MINSTER — The previous two years, four-game losing streaks have made Minster’s seasons.
The squad lost four consecutive games in 2016 before winning eight in a row and making the Division VII state championship game, where it lost to Warren JFK by 18 points.
They Wildcats were hoping not to have a repeat streak in Midwest Athletic Conference play last year. They did — and coach Geron Stokes said it helped them get back to the Div. VII title game and come away victorious.
After starting with three wins, Minster lost to Marion Local, Fort Recovery, St. Henry and Coldwater to fall to 3-4. The Wildcats then finished with eight consecutive wins, including a 32-7 win over Cuyahoga Heights in the D-VII state championship game.
Though Stokes said going into the season he didn’t necessarily want another four-game losing streak, he said it helped the squad grow.
“We were really bad to start the year last year,” Stokes said before the 2017 season. “We had to find ourselves a little bit. Some guys had to dig inside themselves a little bit and we had to come together as team. It was a great learning experience. I wouldn’t have wished that happened any other way.”
The Wildcats started slow in their season opener against Fort Loramie but scored two touchdowns in the final eight minutes to put away the 20-0 win. They then beat Covington 28-0 and opened MAC play with a 41-14 win over Delphos St. John’s.
Then came the losing streak.
Minster lost to Marion Local 21-17 in Week 4, Fort Recovery 28-27 in overtime Week 5, St. Henry 30-7 in Week 6 and Coldwater 17-16 in Week 7. Minster scored late touchdowns against both Fort Recovery and Coldwater but failed to make two-point conversions.
Though the losses erased any MAC title hopes, Minster was still in great playoff contention due it its three early wins. The Wildcats solidified their playoff berth in the last three weeks.
Minster beat New Bremen 42-21 in Week 8, survived a late comeback try by Versailles in Week 9 for a 26-21 win and beat Anna on the road 20-7 to close out regular season.
The Wildcats held Anna to 262 yards of offense, recovered four fumbles and intercepted two passes. It was a precursor to the dominant defense they showed through much of their playoff run.
“Our goal was to be at maximum efficiency at 10 o’clock tonight,” Stokes said after the win over Anna. “We’ve got work to do. Now we’ve just got to go right back to work and do exactly what we’ve done for a long time. We’re excited. It starts on Monday, and we’ve just got to have a great Monday practice and go from there.”
Minster finished fourth in Division VII, Region 28 and earned a home opening round rematch with Fort Loramie. Unlike the squad’s Week 1 game, Minster put away the Week 11 game by halftime.
Senior quarterback Jared Huelsman, who threw for 1,437 yards and ran for 1,034 in regular season, had the first of many big playoff performances against the Redskins. He threw for 155 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 93 yards and two scores to help Minster take a 40-0 halftime lead.
The Redskins scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, but it didn’t do anything other than stop the running clock.
“Our execution was sharp,” Minster coach Geron Stokes said after the victory. “There was a hunger and a focus tonight that was incredible. Our entire 11 on each side of the ball was focused… our mission was to protect the house. They were on fire tonight — but now we have to get back to work. We will face a better team next week, it gets harder every step.”
Minster got its only real playoff test in Week 12 at Lima Spartan Stadium against Convoy Crestview.
Crestview led 26-13 early in the third quarter, but Minster scored back-to-back TDs to take a 27-26 lead. Crestview scored with four minutes left in the fourth to retake the lead at 32-27, but Huelsman scored on an 8-yard touchdown run with 1:39 left to put the Wildcats ahead for good in the 35-32 win.
Huelsman threw for 213 yards and two touchdowns against Crestview and ran for 157 yards and three scores.
Minster used a big defensive performance to grind out a 20-0 win over Delphos St. John’s the following week to earn a regional title. The Blue Jays had 199 yards of offense and converted 3 of 9 third down tries and 1 of 3 fourth down tries. Though Huelsman threw three interceptions, St. John’s never drove any closer to the end zone than Minster’s 26-yard line.
Minster’s state semifinal against Norwalk St. Paul quickly turned into a blowout. Though St. Paul scored midway through the first to take a 7-6 lead, the Wildcats scored three touchdowns in the second — all Jared Huelsman runs — to build a 26-7 halftime lead. Huelsman added two more scoring runs in the second half to boost the final score to 40-7.
The win put the Wildcats in the state championship opposite Cuyahoga Heights, and the game went much like Minster’s state semifinal.
Cuyahoga Heights scored late in the first quarter to tie the game 7-7, but Huelsman scored two runs before halftime to boost the lead to 19-7. Huelsman then added two touchdown runs in the second half to boost the final score to 32-7. The win pushed the Wildcats’ final record to 11-4.
“I thought our competitive level today was awesome,” Stokes said after the team won the D-VII title. “That’s a really good football team, and every time (Cuyahoga Heights) did something well, our kids found a way to put cleats in the ground and fight back. I really do believe that’s a credit to how much they care about each other. They didn’t want to let each other down.”
Huelsman ran for 221 yards and three touchdowns in the state championship game and completed 12-of-20 passes for 141 yards and one touchdown.
“It’s just the credit to the O-line getting the holes for me to run,” Huelsman said of his performance.
Huelsman, who was the MAC’s offensive player of the year as a junior, finished his senior season with 1,924 rushing yards and 26 TDs and threw for 2,092 yards and 17 touchdowns.
The Wildcats will open the 2018 season on Aug. 24 at Fort Loramie.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.