For the second time in three years, Midland Athletic League champion Hopewell-Loudon finds itself 13-0 and one win away from reaching the Division VI state football championship game.
In 2005, the Chieftains were turned back 31-7 by eventual state champion Delphos St. John. And, if fourth-year coach Brian Colatruglio's top-ranked Chieftains are to advance this time, they have another hurdle to clear on the way to the state final. The D-VI title game is at 11 a.m. on Dec. 1 at Fawcett Stadium in Canton.
That hurdle is 6-foot-4, 190-pound Ada quarterback Zac Dysert, who has taken the unranked, 9-4 Bulldogs on the school's deepest ever playoff run.
What scares Colatruglio about Dysert?
"A lot of things," said Colatruglio, who is 48-4 at H-L. "The biggest thing is that he's so big and strong. You can get pressure on him but it doesn't necessarily faze him. He's strong in the pocket, and he breaks a lot of tackles. He makes plays out of the pocket, not necessarily where the play was designed."
Before this year, the Bulldogs never won a game in the postseason. And, winning one this year looked to be a long shot in Week 7 of the regular season. That's when their Miami University-bound QB suffered an injury to his throwing hand.
Dysert, who has eclipsed the 10,000-yard mark in career passing over his four-year varsity career, missed the final three quarters of a 23-14 Ada loss at Convoy Crestview on Oct. 5, sat out a 30-7 win over Allen East the next week, then was limited to receiver and linebacker duty as Ada closed the regular season with Northwest Conference losses to Delphos Jefferson (42-7) and Lima Central Catholic (34-7).
But Dysert returned to his QB spot for the playoffs and has gotten straight A's in the leading the Bulldogs to wins over Antwerp (41-12), Ayersville (51-50) and Arlington (31-28). Last week he was 18-of-34 passing for 314 yards and four TDs.
"I don't know that you stop him," Colatruglio said. "We're going to try to slow him down. We can't give up big plays, and we have to get some pressure on him. Also, we have to control the ball and score points."
For the season, in under 10 full games at QB, Dysert has completed 208 of 326 passes for 3,286 yards and 31 TDs with eight interceptions. He has also rushed 105 times for 747 yards and eight TDs.
Dysert's top receiving targets are junior Kyle Baker (85 catches, 1,339 yards, 14 TDs) and senior Nate Vermillion (69 catches, 1,288 yards, 14 TDs).
The Chieftains have plenty of firepower themselves as they resume on their playoff mission.
"We're trying to get to the next stage," said Colatruglio. "That's what it's all about now. They say success breeds success and, with the success we've had here lately, each group wants to get as far or farther than the ones before. Nobody wants to be the first group that takes a step back."
The Chieftains' balanced offense is triggered by 6-4, 180-pound junior QB Tyler Brown (150-of-238 passing, 2,314 yards, 30 TDs, 8 INTs).
Senior running back Adam Brickner has carried 268 times for 1,816 yards and scored 24 TDs for Hopewell-Loudon, and receivers Nate Siebenaller (59 catches, 657 yards, 6 TDs) and Lukas Schalk (34 catches, 753 yards, 15 TDs) are top aerial options.
The Chieftains are paced by at least one first-team all-district honoree at each level of the defense, with seniors Jake Frisch (lineman), Robbie Oldaker (linebacker) and Siebenaller (defensive back).
"Man for man, this may not be the most talent we've ever had," Colatruglio said. "But there's no doubt this is the best team we've had. These guys execute and do whatever we ask them to do, and they don't make many mistakes.
"There's a mutual trust. The kids trust the coaching staff because they see the success we've had, and they've bought into the program. And we coaches trust them also. They are all team guys and they're unselfish. Nobody cares who gets the credit."
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