BY YANEEK SMITH, BEACON CONTRIBUTOR
ELYRIA — The king is dead.
Reigning Division V state champion Orrville is out of the playoffs thanks to a 35-28 defeat at the hands of Oak Harbor.
The Rockets WERE resilient all game long, rallying from a 21-7 deficit in the second quarter to tie the score before halftime and held off the Red Riders for the victory in the regional final at Ely Stadium in Elyria.
Yet again, it was the backfield duo of quarterback Jac Alexander and running back Clay Schulte leading the way for Oak Harbor. Alexander accounted for 297 yards of total offense, running 23 times for 134 yards and a touchdown and completing 6-of-13 passes for 163 yards and a score. Schulte, meanwhile, carried the ball 20 times for 199 yards and three touchdowns and caught the go-ahead score, a 67-yard reception from Alexander, with 10:40 to play. The touchdown, which came on third-and-11 from the Oak Harbor 33-yard-line, materialized when Schulte caught the ball out in the left flat at the 43, eluded a defender and hurdled another around midfield before getting a key block from Gage Brough and racing down the sideline to make it 34-28. One of five Caleb Heintz extra points pushed the lead to seven points.
Orrville’s star running back, junior Marquael Parks, one of Ohio’s best players, not just in Div. V, but in the entire state, ran 26 times for 252 yards and four touchdowns, but was held in check in the second half. He scored touchdowns on runs of 2, 65, and 73 yards, respectively in the first half, and added a 1-yard score in the third quarter. The final touchdown was Parks’ 43rd touchdown on the season and the 121st of his incredible career.
“We knew there would be adversity. We knew Parks was a real good athlete and that he’d bust off some big runs,” said Alexander. “We knew we might be down throughout the course of the game, (but) we didn’t know it would be by two touchdowns.
“Nobody lost focus. No one on the sideline doubted that we were going to win, even when we were down by two touchdowns. We kept barreling away and got it tied. It was a big momentum shift coming out of halftime.”
Schulte talked about how the team stayed upbeat.
“We just kept playing and stayed positive when we got down early. We knew that we could score just as fast as they could,” he said. “We didn’t panic and just kept playing hard because we knew eventually everything would start to click. We just wanted to leave it all out there on the field.”
After Oak Harbor went ahead on Schulte’s final touchdown, the Red Riders (11-2) drove 36 yards in 10 plays but failed to convert on fourth-and-inches at the Rocket 29. The Rockets (13-0) then drove 53 yards in eight plays but were stopped by an inch or two on fourth-and-1 at the Orrville 17.
The end came with Alexander intercepting Orrville quarterback Cooper Haley on third-and-10 from the Red Riders 49 with exactly 1:00 to play at the Rockets 31.
It was a fitting finish to an epic clash between two teams that badly wanted the regional championship. It was one of Oak Harbor’s goals before the season began to win its Region 18, and this was another stop along the journey for the Red Riders in an attempt to capture its second consecutive state title.
It’s just the third regional championship for the Rockets, who have a storied history that includes plenty of league titles, playoff appearances and great performances in big games. This performance brings back memories of Oak Harbor’s defeat of reigning state champion Coldwater, 38-20, in the regional semifinals in 2006. In that game, Oak Harbor won the battle at the line of scrimmage and exerted its will over the Cavaliers.
Like they’ve done throughout the season, the offensive line won the battle at the line of scrimmage and opened holes for Schulte and Alexander. The line, from left to right, consists of Gabe Dowling, Will Dowling, and Aiden Hall, who is filling in for Ronnie Gonzalez, Reece Laughlin and Parker Smith.
“The offensive line was outstanding. They were physical all night,” said Alexander. “That defensive line from Orrville was pretty tough.”
Schulte also had high praise for the men up front.
“They played great. They opened up big holes and were physical all night long,” he said. “And they played to the whistle.”
Wide receiver Tyler May had yet another good game, catching four passes for 92 yards and coming up with some key plays. He’s been an unsung hero for the Rockets for much of the season.
Needless to say, it’s been quite a ride for the fans.
“It means a lot because we haven’t been to state in such a long time and to have the community together and involved as much as they are is awesome,” Schulte said. “It means a lot to us as players to know they have our backs.”