ‘22. They are an excellent example to the underclassmen that hard work, and having great character pays off,” said May. “The majority of our seniors were not starters on offense or defense, but they played major roles on scout teams during the week and on special teams on Friday nights.
“This was a special group of young men,” he said.


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