MINSTER — Minster and Cuyahoga Heights will be playing in state championship games for the second consecutive year on Friday. This time, one is guaranteed to win.
Minster lost 24-6 to Warren JFK in the Division VII state title game last year, while Cuyahoga Heights fell 21-17 to Marion Local in the D-VI game.
Most of the starters on Friday, though, will be players who were on the sidelines last year. Minster (10-4) has six new starters on defense and seven on offense, while Cuyahoga Heights coach Al Martin said his team has six new starters on offense and nine on defense.
“We kind of talked all year long about writing your own story,” Minster coach Geron Stokes said. “We think that’s the coolest thing about life. You get to decide, choose what happens to you and you get to write your own story.
“Our guys aren’t stupid. They’ve learned from the past, and watched and seen how other guys have done it. But our whole mission is to maximize our group. We want to get the most, absolute most out of our guys and squeeze every drop out of them.
“We really don’t chase state titles and talk about it at all. We just talk about how much can we care, how much can we love each other and how much can we invest together and see how much better we can get throughout the year.”
Minster’s offense has been on fire throughout its playoff run after some struggles in regular season. The Wildcats average 325 yards and 26.4 points per game.
Senior quarterback Jared Huelsman, who was the Midwest Athletic Conference offensive player of the year last year, has directed the team’s offensive success. Huelsman has rushed for 1,617 and 23 touchdowns and has thrown for 1,951 yards with 16 touchdowns.
Stokes said the improvement of the offensive line has helped improve production as the season has went on, but he credited Hueslman for leading the squad.
“Sometimes, he looks like a goon throwing the football, but he finds a way,” Stokes said. “He’s one of our best defenders. He’s ‘Mr. Everything’ for us, and not just for football, but as a guy that stands for exactly what we believe in.”
Hueslman had one of his best games in a state semifinal last week against Norwalk St. Paul, which was the No. 1 ranked team in Div. VII in the final state poll. Huelsman ran for 278 yards and five touchdowns and threw for 90 yards and one score.
Stokes said Huelsman is also one of the team’s best defenders. Huelsman starts at outside linebacker and has 51.5 tackles and four interceptions to his credit.
“He’s a really good football player,” Stokes said, “but what I think people around the state could probably observe the most about him is, if they could follow him around for a day and watch how he interacts with people, is how he carries himself around people and acts as the leader of our football team. They would be amazed at the character he has. Everything, every success, every good positive play that he has out on the football field is a major credit to who he is as a person.
“… I love that kid. It sucks that Friday morning is our last game together.”
Martin said Minster’s physicality stuck out most while watching film.
“They’re extremely well-coached,” Martin said. “… They’re really physical and really big up front offensively. And (Huelsman) stands out. You can see his athletic confidence is so high. He just takes his time and reads his blocks. They do a nice job structurally of getting in spread formation, and if you’re spread out they run it right at you, and if you’re not spread out, he’s accurate enough to throw it out there and make big plays in the passing game.
The Redskins average 38 points per game and have seven players who were all-Ohio in Division VII. Stokes said the closest comparison of Cuyahoga Heights to one of Minster’s previous opponents is Marion Local.
“They’re unique,” Stokes said of the Redskins. “They’re pretty creative defensively with their stuff.”
The state championship games are back in Canton after a stint at Ohio Stadium from 2014 to 2016. Both squads played at Ohio State’s Columbus home last year, and though it’s a much farther drive for Minster than Cuyhoga Heights, neither coach said it’s a big deal where the games are played at.
“Our community really enjoyed it,” Martin said of last season’s title game at Ohio Stadium. “I’m really looking forward to it this year. You hear so much about Canton and the Hall of Fame, the tradition of football there.”