D-VI State Football Primer: St. John’s in familiar position, Hopewell-Loudon has unfinished business


Bascom Hopewell-Loudon and Delphos St. John’s meet in the D-VI state final.

Small-school division or not, the state championship game in Division VI promises to be as good as any other in the 37th Annual OHSAA State Football Finals. 

Traditional power Delphos St. John’s is aiming for its fifth football state championship in school history in as many trips while rising power Bascom Hopewell-Loudon has unfinished business after finishing state runner-up last season. 

Small-school division or not, the state championship game in Division VI promises to be as good as any other in the 37th Annual OHSAA State Football Finals.

Traditional power Delphos St. John’s is aiming for its fifth football state championship in school history in as many trips while rising power Bascom Hopewell-Loudon has unfinished business after finishing state runner-up last season. 

In a sense, it is old school vs. new school.

Here is a look at all things surrounding the Division VI state football championship set for Fri., Nov. 28 at Massillon’s Paul Brown Stadium at 11:00 a.m.:

Blue Jays Fly High

As mentioned, DSJ (12-2) is owner of four football state championships, including three straight from 1997-99 and featured a record 57-game winning streak. The Blue Jays then added to its trophy case in 2005 with another state title.

But DSJ finds itself in a position this week not many expected coming off a 2-8 season last year and being decimated by graduation.

“As a head coach, when you ask your kids to show up in the weight room every day all winter long and all summer long, the ultimate goal is to be the best that you can,” said Todd Schulte, who is 97-31 in 10 seasons as head coach.

“Here at Delphos St. John’s, we have a rich tradition in football and the expectations are always to be at the top or near the top. We try to work towards those expectations whether we are coming of a 2-8 season or an undefeated season.”

New Faces, Same Results

DSJ starts just three seniors on offense and five on defense but have managed to reach the title game with a slew of sophomores and juniors in the starting lineup.

“When you start that many sophomores you don’t know what you’re going to get and every game we show up we just don’t know,” Schulte said. “For us to be here is definitely a surprise but once we got going in the season we thought we could get to the playoffs and go from there.

“You are always working towards that ultimate goal and the pinnacle is this weekend in the state championship.”

When DSJ Has The Ball

Junior quarterback Wes Ulm has led a reasonably balanced attack going 69-of-154 passing for 1,082 yards, 15 touchdowns and six interceptions while adding 837 yards on the ground..

Sophomore tailback Jordan Leininger has toted the ball 185 times for 1,166 yards and 13 touchdowns while adding 191 receiving yard and three more scores.

“They have just been so solid. I think you can say this about any of the (Midwest Athletic Conference) teams – they don’t beat themselves and scheme-wise they do a lot of things well,” H-L head coach Brian Colatruglio said of his pending opponent.

“(Ulm) is a load and he is a strong runner. They don’t throw a ton but when they do they are effective. He’s got a very strong arm.

He added: “(Leininger) is a very strong runner and falls forward. He makes a lot of plays for them. In the playoffs, they have been using him in the passing game out of the backfield and doing some things with him. Those are the two guys that make them go.”

Speaking Of The MAC…

This year marks the sixth straight season a team from the Midwest Athletic Conference has played for a football state championship and the third time in the last four years in Division VI. In those four years, the MAC has won seven football titles in Divisions IV, V and VI.

Both of DSJ’s regular season losses this season came at the hands of 2007 state champions in Coldwater (D-IV) and Maria Stein Marion Local (D-V).

“We play in a tough conference and I am very proud to be a part of the (MAC),” said Schulte. “Week in and week out we are preparing to play playoff caliber teams. We’ve been in some real battles and we’ve been flat out embarrassed this twice this year. Those things have all put us in a situation where we grow and get better as a football team.

“We always make it very clear to our kids that (the schedule) prepares us but it doesn’t mean teams are going to lay down for us. But we like to think it gets us ready for playing some good competition.”

