By Bryant Billing
VERSAILLES — As much as Versailles coach Adam Miller loves football, the schedules and playoff formats of other high school sports have looked appealing at times.
Since all other sports qualify for postseason play, chances of one game derailing a season are smaller. Miller said with only 10 football games each year, one close loss can break hopes of a playoff berth — which less than 1/3 of Ohio teams earn.
And though both Anna and Versailles are hoping to start a league title race in a Midwest Athletic Conference opener on Friday, playoff implications abound.
Both teams won five games last season and are likely to win just as many or more this year, which means many second-level playoff points are up for grabs. Both Anna and Versailles are among 26 schools fighting for eight playoff berths in Division V, Region 20.
“Football’s just really unique compared to other high school sports,” Miller said. “Every game we play is incredibly important. Even a Week 1 game can determine whether you make playoffs or not.
“This game is especially important because I think Anna is one of the better teams we’ll face this year. It’ll let us know where we are as a team, if we have a lot of improvements to make or if we can keep building on previous successes.”
The Rockets are 2-0 for the second consecutive year after big wins over Arlington and Brookville, while Versailles is 1-1 after beating Celina in Week 1 and losing 14-7 to Delphos Jefferson last week.
The Rockets have been practically unstoppable on offense, as they accumulated 486 yards in a 52-0 win over Arlington and 456 yards in a 49-12 win over Brookville.
“They definitely have the ability to take a pass that could be a pretty short pass and take it all the way into the end zone,” Miller said of Anna. “They’ll try to go up top on you, and they have two really good running backs in (Aidan) Endsley and (Riley) Huelskamp. They’re definitely two very good running backs.”
Both Endsley and Huelskamp ran for over 100 yards against Brookville, while quarterback Travis Meyer threw for 154 yards. Anna coach Nick Marino said that balance has been a key to the team’s offense. He said he was especially pleased to see the offense do well in the second half last Friday after Brookville cut the deficit to 15 points.
“We came out and executed well on the ground and through the air,” Marino said. “We were clicking, and that’s good to see. …It shows that we’re getting better. It shows improvement and growth, and that’s what we want to see.”
Anna held Arlington to 80 yards of offense and Brookville to 226. Marino said Versailles’ running attack should be a bigger test for the unit and said he hopes lessons were learned from giving up a couple of long runs last Friday.
“We played good at times,” Marino said. “We gave up some big plays in that third quarter, and that’s something that we’ve got to clean up a little bit. …If we’re able to stop their run, that’s a big plus for our defense. They run the ball well, so we have to get a lot of guys to the football and make sure we’re pursuing the ball well.”
Miller said senior running back/linebacker Kurtis Rutschilling has stood out through the first two weeks for Versailles, as has lineman Levi Sherman.
Versailles’ early success has been led by strong defense. The Tigers held Jefferson to 153 yards of offense last week and held Celina to 76.
“We’ve been very disciplined defensively,” Miller said. “That’s probably been our biggest strength. Week 1 against Celina, they ran a lot of option, and to defend that well you have to be disciplined. The kids have been doing a great job of doing what they’ve been coached to do.”
Versailles hasn’t been as dominate on offense. Though the Tigers largely had their way against Celina, they had many costly turnovers against Jefferson. Miller said the team can’t afford to let that happen against Anna.
“The biggest problem we had last week offensively is that we were not good at execution in key moments,” Miller said. “We would move the ball well, and then we would either have a mental mistake or a self-inflicted wound that would kill the drive. We couldn’t get a series of plays to be able to put one in. We felt like we were able to score at any point in the game, but we just couldn’t make the play when we needed to make the play.”
Though playoff points are on the line in Friday’s game, Marino said the effect of a win to open MAC play can also be a big confidence boost for the rest of the season.
“That would be big for our kids to give them a little bit more confidence by starting the league the right way,” Marino said. “This is the start we hoped for, but we know starting MAC play, games are going to get tougher from here on out.”