SIDNEY – A sequence of eight plays is what made the difference.
Coming out of the locker room with a 7-6 lead in its OHSAA Division VII, Region 26 semifinal game against Riverside on Nov. 13, Minster took the second half kickoff and scored 14 points on its next eight plays from scrimmage to grab a 21-6 advantage, a score that would last until the final whistle. The win puts Minster in the Region 26 final against fellow MAC member Fort Recovery on Friday.
The loss ends what has been a magnificent football season for Riverside, which closes the 2015 campaign with a 10-2 record and its first-ever win in the postseason with a 32-7 victory over Ada in Week 11.
If there was any doubt that Riverside should be on the same field with the defending Division VI state champions, it was quickly dispelled. Three times the Pirates forced the Wildcats (10-2) into coughing the ball up on downs, twice when Minster was inside the red zone. The Wildcats had to fight and claw for every yard they gained, but thanks to a half-dozen circus-style-Odell-Beckham-Jr.-said-“wow” catches by Minster’s Jacob Dues, those yards counted. Dues caught all three of the Wildcat touchdowns, two of which were of the one-handed variety, and all three with white-jerseyed Pirates dripping off of him. The Riverside defense didn’t play that poorly, Dues just played that well.
Minster threatened time and again following the opening two minutes of the third quarter, but that two minutes and 14 points turned out to be all it could get, which in the end proved to be enough. Good teams – and they are all good teams at this point in the season – execute game plans, and Minster’s example can be used as Exhibit A: Protect the QB and contain the Riverside running game. Wildcat QB Josh Nixon suffered little pressure all night, giving Dues a chance to work his downfield magic, and Minster absolutely refused to let the Riverside running game get around the edges. The Wildcats were perfectly willing to give up a tough three- or four-yard run up the middle, but the corners were closed. Minster also took away the Riverside passing game with four picks, but the Wildcats won this game on the flanks by never letting Connor Cotterman, Hayden Robinson or any other Pirate runner find one.
The Pirates grabbed a 6-0 lead in the first, with Cotterman bulldozing to a first down on a fourth-and-two inside the Wildcat five, followed by Robinson’s high-stepping it into the end zone on the next play, capping a 98-yard drive on 16 plays.
But that was the last time the Pirates would visit the end zone. The Pirates ended the game with 221 rushing yards, but all of it came between the 20-yard lines. Cotterman had 124 tough yards or 28 carries and Robinson closed with 81 yards on 14 carries.
The Riverside defense gave up the three TD passes for Nixon to Dues, but shut down the Minster running attack to the tune of 35 total yards and kept Nixon, who has thrown for over 7,000 yards in his career, out of the record books, keeping him under 300 yards through the air.
Given the state of the Riverside football program a mere four years ago, that the Pirates could give the defending Div. VI football champions fits for four quarters this past weekend is nothing short of remarkable. Add to this a Northwest Central Conference championship and the first playoff win in the school’s history and it makes the Riverside story only more notable.
While Riverside’s exceptional and history-making season has come to an end, Minster continues its quest for consecutive state football titles. The Wildcats won the Div. VI championship last year, but dropped to Div. VII this season, essentially switching positions with fellow MAC-member Marion Local, which moved up after winning the Div. VII title in 2014.