Unfinished Business

H-L (14-0) reached the state championship game last year but fell to small-school power Newark Catholic 28-14 as the Green Wave claimed the eighth football title in school history.

That loss didn’t sit well with the Chieftains.

“As far as last year and the experience last year, I think it had a big part of spring boarding us into the offseason. That was the one thing we took from last year is our younger guys got to experience the pinnacle of Ohio high school football,” Colatruglio explained. “They got to play in and be a part of the big stage there. Once you experience it you want to do it again.”

But H-L faced this season with only four starters on defense and three on offense returning after losing five All-Ohio players to graduation.

“I think our offseason really benefited from that experience in the winter, spring and into the summer and it allowed our guys to really get themselves ready to step in and fill the spots left from last year’s team,” said Colatruglio.

“Once we got to (the postseason) our game just elevated. We’ve gotten so much better the last month and a half. Our improvement over the course of the season has been very significant. We’ve played some great teams and have put ourselves in position to go try again.”

What ‘Brown’ Can Do For You

If there has to be one reason H-L is in the state championship game again this season, look no further than under center.

Quarterback Tyler Brown is a two-year starter who is 237-of-328 passing for 3,348 yards, 42 touchdowns and just six interceptions on the season.

“He is the key to us offensively. He really got our offense off to a great start this year with some inexperience upfront,” said Colatruglio.

“He’s such a smart player and has all the physical tools to be a quarterback. But the preparation and his intelligence he has with the timing I think is one of our strengths. Our timing in the passing game makes it difficult to defend. He can throw the ball in the tight spots into good coverage and make plays for us.”

Added Schulte: “When you take a look at Hopewell-Loudon, the first thing that grabs you’re attention is the offense. Obviously, that offense goes where Brown goes at quarterback. He is the catalyst to that offense.

“They have a lot of great athletes but they go where he goes. You can tell by looking at his numbers he takes care of his end of the deal and they do a good job upfront protecting him.”

Catching On

Of course, Brown wouldn’t be putting up the numbers he has without senior receivers Andrew Brickner and Jay Yost.

Brickner has reeled in 81 catches for 1,208 yards and 24 touchdowns while Yost has added 57 receptions for 1,027 yards and 10 scores.

“You don’t complete 70 percent of your passes if guys aren’t catching the ball and our receiving corps has really developed over the course of the year,” said Colatruglio.

“Our guys run outstanding routes and make tough catches. With the way Tyler throws the ball, when you get where you’re supposed to be, he’s going to put it there. Our receivers have done a great job of doing that.”

Staying Grounded

While H-L’s spread offense has gotten most of the attention this season, junior running back Aaron Kapelka has about as quiet a 1,500-yard rushing season as there is – 1,588 to be exact.

He has also scored 20 touchdowns.

“The scary thing about Hopewell-Loudon – everyone talks about the passing game – but you have to prepare just as heavily for the run game,” Schulte said. “They do a nice job of mixing it in there and for being a so-called spread team you better be able to stop the run as well.”

Getting Defensive

H-L junior linebacker Hudson Smith was named the Midland Athletic League defensive player of the year with 160 tackles and sophomore linebacker Chris Pohlman led DSJ with 152 tackles.

Nuts and Bolts

DSJ and H-L run contrasting styles of offense and both have played teams this season with similar offenses that they will see Friday.

But for Schulte, the championship all comes down to fundamentals and execution – for both teams.

“It is no secret Hopewell-Loudon likes to pass the football and it is no secret we like to run it,” he said. “To go back to the old cliché, we need to control the line of scrimmage. That is where we start. When you’re playing a team like Hopewell-Loudon, one turnover could cost you the game.

“We need to have very good ball security and let special teams control our field position. I think field position will be a big part of this game.”

Prediction Sure To Go Awry

H-L hasn’t scored less than 24 points in any game this season and is winning by an average margin of 28.4 points per game.

But it is hard to go against any MAC school playing for a state championship, so I am going with DSJ for its fifth state title in a tight, physical game, 20-16.

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