BLANCHESTER — A season on the brink turned in to a season to remember for the Blanchester football team.
The Wildcats are one of 224 schools in Ohio playing in the post-season this week. They’ll face No. 1 seed Cincinnati Taft 7 p.m. Saturday at Stargel Stadium in a Division V Region 20 quarterfinal contest.
At the beginning of the 2019 season, that idea appeared improbable.
After just five games, the notion of a Week 11 game seemed unlikely.
No, make that impossible.
“After that fourth loss, it felt like our senior season was over,” BHS senior captain Christian Stubbs said. “That Saturday morning watching film … we try to learn from our mistakes but it was the same thing (mistake) over and over.”
Goshen had just overpowered Blanchester 37-0. That came on the heels of a 38-3 defeat to Clinton-Massie and a 43-13 loss to Waynesville. BHS opened the season with a 26-0 loss to Washington.
The lone win was a 34-7 triumph over Taylor.
“The fourth loss took a toll on me,” said James Peters, another senior captain. “We experienced a little bit of hopelessness … the playoffs were slipping away.”
Said Tanner Creager, “The last two losses were tough (to Massie and Goshen).”
Even before a ball was placed on the tee on Aug. 30 at Gardner Park, the 2019 BHS season began like a cat wounded in the field. From 2018 to 2019, no fewer than 13 players eligible to return to the football team decided not to play, including first-team All-SBAAC pick Brayden Sipple and second-teamer Jacksson Waialae.
“It did hurt the team when some people didn’t show up,” Stubbs said. “It was hard to keep everyone on board. Then losing those games hurt.”
A closer look at the four losses in five season-opening games paints a not-so-bleak picture. Clinton-Massie and Waynesville are both in the Division IV playoffs while Washington and Goshen were in the post-season hunt right down to the last game of the season.
“I think the first five games made us,” said Creager.
At the midpoint, with a 1-4 record, the players had to endure their own misgivings on goals seemingly missed. In addition, the captains said former players and fans were down on the team as well.
Back-to-back wins over Clermont Northeastern (19-7) and Williamsburg (42-20) breathed a little life into the previously “lifeless” Wildcats.
But there was still an SBAAC National Division showdown with Bethel-Tate on the horizon. That, many thought, would be the tell-tale sign if the ‘Cats were for real or not.
Early in the third quarter, the scoreboard and BHS faithful, were not convinced.
“We were down 18-6 and heard from a lot of fans ‘this game is over’,” Creager recalled.
Then 23 straight points — a safety, a Colt Conover to Creager pass and two Conover rushes — gave the Wildcats a 30-24 win. The victory, in addition, gave the now never-say-die Wildcats enough playoffs points to begin thinking of the post-season.
“The meat grinder in the beginning absolutely taught the boys some toughness asnd grit,” said first-year head coach Jon Mulvihill. “These guys have no quit in them.”
The players noted the ship easily could have went down after the Goshen game. It didn’t. Creager called it “good coaching.”
Mulvihill recalls his message was simple.
”After Goshen, we talked to the team and told them that it was time to turn it around,” he said. “The SBAAC National Division was the only thing that mattered and we had to focus on one game at a time. The boys went to work and here we are.”
Said Peters, “Him (Mulvihill) and (John) Lovin … they’re kind of legends around here. It’s cool to know both of them are back and coaching.”
“They (the coaches) balanced the team after not having some of the players we had last year,” he said. “(Mulvihill) has been around, up in the (press) box, helping out. He’s been here forever.”
And now the Wildcats are back in the post-season after a two-year hiatus.
“Taft is a very good football team,” Creager said. “But we want this. It’s what we’ve worked for all season.”
Stubbs said his squad has fought for this chance but knows it’s an uphill battle … much like the beginning of the season and more like the 1-4 start.
“No matter what, I’m going to leave everything out on that field Saturday night,” he said, then added, “100 percent of the pressure’s on Taft. But we’ve fought for this chance.”
Reach Mark Huber at 937-556-5765, via email firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @wnjsports