ANNA — After spending most of the season at the top of the Division V, Region 20 standings, two losses in the last three weeks of regular season dropped the Rockets down to seventh. While earning a top-four seed and a first-round home game would have been nice, Anna coach Nick Marino said the team is happy to be in the playoffs.
“It will be a long (bus) ride, but we’ll go anywhere they let us play,” Marino said. “We’re just excited to play football.”
The Rockets (7-3) will travel to No. 2 seed Middletown Madison (8-2) on Friday for a Region 20 quarterfinal game.
It’s the first playoff berth for Anna since 2010. The program has enjoyed a big turnaround since Marino took over in 2015, when the Rockets finished 3-7.
“It’s exciting for the kids after all the hard work they’ve put in,” Marino said. “It’s exciting for the community and everybody at the school. …It’s been cool, all the support from our parents and fans. Everybody’s excited to have the team back in the playoffs. We want to make sure we get in there and we do a good job.”
If recent history is any indication, Anna could do a very good job in the playoffs. Four Midwest Athletic Conference teams have played in state championship games since 2014, including three last season. The three teams Anna lost to (Marion Local, Coldwater, Minster) played in state finals last year.
“I think our conference prepares us very well for the playoffs,” Marino said. “You’ve got to improve every single week, and you’re not going to face any teams in the conference that have many weak links. It’s a great opportunity to get better every week in the league, sometimes coming out on the right end of it and sometimes coming out of the wrong end of it, but those are learning opportunities.”
Madison won the Southwestern Buckeye League Buckeye Division with a 6-0 record. The Mohawks won a season opener against Talawanda and then lost back-to-back games against Monroe and perennial power Valley View but largely ran through the rest of their schedule.
Madison’s offense is heavily run-oriented. Junior fullback Cameron Svarda ran for 1,437 yards and 20 touchdowns in regular season while senior running back Tyler Baumgartner ran for 886 yards and 14 touchdowns. Both averaged over eight yards per carry.
Baumgartner led the team with six receptions for 120 yards, while Evan Crim had five receptions for 51 yards. Crim also rushed for 591 yards and seven touchdowns.
Junior quarterback Mason Whiteman completed 16-of-28 passes for 275 yards and four touchdowns and ran for 315 yards and eight touchdowns.
Madison averaged 399 yards and 40 points per game in regular season.
“They are a very good running offense,” Marino said. “They’re big, they’re physical, and they’ve got nice backs that are athletic. They’re a big-time challenge for us.”
Anna’s defense allowed an average of 243 yards and 16.3 points per game in regular season. Opponents managed an average of 135 rushing yards against the Rockets.
Anna faced several good rushing teams in regular season, including SWBL member Brookville in a nonconference game and Minster last Friday. Marino said Minster was a good tune-up for the Rockets defensively since the Wildcats didn’t attempt a pass in rainy conditions and relied on runs by quarterback Jared Huelsman and running back Isaac Schmiesing.
“Last week was a great learning opportunity for us to handle the situations we were in better,” Marino said.
Anna led the MAC in both average yards (351) and points (30) per game in regular season.
Senior quarterback Travis Meyer, who missed three games with an ACL tear, completed 69-of-117 passes for 1,119 yards and eight touchdowns. Sophomore running back Riley Huelskamp ran for a team-high 946 yards and 12 touchdowns, while Aidan Endsley ran for 847 yards and eight touchdowns.
Caleb Kauffman led Anna with 36 receptions for 554 yards, while Austin Fogt had 35 catches for 550 yards. The duo, both seniors, have nine touchdown receptions between them.
Madison allowed an average of 12.8 points per game.
“Defensively, they’ve got a great defensive line that gets after the running back and the passer,” Marino said. “They’re a good defense, but I think we have a decent offense too. It’ll be fun to see how we can match up with them.”
The winner of Friday’s game will advance to a regional semifinal next Friday against the winner of the quarterfinal between Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy and Jamestown Greeneview.
Contact Bryant Billing at (937) 538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter.