Three years ago, Gibsonburg football was in Cardinal Stritch Catholic's current predicament.
The Golden Bears were in rebuilding mode under a first-year head coach and searching for victories.
Fast forward to 2013 and it appears that Gibsonburg, led by Coach Steve Reser and quarterback Matt Tille, have one of the top teams in the Toledo Area Athletic Conference.
The Cardinals are hoping they can follow a path similar to the one the Bears have taken. The two teams face off this Friday night at Robert E. Krotzer Field in Gibsonburg.
|Gibsonburg players — front row — senior linemen Alex Garcia
(55) and Matt Lutzman (60) and wide receiver/defensive back
Isaih Arriaga (8). Back row — junior wide receiver/defensive
back Sam Kohler (20), senior lineman Jacob Auld (56), and
senior wide receiver/linebacker Adam Copley (12). (Photo
courtesy of Innovations Portrait
In 2010, Gibsonburg finished 0-10 in the final year of the Suburban Lakes League before moving to the TAAC. Since then, the Bears have gone a combined 11-13 with a 9-6 record in the league. Not a stellar record, but certainly an improvement.
On top of that, this is the year that Gibsonburg is expected to take that next step and compete for a TAAC title. Picked to finish second in the league before the season began in close pre-season voting by coaches, the Bears were 2-2 and 1-0 in the conference heading into last Friday’s match-up with Northwood, which may have decided the championship.
An opening win over Elmwood (35-13) saw Tille complete 9-of-12 passes for 190 yards and four touchdowns and run for another score. But a Week 2 loss to Lakota (14-6), a game that saw Tille leave in the first quarter because of an injury, followed by a loss to Fremont St. Joseph Central Catholic (33-13) in which backup quarterback Brent Hayward suffered a hip injury, left the team without two top gunslingers.
However, Gibsonburg bounced back, defeating Ottawa Hills, 29-0, in the TAAC opener to improve to 2-2. In the win over the Green Bears, Tille returned to complete 11-of-22 passes for 189 yards and two touchdowns, one to Isiah Arriaga and another to Adam Copley. Derek Angelone led the way with six catches for 78 yards and Josh Dyer and Troy Ickes each had one touchdown run.
“We're just playing it week by week,” Tille said. “We just have to come out and do our best. It's like we're playing ourselves — if we screw up and beat ourselves, there's nobody to blame but us. We just have to approach it that way it each week. If we do a better job on Friday nights, we'll be okay with how we played.”
Tille credits the offensive line with helping to establish a foundation.
“Our offensive line is our key,” he said “Any team in Ohio — you only go where the offensive line takes you. You go where the big boys take you.”
Despite the fact that the Bears are known for their spread offense, Tille says it is the defense that is just as, if not more, important to the team's success.
“It helps us so much,” he said. “If we don't have the momentum, I have confidence that the defense will pound them and it helps us when we don't have things going for us.”
Tille is particularly excited that his club is on the verge of reaching a new level that could see them competing for a league title and a spot in the playoffs.
“I'm really excited,” he said. “As a football team, we haven't been put in the position where we are right now. We don't know what it feels like. We're expecting a dog fight and hopefully we come out on the winning end.”
In the last two meetings, the Bears have won both times, last year by a 57-7 margin and the year before by a 12-0 mark.
Though Stritch is 0-4, they very well could be 2-2 like the Bears. Two of the Cardinals losses have come by a combined 11 points, one to Lakota (21-16) and another to Woodward (20-14). Stritch also played well at times against a much improved Danbury club in their 21-7 loss to the Lakers.
In the loss to the Raiders, a pick-six cost the Cardinals. In the game against the Polar Bears, Stritch blew an early lead before Woodward broke a 14-14 tie with a late touchdown.
First-year Stritch coach Brian Wical says if Cardinals can limit their mistakes, they'll give themselves a chance to win.
Wical took the job during the offseason after coaching at Lima Central Catholic, a program that consistently makes it to the postseason. LCC has been such a small school powerhouse, that the Northwest Conference asked the school to leave because of their domination over the other public schools.
LCC is without a league right now, but Wical wants to bring LCC’s gridiron mindset to Stritch.
To get that done, he knows he has his work cut for himself, being the team's third head coach in the last four years. The TAAC already has its share of title contenders in Northwood, Edon, now Gibsonburg, and Ottawa Hills has made it to the playoffs two years in a row. On top of that, there are teams like Danbury that are looking to climb up the conference ladder, and Toledo Christian, which often finds itself among the title chasers.