Half of the eight teams in the Division IV, Region 12 playoff bracket entered Friday night’s first-round games with 10-0 records, including Genoa and top-ranked Kenton.
Lake is not one of those unbeaten teams, but that’s OK with first-year Flyers coach Mark Emans, who knows something about playoff football.
“It’s great for the kids to have an opportunity to go through this,” Emans said. “I’ve been through this a number of times. Lake hasn’t been there in a while. To see them get this experience, it’s great to watch.”
|Speedy Lake sophomore wide receiver Adam Duncan
breaks downfield. (Photo courtesy of Innovations Portrait
Emans was in his fourth season at Wauseon when he led the Indians to the Division III state championship game in Massillon. Wauseon finished off a 14-0 season with a 13-10 win over Ironton in the title game.
Emans said the Indians’ program was “average” when he took over in 1990.
“They were middle of the road - 4-6, 6-4,” Emans said. “It was not a decimated program at all. It had traditionally had success in the 1980s until they went through a string of three different coaches, and when I got there they got some stability.”
Emans’ first Lake squad took an 8-2 record into a Friday night’s first-round game at Caledonia River Valley (10-0), which is located in Marion County. The Flyers, the No. 8 seed in Region 12, are making the third playoff appearance in school history. They also qualified in 2000 and ‘01 and are 0-2 all-time.
River Valley, a member of the Mid-Ohio Conference, is the No. 1 seed in the region this year and is making its fifth playoff appearance and third in a row. They are 0-4 all-time in the postseason.
“They have a nice program going,” Emans said. “They play in a tough conference and it will be a tough test for us. The toughest test is we’re going on their home turf. Obviously, that team is going to have that advantage. We’re going to have to adjust to that.”
Emans said he sees some similarities between the program he took over at Wauseon and the one he inherited at Lake.
“Kids are kids, and they have similarities,” he said. “They’re competitors, just like the Wauseon kids. They have a good work ethic. Very coachable. Each year is a little different. Year to year, from Wauseon to Lake, you have to mold the team’s personality with each group.”
Emans’ goal this season was for the Flyers to be able to run the ball much better than they did in 2012. They did just that, rushing for 2,093 yards and passing for 2,165. Emans said early-season wins over Fremont St. Joe and Northwood gave the team much needed confidence.
“Honestly, when I took over in June I thought this was a year to set up for next year,” Emans said. “I thought next year would be our go-to year because we have so many sophomores and juniors. We only start three seniors on offense and two or three on defense. I thought this was a two-year project. This was kind of very nice. I don’t want to say a surprise, but a turnaround that happened a little quicker than I thought.”
Brandon Short leads the Flyers in rushing, with 871 yards and 11 touchdowns on 110 carries, but junior quarterback Jared Rettig orchestrates the offense. Rettig, who threw for 2,838 yards and 32 touchdowns a year ago, has completed 122 of 186 passes for 2,141 yards and 29 touchdowns with five interceptions this season.
“He was every bit as advertised when I came in,” Emans said. “We switched our offense and I had a nice sit-down meeting early on and told him, ‘Your numbers might not be as good as last year, but I think we can be a better team.’ He said, ‘Coach, as long as we win, I don’t care.’ Jared is very team-oriented. He’s not worried about stats.”
Lake’s defensive leader is senior inside linebacker Nick Walsh, who had 113 tackles, three caused fumbles and three fumble recoveries during the regular season.
“He’s by far our best defensive player,” Emans said. “He has a high motor and he loves contact. He has that linebacker mentality and he’s very aggressive. Those are qualities you need in a good linebacker.”