ANNA — The only time most of Anna’s current starters got on the field last year was in the final minutes of the team’s 11 running-clock wins.
In their playoff opener on Saturday, they got to take the final minutes off and watch other second stringers wrap a running-clock win.
Anna earned its first running-clock victory of the season by beating Miami East 40-6 in a Division VI, Region 24 playoff game at Booster Field. The victory advances the Rockets (2-5) to a second-round matchup next Saturday at West Jefferson.
The Rockets lost 18 of their 22 starters off last year’s D-VI state title team to graduation and struggled through a tough Midwest Athletic Conference slate in regular season. They eeked out a 34-33 win over Parkway in Week 3, but their other five MAC games were all losses of 17 or more points.
But Saturday’s win looked like the average game for last year’s 14-1 squad. The Rockets had eight plays of 19 yards or more and amassed 391 yards of offense in the win while holding the Vikings (2-5) to 149 yards.
“This feels really good,” Anna junior quarterback Kohlten Carey said. “Earlier in the season, we had a couple of things, mistakes, that kept us from getting first downs and keep going. This feels really good.”
Carey completed 8-of-13 passes for 161 yards with four touchdowns and also ran for 139 yards and one TD on 11 carries. It was far and away the best performance thus far for Carey, who is one of the squad’s many first-year starters.
“We’re all getting used to each other,” Carey said. “We’ve got to work as a team. It kind of sucks to lose 22 seniors in one year. We have to get back to our form.”
Four Anna receivers each caught one TD pass. Ben Kovacs led the squad with four catches for 52 yards while Justin Richards caught two passes for 43 yards.
“All of our receivers are really good,” Carey said. “We’ve just got to find ways to get them the ball.”
Every team was made eligible for the playoffs this year by the OHSAA, which shortened the regular season to six weeks and expanded the playoffs to seven weeks. The association announced the COVID-19 related changes in August.
“It doesn’t really feel like (the playoffs) right now because it’s only Week 7, but it feels nice to get a first playoff win at home,” Carey said.
If it was a normal year, neither the No. 13 seed Rockets or No. 20 seed Vikings would have made the playoffs. Playoffs berths previously have been reserved for top eight teams in each region.
Anna coach Nick Marino said he was happy the team is got a chance to participate in the playoffs again this year.
“The kids came out and played hard,” Marino said. “We made some improvements. We still have some things to clean up, but we’re getting better, that’s the key thing. They’ve made progress throughout the year.
“It’s been a little bit hard to see at times. We’ve had some guys in and out with the whole quarantine thing too, so this was good to see our guys get back together and get on the field and get the whole team out there.”
Anna will travel to face No. 4 seed West Jefferson next Saturday. The Rough Riders (5-1) earned a first-round bye, as did all of Region 24’s top six seeds.
West Jefferson, which is located in eastern Madison County about 20 miles from Columbus, advanced to a D-V state semifinal last year. The squad’s lone loss this season was a 37-29 defeat by Mechanicsburg in Week 2. The undefeated Indians finished first in the Ohio Heritage Conference North Division, while the Rough Riders finished second.
“They’re a real good football team and play in a nice conference over there,” Marino said. “They do a good job. …We’re going to see a good ball club next week. I know their coach a little bit. He’s a good football coach. They run a first-class program.”
After a three-and-out by Miami East, Anna scored on its first possession of the night when Richards hauled in a 39-yard touchdown pass from Carey along the home sideline.
Neither team moved the ball the rest of the first quarter, but Miami East got going in the second. Austin Francis scored on a 19-yard TD run with 10:17 left to tie the score 7-7.
The Rockets fumbled at their own 27-yard line shortly after, but Miami East didn’t keep the ball long, as Anna junior defensive lineman Grant Albers intercepted a pass a few plays later.
Anna took advantage of the turnover. Zach Ambos caught a 35-yard touchdown pass from Carey with 7:05 left to give the squad a 13-7 lead after a missed extra point.
The Vikings went three-and-out, and Anna quickly scored again after a decent punt return. Trevor Kloeppel caught a short pass from Carey and dodged Miami East defenders up the visitor’s sideline on a 31-yard TD reception. The extra-point attempt was missed, but Anna extended its lead to 19-7 with 4:40 left.
After another three-and-out by Miami East and a decent punt return, the Rockets drove 29 yards in 39 seconds and scored on a 19-yard TD pass from Carey to Kovacs with 2:14 left, which boosted the lead to 26-7.
Carey scored on a 15-yard run with 9:35 left in the third quarter to increase the lead to 33-7, then Brandon Axe scored on a 2-yard TD run in the final minute to push the advantage over 30 points and start a running clock.
Marino said he was pleased with the long offensive plays the team produced.
“We had some receivers step up and I thought our line blocked well tonight,” Marino said. “We’ve gotten more physical each week, so we’ll see if we can kind of carry that over into a big game next week.”