OAK HARBOR Keeping it simple has kept Oak Harbor s football program on solid footing throughout Gary Quisno s 28 years as head coach, and it has kept the Rockets perfect through 11 games this year.
As the Sandusky Bay Conference champions prepare for their biggest test to date in the second round of the Division IV playoffs a showdown against defending state champion Coldwater (11-0) not much will change for the Rockets in terms of preparation or strategy.
Fourth-ranked Oak Harbor and second-ranked Coldwater are two of the seven unbeaten teams alive in the D-IV playoffs. No other division has more than four unbeaten teams still playing.
By battering Bellville Clear Fork 35-7 in the first round at home, the Rockets simply kept pace with their season average. They have outscored their 11 opponents 387-65 that s 35-6 per game.
But Coldwater is no average opponent. The Cavaliers have won 26 consecutive games, including a 33-9 victory over current No. 1 Youngstown Cardinal Mooney in last year s state final.
This is a huge challenge to take on the defending state champions [this early], Quisno said. But, the bottom line is, you re going to have to play them and beat them sooner or later if you want to get to that big [championship] game.
It just happens to be now, this week, so we have to go play our best game and see how it turns out.
Coldwater is in the postseason for the 12th time, including 10 straight berths. The Cavaliers were state runners-up in 1998 and 2000, and lost in the semis in 1995, 2001, and 2004.
But not much of that matters to an Oak Harbor team which plans to line it up tomorrow night just as it has all season.
We thought these two classes, back to back, would make for a good year, Quisno said of his seniors and juniors. The seniors especially have been motivated because a lot of them had played for two years.
The fact that we weren t very successful the last two years [5-5 and 4-6] was kind of uncharacteristic of Oak Harbor. I think that motivated them. We started the year talking about bringing back the glory and we ve done that.
Since 1980, Quisno has used a wing-T offense, an old-school scheme which relies heavily on blocking technique, timing, and hard-nosed running.
We ve had good running backs here, Quisno said. In this offense, you can run three of them at a time, so you kind of spread things around.
It s not the modern, stylish offense that everybody else is in, but that s OK. When we started running the wing-T everybody else was in the I-formation. It s been good to us and we ve stuck with it.
In Coldwater, the Rockets will face a highly-efficient spread offense.
Ball control will be the key for us, Quisno said. We want our offense on the field and their offense on the sideline. It ll be important to keep moving the chains.
The Rockets beefy offensive line includes center Jamie Blair (6-2, 248 pounds), guards Josh Maloney (6-1, 210), Brent Scherf (5-10, 227), tackles Jeff Chambers (6-0, 265) and Drew Young (6-7, 302), and tight end Tom Laderach (6-2, 215).
We all play as a team, Blair said. There really are no standouts. We all do anything we can to win. We ve been together, most of us, since Pee Wees. Some joined in seventh grade. We ve just set our goals high since then.
The last couple seasons have been kind of low for us, and we just worked really hard in the offseason so we could do better.
Senior quarterback Adam Grof (41 of 70 passing, 605 yards, 6 TDs) has many options in his backfield, which has churned out 3,155 yards and 46 touchdowns on the ground.
Senior Aaron McCune leads the rushing attack with 1,016 yards and 11 TDs on just 108 carries (school-record 9.4 average) followed by senior Jake Lipstraw (186 carries, 941 yards, 14 TDs).
Ever since we were in Pee Wee [football] we were pretty good, McCune said. We said, Just wait until we re seniors. We re going to change things around here. We re a lot stronger together than we are apart.
Senior Andy Warns (339 yards, 6 TDs) and juniors Tom Baker (274 yards, 3 TDs) and David Ulery (175 yards, 3 TDs) add depth. Laderach (12 catches, 204 yards, four TDs) is the top receiver.
On the defensive side, the Rockets have been even more impressive, yielding just 117 yards (44 rushing) per game.
Tackles Wade Ishmael and Chambers and ends Spencer Skinner and Nathan Druckenmiller make up the front wall.
Wade is quick and he s as good at getting off a block as anybody I ve ever had, Quisno said.
Ishmael is a transfer from North Baltimore. His father, John, was a two-way starter at Oak Harbor in 1982-83.
Senior Matt Bloomer, Lipstraw and Ulery make up the linebacking corps.
Our defense has played so well all season, said Lipstraw. The front four is awesome. We get going pretty good when our offense and defense plays good.
The safeties are McCune (2 interceptions) and senior Nick Clemons (3 INTs), and senior Stephen Sprouse (4 INTs) and junior Kirk Tank (2 INTs) fill the secondary.
Quisno has a 214-79 record at Oak Harbor, including five Sandusky Bay Conference titles plus three prior in the Suburban Lakes League. The 1984 SLL champion Rockets were 10-0, but did not gain a playoff berth.
Oak Harbor is in the playoffs for the seventh time and is 8-6 all-time. The Rockets last berth came in 2002, and their best run was a 12-2 state semifinal finish in 1999, when they fell 21-0 to SBC rival Sandusky Perkins, which went on to win the title.