BY YANEEK SMITH, BEACON CONTRIBUTOR
OAK HARBOR — Oak Harbor was never seriously challenged during the regular season, and its Division V first-round playoff game against Beachwood didn’t provide much resistance as the Rockets defeated the Bison, 41-7.
Oak Harbor (11-0), the No. 1 seed in Region 18, blocked a punt on the game’s first possession, and recovered it at the Beachwood 8-yard line. Two plays later, Rocket quarterback Jac Alexander scored the first of four touchdowns, three of which came on the ground. The first one came on a 5-yard run to make it 6-0 before Caleb Heintz’s extra point pushed the lead to seven points with 9:18 remaining in the first quarter.
Alexander scored two more touchdowns in the first half, the next one coming with 3:47 remaining in the first quarter on an 18-yard scamper, and the other on a 9-yard dash with 8:22 remaining in the second quarter.
The exclamation point came with 5:58 left in the third quarter when Alexander found Jordan Arnold from 23 yards out on fourth-and-12 to make it 28-0 and effectively put the game away.
Oak Harbor coach Mike May talked about the early blocked punt and how it helped his team seize momentum.
“(Special teams coordinator) Dave Thiel deserves credit for that. He saw something on film and made the call,” said May. “That helped us get some momentum early in the game.”
May also credited his defense for holding a potent offense in check.
“We saw on film (Beachwood) had athleticism and had a lot of big plays on offense. They have big offensive and defensive lines,” said May. “I thought our defense did a nice job of not allowing too many big plays.”
Clay Schulte talked about the defense’s performance.
“We just had to be us, read our keys and make tackles,” he said. “They’re big up front and athletic and fast. We knew they could break one for a big play at any time.”
Oak Harbor had little trouble moving the ball, scoring on six of its first seven possessions.
“We just wanted to be physical and wear ‘em out and I think that’s exactly what we did,” Alexander said. “They’re a very good team and we knew they’d give us their best shot. We saw them do some nice things on film.”
Beachwood (8-3), located 10 miles east of Cleveland, featured a stout rushing attack but failed to get anything going on the ground. When the Bison, who play in the Chagrin Valley Conference, got behind by a wide margin and started to throw, they were able to move the ball at times but failed to score until midway thru the third quarter when Letraize Walker scored on a 51-yard run to cut the deficit to 35-7.
Alexander completed 4-of-11 passes for 75 yards and a touchdown and carried the ball 17 times for 137 yards and three scores. Schulte, the Sandusky Bay Conference Bay Division’s two-time Player of the Year, helped pace the attack by carrying the ball 17 times for 82 yards and two touchdowns and caught two passes for 35 yards.
Both were high praise for the offensive line, an unheralded group that has consistently blocked well despite battling injuries throughout the season. For the last four weeks, Aiden Hall has been filling in for Ronnie Gonzalez at center. Will Dowling and Reese Laughlin are the guards and Gabe Dowling and Parker Smith are the tackles.
“They’re doing an amazing job,” said Schulte. “They open up huge holes, and all we have to do is make guys miss and get into the secondary.”
May talked about the steady confidence the group has displayed throughout the season.
“The thing is our leadership is really good. We’ve been consistent and haven’t had a lot of ups and downs,” he said. “The guys don’t panic when we’ve been in tough spots.”