HAMLER, Ohio - Sometimes the playoffs are called the "second" season or the "new" season.
At Patrick Henry the playoffs are called the "turf" season.
"We want to play on turf every season, because that means we've reached the second round of the playoffs," Patriots coach Bill Inselmann said. "If you [play on turf] a lot, it's probably not a big thing. But it's a big thing for our kids."
Patrick Henry's next opportunity to play on turf comes tonight when the Patriots face Maria Stein Marion Local in the Division V state semifinals. Kickoff at Findlay's Donnell Stadium is set for 7:30 p.m.
In the playoffs, first-round games are played at home sites, while the four rounds that follow are played on turf. So last season, when PH lost its first-round playoff game at Fairview, the defeat cost the Patriots a chance to play on turf.
"[That loss] lingered the whole off-season," quarterback Tom Busch said. "The two years before that we went to the state semifinals and the state championship. To lose in the first round was really upsetting for a lot of us.
"We thought about it all off-season. We worked really hard, and now we're back here."
The results of that work showed during the regular season, when Patrick Henry won its first nine games. The Patriots had already clinched at least a share of the Northwest Ohio Athletic League title and a playoff berth before their finale, when Wauseon sprang a 35-28 loss on PH.
"That game showed us we weren't invincible," senior tackle Jesse Spangler said. "Up until then we hadn't really been challenged, and that [loss] really motivated us heading into the playoffs. It showed us we couldn't take a play off."
Inselmann now admits he was concerned how his team would react to the loss.
"But I was pleased with how our kids reacted to the loss - they bounced back," he said. "They were hungry, they were fired up, and there was a passion injected into practice."
The players also noticed that change following the loss to the Indians, a change that has continued as the Patriots playoff run has gained steam.
"Everyone picked it up a lot [after the loss]," Busch said. "They didn't hang their heads as you might assume they would after a loss. They got back after it and worked a lot harder."
The results also were noticeable in the early rounds of the playoffs. Patrick Henry roared to a 42-0 victory over Liberty Center, followed by comfortable wins over Lima Central Catholic (34-14) and Liberty-Benton (44-27) to win the Region 18 title.
The Patriots ground out 1,032 yards rushing in those three contests, with senior halfback Drew Kuesel running for 548 yards and 12 touchdowns.
On the season Kuesel has run for 1,404 yards and 34 touchdowns, with Busch and fullback Gary Cole adding 996 and 789 yards, respectively.
Busch also has completed 114-of-188 passes for 1,983 yards and 16 touchdowns. His top targets are Zach Botjer, who has 36 catches for 785 yards, and Mitch Leonard, who has 32 receptions for 502 yards.
"Everything is clicking for us now," Botjer said. "We're not making a lot of mistakes, and we're playing with a lot of confidence right now."
That offense will be challenged by a stingy defense from Marion Local, now in its first season in Division V after winning the state crown in Division VI last season.
The Flyers have not allowed a single point in their first three playoff games to give them seven shutouts in a 13-0 season.
"We know they really take pride in their defense, and we really take pride in our defense," Spangler said. "The strengths of the two teams are going to butt heads."
Marion Local has good balance on offense, with Ben Schaefer having gained 1,233 yards rushing with scoring 25 times while QB Chris Stucke has added 1,588 yards and 20 TDs in the air.
Stucke's top targets are Jason Wolters, who has 33 catches for 655 yards, and Alex Moeller, who adds 31 catches for 460 yards.
"We're fired up for the challenge - we're excited to get a chance to take it to them," Botjer said.
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