LaLonde reflects on another fine season for OH football

Yaneek Smith

Press Sports Editor

In the last six seasons, Oak Harbor football has had a tremendous run of success.
The Rockets have gone 54-14 (.794), won the program’s third regional championship, claimed four league titles — three in the Sandusky Bay Conference Bay Division and one in the Northern Buckeye Conference, had two undefeated regular seasons and went 8-4 in five playoff appearances.
This team was one of the finest in the history of the program, going 12-1, winning the NBC title in Oak Harbor’s first year in the league and advancing to the Division V regional semifinals before losing 45-14 to the second-ranked team in Ohio in perennial power Liberty Center.
It is the eighth team in the program’s storied history to advance at least as far as the regional semifinals, and the third one to do it under Mike May’s watch.
“Obviously, we wanted to go further (in the playoffs), but it was a solid season overall,” said Michael LaLonde, the team’s quarterback. “It was a great group of guys, and we all meshed together well. The senior class showed great leadership, and the junior class played a good part in the leadership role as well.”
It all started with LaLonde and RB/WR Jaqui Hayward — one of the most explosive players in team history — making big plays throughout the season. LaLonde was magnificent — completing 162-of-220 passes for 2,215 yards and 25 touchdowns and four interceptions — proving himself to be one of the best quarterbacks in the area, if not the state, while breaking program records for passing yards in a season, passing touchdowns in a season and tying the record for passing touchdowns in a game with four. As for Hayward, he was one of Ohio’s finest athletes, wreaking havoc both as a running back and as a wide receiver. Two years ago, Hayward was the quarterback of the team, and he did well there, but he really took off the last two seasons, especially this year, where he had 1,648 all-purpose yards and scored 24 touchdowns.
Dalton Witter and Carson Ridener, who missed some time due to an injury, were the workhorses at running back, and a number of receivers made their presence felt this year like Ethan Stokes, Jaxon Overmyer, Brayden Butzin and Wyatt Augsburger, while Garry Brooks, Jacob Sandwich and Jacob Ridener caught some passes as the tight ends.
“We had a ton of playmakers on this team in Jaqui, Ethan, Garry, Carson and Dalton,” said LaLonde. “All those guys were huge playmakers for us. They all made played when we needed them to. They’re all hard-working guys.”
The offensive line was a massive force, with Scottie Smith leading the way at center. Evan Hall and Garrett Lindsey were the guards and Kellen Bickelhaupt and Isaac Schulte were the tackles.
“They prided themselves on playing physical,” said LaLonde. “They were the most physical line I have played behind.”
It was something of an unusual season as the Rockets weren’t challenged very much until their matchup in the playoffs with the Tigers.
They beat Marengo Highland 41-7 in the second round of the playoffs following a 49-20 victory over Otsego in the opening round. The only other games that were competitive came against Genoa and Eastwood.
In the 21-0 win over the Comets in the Celestial Bowl, Oak Harbor only led 7-0 at halftime before LaLonde rolled to his right and found Ethan Stokes open for a 56-yard touchdown pass with 7:20 to play in the third quarter. The Rockets put the nail in Genoa’s coffin when LaLonde connected with Hayward on a 32-yard touchdown with 10:52 remaining in the game.
Hayward was brilliant, rushing for 151 yards and a touchdown and catching six passes for 72 yards and a score while LaLonde completed 12-of-14 passes for 175 yards and two touchdowns.
Facing the Eagles one week later, Oak Harbor defeated the Eagles in convincing fashion, 35-21, in week nine. Witter scored on three touchdown (10, 1, 1) runs, Hayward caught a 46-yard touchdown pass and LaLonde connected with Brooks on a 67-yard touchdown. After a scoreless first quarter, the Rockets went ahead, 14-0, led by seven points at halftime and went ahead, 21-7, on Brooks’ touchdown less than 20 seconds into the third quarter. From there, Oak Harbor led by at least 14 points for the rest of the game.
LaLonde was magnificent, completing 17-of-23 passes for 225 yards and two touchdowns, Witter ran 28 times for 123 yards and three scores and Hayward caught 10 passes for 102 yards and a touchdown.
On defense, Witter and Jacob Ridener were the defensive ends with Hall, Sandwisch, Dominic Wolf and Kaleb Wood rotating in at defensive tackle.
Brady Losie and Travis Bouyer were the outside linebackers and flanked Carson Ridener while Brooks (strong) and LaLonde (free) played safety and Caiden Lippus and Tyler Thompson were the cornerbacks.
The Rockets allowed more than 21 points just once during the season.
“We were successful because of how we ran to the ball. I think that was the most important thing,” said LaLonde. “We preached that every practice.
“Both Rideners played a huge role defensively at middle linebacker and defensive end. And I’d also say that Gary Brooks hit people, he hit people very hard.”
It was the final season for the group of 12 seniors, led by Hayward and Witter.
“These seniors were freshmen during the pandemic,” said May. “And they won us an SBC title and an NBC title. I’ll put this group high up there.”


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