A case could be made that the center of northwest Ohio s football playoff universe can be found in the cornfields of Henry County.
That s because three of that county s four football teams Liberty Center, Napoleon and Patrick Henry will host first-round playoff games this weekend. No other area county will host more playoff contests this weekend.
And only Lucas County has more playoff teams with six. But Lucas County has five times as many teams with 20.
Holgate was the only Henry County team that missed the playoffs, and the Tigers annually get a measure of revenge during basketball season.
There s no magic scheme that the three Henry County playoff teams have used to combine for a 27-3 record, since they all feature different types of offenses and defenses.
Patrick Henry (10-0) has used a powerful West Coast offense to outscore opponents 474-133. The Patriots scored 355 of those points in the first half, meaning the starters have been on the field for the fourth quarter just twice all season.
Quarterback Zack George has been the triggerman for the offense, passing for 2,047 yards and 28 touchdowns while throwing just one interception. His main targets have been two-time All-Ohio receiver Marc Krauss, who has caught 36 passes for 642 yards and 11 TDs, and Brian Yarnell, who leads the team with 37 receptions and 809 yards while running for 11 scores.
Josh Strub provides balance for the offense. He has rushed for 1,074 yards and 20 TDs.
Napoleon and Liberty Center both rely on the running game, but even those two offenses differ.
Napoleon (8-2) relies on the power running of tailback Brad Weaver, who has ground out 1,163 yards and 12 touchdowns despite missing a game. Weaver s running opens things up for the Wildcat passing attack, which has produced 10 TDs on just 49 receptions.
On defense Napoleon hopes to regain the early form that saw it allow just 55 points in its first five games. Once the Division III Wildcats entered Greater Buckeye Conference play and faced four D-I schools as well as Division II Sandusky they allowed 147 points in five contests.
Meanwhile, Liberty Center (9-1) features team speed that few schools can match. Tate Slee has run for 951 yards and 15 touchdowns to lead the Tigers Wing-T attack, while Bret Babcock has added 378 yards and six scores. The success of the running game has allowed quarterback Brian Babcock to throw for 1,032 yards and 12 TDs, six of them to Kasey Bodenbender.
The Tiger defense has been stellar this season. Excluding the 55 points LC allowed to Patrick Henry, the Tigers have given up just 110 points in the other nine contests, including six games where their opponents scored 13 or fewer points.
Wauseon s Mark Emans saw his team lose to all three schools in fact, those were the Indians only three losses. He said one factor that helped all three Henry County programs develop a winning tradition was continuity within their coaching staffs.
The head coaches [at those schools] have been there a long time, and their assistants stay there a long time, Emans said. The better programs are the ones that keep their assistants together.
Rex Lingruen is the dean of Henry County football coaches, having been at Liberty Center for 21 seasons. Bill Inselmann has led the Patriots for 15 years, while John Snoad has been at Napoleon for only 12 seasons.
Inselmann said that coaching continuity helps the communications among staff members.
Good communications helps coaches make adjustments in games, in season and even in the off-season, he said. It s so important to have good communication to made good adjustments, and to make them quickly. And for good communication, there s no substitute for experience.
The second factor all three coaches said helped drive their teams was the tradition each school has built over the years.
Liberty Center has made 11 playoffappearances, including 10 in the last 15 seasons. Patrick Henry s fourth straight berth gives the Patriots eight appearances. Napoleon has made the playoffs seven times. All of them qualified last year.
I can only speak for the tradition here, and the expectation is that we ll field good, competitive football teams here, Snoad said. I know those two other schools have done a great job of developing that as well.
For PH and LC, that dominance has extended into their play in the Northwest Ohio Athletic League. Patrick Henry won this year s crown, giving it four straight and six since 1996, while Liberty Center won or shared the title four times from 1998 to 2001.
We ve worked extremely hard to get where we have, Lingruen said. There s a lot of pride [in this community] to see what we have built here.
All three county coaches were quick to credit both their assistants and their players, both past and present, for the success.
I think there are two things at work here, Inselmann said. One, I think we all have had a lot of consistency in our coaching staffs. And two, I think all three schools have gone on a good run of talent right now.
Snoad agreed, adding, I ve lived here 12 years, and I ve found Henry County kids to be tough, hard-nosed kids. And their work ethic is very strong.
Contact John Wagner at:email@example.com or 419-724-6481.