In its own right, the Northwest Ohio Athletic League has performed admirably on a state level in a variety of sports in recent years, including football.
Three current NWOAL football coaches can boast of winning state championships - Archbold s John Downey (1988), Wauseon s Mark Emans (1993), and Liberty Center s Rex Lingruen (1997) - and two more are still in the chase for titles this weekend as the Ohio playoffs hit the regional finals.
But, when head coach Bill Inselmann of NWOAL champion Patrick Henry (11-1) and counterpart Mike Vicars of league runner-up Delta (11-1) meet their next respective postseason challenges, their teams will be butting helmets with teams from Ohio s most successful football circuit, the Midwest Athletic Conference.
Patrick Henry will take on third-place MAC finisher Delphos St. John s (10-2) at 7:30 tomorrow night in the Division V, Region 18 championship game at Findlay s Donnell Stadium. Delta will battle MAC runner-up Coldwater (11-1) at 7 on Saturday night in the Division IV, Region 14 final at Lima Senior Stadium.
They are two of the four MAC teams to qualify for the playoffs in three different divisions, and all four are still alive.
MAC champion Versailles (12-0), the state s top-ranked D-IV team, plays second-ranked Clarksville Clinton-Massie (12-0) for the Region 16 title Saturday, and fourth-place Maria Stein Marion Local (9-3) takes on defending Division VI state runner-up Hardin Northern (11-1) in the D-VI, Region 24 final tomorrow night.
A fifth MAC school, perennial state power St. Henry (6-4), which ended fifth in the MAC this season, placed ninth in the regional computer rankings, narrowly missing the D-V playoffs.
The Midwest Athletic Conference and the football playoffs seem to go hand in hand. The Ohio playoff system began in 1972, the same year the MAC was formed, although competion started with the 1973-74 school year. Since that time, no Ohio conference can match the playoff success of the current nine-school MAC alignment.
Consider the following:
t The top six schools in the MAC - Coldwater, Delphos St. John s, Marion Local, Minster, St. Henry, and Versailles (which joined in 2001) have combined for 52 total playoff appearances with 15 state titles and six runner-up finishes, all since 1988.
t The MAC schools listed above have posted a combined 133-40 won-lost record in playoff games alone (an average of 22-7 per team), all since 1981.
t All four playoff qualifiers from the MAC this year closed the regular season ranked among the top 11 teams in their respective divisions in the final Ohio Associated Press poll. Versailles, a five-time state champion (1990, 1993-1995, 1998), and Coldwater were Nos. 1 and 3, respectively in Division IV. Delphos St. John s, which won three straight state titles (1997-99), ended No. 9 in D-V. And, Marion Local, a state champ in 2000 and 2001, was ranked No. 11 in D-VI.
Liberty Center, the NWOAL s strongest football program over the last 15 years, got its taste of MAC football prowess. The Tigers lost to St. Henry in the state semifinals in 1992 and 1999, and fell to Versailles in the 1998 D-V state final. Last year, NWOAL co-champion Patrick Henry, was beaten at home 40-7 by Delphos St. John s in the first round of the D-V playoffs.
“I just think they ve got tremendous tradition and tremendous community support, Inselmann said of the MAC teams, “and they ve got some excellent athletes.
“The Delphos Mystique definitely overwhelmed us last year, Inselmann said. “They were a very physical football team and their size was difficult to match. Another advantage is their numbers. They two-platoon at all but one position. Most of the teams in our league have several guys playing both ways. You re playing more upperclassmen, you re getting more quality reps in practice and, in the games, you re fresher.
Vicars acknowledges the MAC s success, but said he hasn t dwelled on it and is pleased his team managed to break its own “SBC Mystique in this year s playoffs by edging Sandusky Bay Conference champion Huron 31-28. Delta lost to past SBC champions Sandusky Perkins (in 2000) and Margaretta (in 2001).
“Good competition breeds better competition, Vicars said of the MAC. “Obviously they ve had some great players, with guys like [St. Henry s] Jeff Hartings, Bob Hoying, and Jim Lachey going on to the NFL. That s one element of it. But good competition forces you to get better. It s what forced us to get better the past two weeks. Before that, in the past several years, Liberty Center did it to us and Patrick Henry did it to us.