By TED RADICK
Marion Local has made its bones over the years behind a stingy defense and a pound-it-down-your throat running game.
That defense is still there, but in Friday’s Division VI state semifinal the McComb Panthers will face a different Marion Local offensive attack.
Game time Friday is 7:30 p.m. at Harmon Field in Wapakoneta.
“Traditionally, we’ve been a team that prides itself on running the ball,” said Tim Goodwin, 151-40 in 13 years as Marion Local head coach. “This year, we’ve been a little bit more diverse offensively with our sets and so forth.”
There’s good reason for that. Junior quarterback Adam Bertke, after leading the Flyers (11-2) to the Division VI state championship a year ago, has firmly established himself as a premier quarterback in the state of Ohio.
Not just Division VI, mind you, but all of Ohio.
Bertke, 6-foot-6 and 200 pounds, threw for 2,202 yards and 25 touchdowns last year and followed with a junior campaign of 1,872 yards and 12 TDs. He’s already been offered a scholarship by the University of Toledo after completing 140 of 229 passes (61.1 percent) this season.
“He’s a big guy and he throws a really nice ball,” McComb coach Kris Alge said.
Marion Local still runs effectively. Sophomore tailback Jacy Goettemoeller has 1,472 yards and 24 touchdowns and Bertke has added 894 yards and 15 TDs. But the Flyers have taken advantage of Bertke’s athleticism to run multiple formations including the spread.
“Coach Goodwin has gone to the spread a lot more,” Alge said. “They’ll leak their back out, where before they would run a double-tight and pound you.
“They use a lot of formations. That’s something we have to get our defense ready for, the different formations and the unbalanced things they do.”
“It’s easier to run your quarterback out of the shotgun than under center, so that’s the main reason we went to shotgun,” Goodwin said. “He’s very experienced and, like I said, he’s a talented kid, so we wanted to keep the ball in his hands a little bit more this year.”
Goettemoeller, meanwhile, presents a different challenge for McComb (13-0) than last week’s tailback, Tyler Jettinghoff of Delphos St. John’s. Where Jettinghoff was a big bruiser with speed, the 5-10, 165-pound Goettemoeller is more of a scat-back type of runner.
“Marion Local has big linemen, they run that sweep and you can’t see him really well,” Alge said. “He’s good at hiding back there, and then he’ll pop out at you. You have to be ready for the cutback.”
Goodwin said Marion Local runs a 3-4 base defense with various looks off of that.
“We have a couple linebackers who were first team all-league who are pretty good, and we’re doing the best we can to fill around them,” he said.
Pretty good, indeed. Both linebackers, senior Alaric Keller (6-2, 215) and senior Kyle Mescher (6-2, 225) have racked up more than 100 tackles this season.
“That just means we’ve had to defend a lot of snaps,” Goodwin said, laughing.
Alge knows better.
“Defensively, they’re fast,” Alge said. “Against spread teams here lately, they’re sending the house. They hope they can get to you before you get the ball off.
“They have tall ends, 6-2 and 6-3, sometimes they’ll bring seven but most every play they’re going to bring at least six to try and create pressure. They’re very aggressive and they play fast on defense.”
Alge thinks the Panthers will have to establish a run game to offset some of that Marion Local blitzing.
“We have to a better job with our backs picking up linebackers,” he said. “Last week, I felt our line blocked well, but our backs were missing some of their assignments when we were in the wishbone. Our backs have to do a better job of finding the right people to block.”
Marion Local returned just six seniors from last year’s state championship squad, and the young Flyers may be ahead of schedule this season.
“It’s been a very satisfying year. We knew we were going to have to retool after last year, we only had six seniors on the roster and one’s been hurt, so we’re playing with five seniors,” Goodwin said. “We don’t have a lot of juniors this year, either. We’re making do with eight sophomores and a freshman in the starting lineup. They’re talented kids, but they’re young and we know we’re going to get a very mature McComb team.”
Goodwin dismissed any notion that the tough regular season in the Midwest Athletic Conference will help his team now.
“It does help you improve, but now that we’re to this point it’s not going to help us beat McComb,” he said “It’s not like we’re picking up the best players from Minster and St. Henry and bringing them with us. I wish we could.
“We are who we are, and the last time we played a BVC school was our worst playoff loss since I’ve been here. That was back in 2008 to Liberty-Benton (a 35-0 loss); we got stomped in the state semis.
“We’re obviously hoping to play better this year.”
By TED RADICK