Lately, opponents of Anna (6-6) have taken notice of this Div. VI football team, because the Rockets, winners of two straight postseason contests, are now soaring with self-assurance and trust in their game. The green and white expect a stern test from Allen East (9-3) in a “toss-up” regional semifinal playoff tilt on Saturday night at 7 p.m. in Wapakoneta.
Anna, an 11-seed in the southwest region, has reeled off three triumphs in its last four outings. Second-seed Allen East has recorded victories in six of its last seven gridiron battles.
The Rockets finished sixth in the grueling ten-team Midwest Athletic Conference that exposes teams’ mistakes and usually makes them better as the fall progresses. Certainly, the grind through the MAC has benefited Anna. East was third in the eight-team Northwest Conference behind Columbus Grove and Leipsic, which inflicted losses on the Mustangs.
ScoresBroadcast.com will cover the contest starting at 6:25. WMVR, 105.5 TAM FM, will simulcast. Broadcast highlights of the Botkins boys state championship victory in March are inserted at halftime. A conversation with Anna football coach Nick Marino kicks off the pregame segment.
So, Marino’s Rockets are flying high, you say? Yep. But are they peaking at just the right time to advance four weeks into the playoffs? The answer is told during 48 minutes of high school football on Saturday.
For sure, junior quarterback Carter Seigle is leaving nothing on the field and is responding aggressively on the right plays at key moments. Senior Hunter Schmidt has become an effective runner in the offensive backfield helping junior Justin Richards carry the mail. And senior Zach Ambos, who burned Fort Recovery with two long touchdown receptions and a kickoff return for a score, has become a playmaker the opponent must account for with perhaps two defenders.
Junior Josh Mealy is now a solid anchor at the center spot. Senior Grant Albers is a force and a challenging matchup as an offensive guard and as the defensive nose tackle. Junior Hayden Huelskamp is becoming a vital component on both sides of the ball at defensive end and as an additional offensive back.
Coach Marino’s club has really gelled. Another total team effort throttled Fort Recovery, 33-14, last weekend for the second time this season.
“Thought our guys might look beyond Fort Recovery a little,” said Marino, whose squad previously blanked the Indians, 28-0, in September. “But we coaches and players knew how they had gotten better and better,” he pointed out. “They put up 40 the week before at Arcanum.”
Anna was focused for Fort Recovery, and needs to be locked in even more against the Mustangs of Allen East. They, too, are riding high, with an extremely athletic junior quarterback, Jacob Hershberger, at the reins of the offense.
Sophomore tailback Jack Hoel is a hard-nosed inside rusher. Split end Carter Young flashes his speed both running and receiving. Hoel averages nearly seven yards per tote; Hershberger, six; and Young, ten. Second-year head coach Joel Billings said his team “prefers to attack on the ground” but does throw 16 to 17 times per game.
The Mustangs have allowed only about 250 total yards per contest. Defensive backs Keaton Lehman and linebackers Chase Miller and Greg Wireman are defensive stalwarts, along with Hershberger.
Against a very difficult MAC slate, the Rockets are giving up approximately 290 yards each game, but that number has plummeted the last few weeks.
Seigle completes 53 percent of his passes. Richards racks up five yards per rush. Ambos, Richards, and senior Brandon Axe all average more than 11 yards per catch.
Anna will likely try to spread the field against the Mustangs, using Seigle’s arm and his array of fleet flankers. Marino hinted at perhaps a new wrinkle or two in the running game for Saturday night.
“Maintain the momentum,” Anna’s head coach said. “Stay aggressive and one step ahead of the opponent.”
The Rockets’ have clearly recovered from that four-game gauntlet versus New Bremen, Coldwater, Versailles and St. Henry.
“We survived that stretch and are much better for it,” Marino said.
The Rockets ignited their offense against Fort Recovery and used a stifling defense to smoke Northeastern two weeks ago. They are playing their best football of 2021. But, with two quality foes competing in the post-season, little margin for error exists.
“At this stage of the playoffs, teams must operate at a high level of efficiency,” said Billings, East’s coach. “We have high regard for Anna’s talent and observed on tape the squad’s growth and development over the season. We have taken serious note of this club, despite its deceiving 6-6 record.”
Allen East High School is tucked away near the town of Harrod in the countryside of eastern Allen County on Harding Road. The football program, not a league contender years ago, is now formidable. On the second weekend of November 2021, the Mustangs’ gallop is in a full, lofty stride. This weekend marks the school’s deepest run in the football playoffs.
Anna, state champs in 2019 but 4-6 last year and 3-5 earlier this season, has discovered a renewed level of confidence— and is also taking notice.
The school that triumphs on Saturday meets the Coldwater-Mechanicsburg winner for the D-VI regional championship on Nov. 20 at a site to be determined.