Riddled by injuries to seniors and hampered by big mistakes at key times in games, the Anna Rockets, now 2-5 on the year, have dropped four straight football contests.
Head coach Nick Marino would be the first to tell you that his club has not yet put together more than a couple really good halves of football in seven weeks.
But his Rockets have an opportunity on Friday night to vault from 21st in their region of Division VI, and completely out of the playoff picture, to a prime spot on the cusp of the top eight schools which earn a home field berth in Week 11.
Now the tough part. The task this evening is daunting. Extremely so. It can be summed up in two words: Marion Local. The Flyers, 7-0, are undefeated after seven weeks for the 15th year of the last 20.
ScoresBroaodcast.com will carry the game live from Booster Field on the Anna High School campus at 6:25 p.m. Marino and 24-year head coach Tim Goodwin at Marion Local will be guests in the pregame segment. Hits 105.5 FM will simulcast, also at 6:25. Kick-off is at 7.
Tonight’s battle features two Midwest Athletic Conference clubs which are both in Division VI this season.
Last year, the 16-0 Flyers dominated Division VII and won the OHSAA state championship for the 12th time by blowing out Newark Catholic 42-7. And, this season, if coaches in other divisions, like V and VII, were polled the blue and gold football program in Mercer County would probably get the nod for additional No. 1s! Marion Local and D-V Coldwater will decide this argument in two weeks.
Coach Goodwin, by the way, has overseen each of the Flyers one dozen romps to state titles since 2000.
“We want to probe early in each game and run the ball inside and outside, and see where a soft spot may show up on defense,” Goodwin said. “If the defense responds by ‘overplaying,’ we’ll probe for a new weakness that is exposed as a result.”
When the Flyers do elect to throw the football, it’s often a surprise and often successful.
Yes, coach keeps it simple… and extremely effective.
The Marion Local players fill their specialized roles to perfection and fully understand their keys and assignments. Very few starters go both ways. Seventy athletes usually comprise a deep varsity roster. The work ethic is terrific. Come game time, no holes exist — play after play after play.
The motivation is always strong, year after year, because previous highly successful teams set the bar on the moon for the next one… especially on defense.
The Flyers nose guard, Simon Partington, is disruptive and redirects offensive plays. The linebackers — Drew Seitz, Landon Arling, Darren Meier, and Aidan Eifert — have the ability to stuff the run, chase down quarterbacks, and span the field to assist in pass coverage. Three of these four LBs have amassed nearly 90 tackles, 10 for sacks or lost yardage.
Tate Hess —a 6-2, 170-pound senior quarterback — is an outstanding cover cornerback. He has racked up five interceptions.
“By performing consistently at a superb level on defense, we don’t have to score many points to win,” Goodwin stated.
Again this season, the Flyers are very stingy. They don’t allow many points or yards either one. Opponents are averaging about “five feet” per carry and only four points a game.
So, how do you move the ball against a Rock of Gibraltar?
The Rockets clearly need a bounce or two or three to go their way. And a super big bounce to budge a Rock.
Maybe they need to “capture some lightning in a bottle,” like the Flyers did against Anna in 2019 when the Rockets committed three turnovers on a slippery track after an electrical storm drenched Booster Field in the second quarter. Marion Local plowed straight ahead for a late game-winning field goal to hand the Rockets their only loss in Anna’s marvelous state championship season.
“Marion makes its own breaks. We need to do the same tonight, with solid, mistake-free football on both sides of the ball and in the kicking game,” said Coach Marino.
“We must stay in the contest into the second half and then make plays, a few big plays.”
Marino noted that receivers Noah Aufdherhaar and Justin Richards are excelling down the field at 15 and 13 yards per catch, respectively. Tonight, the offensive line will need to help the primary backs manufacture more than 75 yards, which has been this season’s typical per-game production.
In the MAC, Coldwater has had some success over the years throwing the football versus the Flyers. Anna’s sophomore quarterback Alex Shappie hopes for an on-target performance and maybe, more importantly, adequate protection.
One thing for sure, the Rockets won’t back down.
Against Marion Local’s fine teams in the past, Anna has managed to generate points but has often wilted on defense.
In 2008, the Flyers averaged 33 points per game. The Rockets posted their lone victory ever over Marion Local in the final tilt of that regular season, 16-6. A week later, Marion won the playoff contest, 13-3.
Four years after that, Anna tallied three touchdowns in losing to the state champion Flyers. During a couple other seasons, the Rockets cracked the Flyers defense for three scores.
Close a few times, “but no cigar,” as the saying goes.
The Flyers have not lost a regular season MAC tilt in three years. Their 15-1 overall mark versus Anna is very imposing.
No “lightning in the bottle” on Friday night. Crisp, cool, clear and breezy, says the weatherman, with no electrical storms for hundreds and hundreds of miles.
So, maybe the Rockets will have to concoct “a special blend” to make their own bottled prescription.
The label might read: “The very best brand of Anna football in 2022.” Its formula… Equal, hefty, and highly effective doses of “offense,” “defense,” and “special teams.”