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Published: Friday, 10/29/2004

Reaching for the top: Toledo Christian eyes first TAAC title share

BY DONALD EMMONS
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
From left, Jacob Vugrinac has 50-plus tackles, Matt Orr has 534 yards rushing, Ben Holt averages 10 yards per catch, and quarterback Dan Newman has 650 yards rushing and 688 passing. From left, Jacob Vugrinac has 50-plus tackles, Matt Orr has 534 yards rushing, Ben Holt averages 10 yards per catch, and quarterback Dan Newman has 650 yards rushing and 688 passing.
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An unprecedented win over Northwood a few Fridays ago stands as the most significant accomplishment in the relatively short history of the football program at Toledo Christian. (See The Blade football poll below.)

No team in the Toledo Area Athletic Conference had ever beaten Northwood since it joined the conference four years ago.

But a win over Ottawa Hills tonight could stir up further discussion about the most notable moment for the Eagles.

Toledo Christian, 5-4 overall and 2-1 in the TAAC, is locked in a four-way tie for first place in the conference. A win secures a share of the title for the first time. A win over the Green Bears (2-1, 3-5 TAAC) also provides the first six-win season.

Furthermore, Toledo Christian would finish the season as the only team in the conference over .500.

"This is our biggest game in our small history," Toledo Christian coach Mike Snyder said. "It's really big."

The Eagles had to scale a few notable hurdles to reach this point, the biggest its 13-6 overtime win over Northwood.

"That was a big win for our program," Snyder said. "It's the turning point for us to get to the next level."

It also led to the point where four out of the five football-playing TAAC schools have a chance to be champs. Toledo Christian, Northwood, Ottawa Hills and Cardinal Stritch are all tied for first place with 2-1 records.

"It was difficult for our kids and coaches," Northwood coach Ken James said of the loss that ended a string of 15 straight TAAC victories. "The bottom line is [Toledo Christian] played well and beat us. They really deserved it."

The Eagles' progress has been a steady process, the result of hard work and patience.

The Eagles' first varsity season produced a 3-7 record in 1999. They were 4-6 in 2000, 1-8 in 2001, followed by back-to-back 5-5 campaigns.

The Eagles, who returned 17 starters and 21 letterwinners from last season, anticipated doing something special this fall.

"Every year it seems we've gotten a little better," Snyder said.

Conference rivals haven't been caught off guard.

"They've been good in junior high for a while, so we knew they were improving," James said. "It's pretty much been a natural progression. [Snyder] has done a nice job over there building the program and I think they'll continue to get better."

The goal has always been to contend for the TAAC championship. But when the Eagles started out as a junior varsity program only six years ago, they were realistic about their status. In the past they hoped to be able to compete well enough to avoid embarrassment.

Snyder credits senior leadership for their ability to contend.

Dan Newman, a 6-0, 187-pound quarterback, has been steady.

He runs a 4.5 40-yard dash and has rushed for 650 yards and thrown for 688.

Matt Orr (5-10, 195) has provided 534 yards rushing and has scored seven touchdowns.

Ben Holt (5-9, 160) has averaged better than 10 yards per catch to lead the receivers.

Defensively, the Eagles have leaned on middle linebacker Jacob Vugrinac (6-1, 220). He has more than 50 tackles and three interceptions.

"It's like he's always in the middle of everything happening on defense," Snyder said.

Newman's and Vugrinac's play has not gone entirely unnoticed from those outside of the TAAC. Scouts representing Ivy League schools (Princeton, Dartmouth, Penn) have shown interest in Newman and Vugrinac.

It's further proof that Toledo Christian's program, which has previously produced just one college player, is heading in the right direction.

"As our program has progressed we've gotten more and more people looking at what we're doing," Snyder said. "Hopefully, more and more [college scouts] will come."

Contact Donald Emmons at:

demmons@theblade.com

or 419-724-6302.



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