Anna will have a new experience against a familiar opponent on Friday — only this time, they’ll care about the result against that opponent.
The Rockets (12-1) won their first regional championship in program history last Friday and will play in a state semifinal for the first time when they face Mechanicsburg (11-2) on Friday at Harmon Field in Wapakoneta. The winner will advance to the Division VI state championship game, which will be either next Thursday or Friday in Canton.
It’s not the first time Anna has faced Mechanicsburg recently — but it is the first time the two squads will meet in a game that counts. The teams have scrimmaged the last several years, including this past August.
“They’re physical,” Anna coach Nick Marino said. “They’re well-coached and they’re a good ball club. We’ve got to go play well against them. They’re going to bring a lot of pressure up front. They do a lot of things to attack you. We’ve got to play a really good football game to beat those guys.”
Marino is an Urbana native and plenty familiar with the Champaign County powerhouse Indians and coach Kurt Forrest, who is in his 10th season as the program’s coach. Marino, who played collegiately at Wittenberg like Forrest, coached at Urbana in 2013 and 2014 before leaving to take over at Anna four years ago.
“We know each other pretty well,” Marino said. “We used to go to (coaching) clinics together and stuff like that.”
Mechanicsburg beat Anna’s only other scrimmage opponent in a regional final last Friday in Piqua. The Indians gradually pulled out to a 42-14 lead over Covington before the Buccaneers scored two late TDs to narrow the final score to 42-26.
Mechanicsburg finished third in the Ohio Heritage Conference North Division behind West Jefferson and West Liberty-Salem, which faced off in a Div. V regional final on Friday at Sidney Memorial Stadium.
The Indians lost 30-22 to West Jefferson and 35-15 to West Liberty-Salem but have steamrolled over the rest of their opponents. Their eight regular-season wins came by an average score of 46.4-3.6, and they beat Adena 32-7 and Grandview Heights 48-7 in their first two playoff games.
Sophomore quarterback Aaron Conley has led Mechanicsburg with 1,361 passing yards and 16 touchdowns with six interceptions while senior Logan Hurst has thrown for 564 yards and five TDs with two interceptions.
Junior running back Chayse Propst has run for a team-best 1,361 yards and 22 touchdowns while sophomore Aaron Conley and Hurst each have just under 400 rushing yards and have scored a combined 16 rushing TDs.
Sophomore Jake Hurst is the team leader in receiving yards (616) and is tied with senior Mack DeLong with seven receiving TDs. Junior Keith Debout has caught a team-high 40 passes for 598 yards and four TDs while DeLong has caught 26 passes for 393 yards.
The Indians average 386 yards and 40.7 points per game and allow an average of about 167 yards and 10.3 points per game.
Jake Hurst also plays at outside linebacker and has led the team with 92 tackles, five interceptions and three fumble recoveries while DeLong has intercepted three passes. Senior defensive end Kix Thiel has recorded a team-best seven sacks while Hurst has recorded 55.
The Rockets, which were ranked No. 1 in D-VI in the final state AP poll, have scored 42 or more points in all of their wins and have won with running-clock margins of 30 or more points in 10 of their 12 wins. They average 440 yards and 45.8 points per game and allow an average of 245 yards and 13.1 points per game.
Anna senior running back Riley Huelskamp, who was named the D-VI Southwest district offensive player of the year last week, has run for 2,259 yards and 37 touchdowns. Senior QB Bart Bixler has run for 1,325 yards and 25 touchdowns and thrown for 1,411 yards and 15 touchdowns with four interceptions.
Anna senior defensive lineman Will Luthman, who was named the Southwest district’s defensive player of the year, has recorded 62.5 tackles and six sacks. Senior defensive end Malachi Minnich has recorded 81 tackles and 10 sacks.
The Rockets have turnover margin this season of plus 20.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.