The Ottawa Hills football team entered this season with some realistic goals.
After finishing 5-5 a year ago, the Green Bears wanted to finish with a winning record this season. And they wanted to win the Toledo Area Athletic Conference outright after sharing the league crown in 2004.
Now that OH is 7-2 and 5-0 in the TAAC heading into the final game of the season, those objectives have been replaced.
"When we began the season, we knew we could be pretty good," lineman Eric McChesney said. "We never dreamed we would be as good as we are now. Reaching that goal [of winning the TAAC] has somewhat diminished because we're know we're capable of it.
"It hasn't become being the best in the TAAC - it has become being the best in the state."
Proving that the Green Bears are the best in the state won't be easy, though, because Ottawa Hills may have picked a bad year to have a great year.
OH enters play tonight with 10.8388 computer points. Last season that point total would have virtually locked up the Green Bears' state playoff berth in Region 22 of Division VI; this season, there's a chance a win over Toledo Christian tonight won't be enough to secure a spot in the postseason.
OH's problem is that the makeup of the region has changed, and the influx of quality teams has made it much tougher than in years past.
"We can have a great season, and we could finish ninth [in the computer rankings]," OH coach Chris Hardman said. "So you don't want to hang your hat on that. Our No.●1 goal is to win the TAAC outright. If that allows us to play into the playoffs, the Green Bears will be ready to go."
One key to the team's success has been the offense, led by senior quarterback Sam Miller. The TAAC's player of the year last season, Miller has thrown for 1,716 yards and 19 TDs this year.
Aaron Crooks has caught 46 passes for 781 yards and eight TDs, while tailback Matt Netter provides balance with 752 rushing yards and seven TDs.
But a big difference from last season has been the team's focus on one thing: the next game.
"We thought we could win the TAAC, but the goal always was just to win the next game," Miller said. "Yeah, we wanted to go into the playoffs - we've said that since Week 1. But the first goal always is to win the TAAC, so if we accomplish that hopefully everything else will fall into place."
Netter, a senior, said that dream of making the state playoffs is one that has been built in part by having underclassmen fill roles around the seniors.
"[Before the season a] few of the players did stand up and say they wanted to make it to the playoffs," Netter said. "Our seniors have had a few rough years, a few years below .500, and this year has been a standout year."
McChesney said the playoff fervor has grown as Ottawa Hills has won five of its last six.
"Some of the guys have been going crazy about it," he said. "Every lunchtime you hear about it. It's building a lot of excitement around here."
But Hardman has made sure that talk hasn't followed his team onto the practice or playing field.
"We have not clinched a playoff spot, so therefore we don't even allow ourselves to go there," he said. "We have one thing that we can control, and that's how we perform Friday night. If we are fortunate enough to win, I think it will allow us to play on."
McChesney said he doesn't want to consider what happens if the Green Bears are denied a playoff berth.
"That would be extremely frustrating for some of the guys," McChesney said. "Some people have no idea how much heart these guys put into this, and how much they care about it. To see some of them break down and cry when they lose. .●.●. It would be terrible if we didn't get our chance [in the playoffs]."
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