It’s been a long time since a team has defeated Wynford in the regular season: Mohawk on Sept. 1, 2006 to be exact. Since then the Royals have rattled off 38 straight regular season wins. Wynford has suffered losses though, just not on the football field. Off of it is a different story.
BUCYRUS – It’s been a long time since a team has defeated Wynford in the regular season: Mohawk on Sept. 1, 2006 to be exact. It’s been even longer – Lucas in the last game of a four-game losing streak on Sept. 24, 2004 – since the Royals have lost to a North Central Conference opponent.
Unbeaten Wynford’s 48-6 win over Crestline gave the Royals their fifth straight outright NCC title and increased those winning streaks to 40 in the NCC and 38 overall in the regular season. The latter is thought by some to be the longest active winning streak among Ohio high school football teams since Steubenville’s 68-game streak was snapped last weekend.
However head coach Travis Moyer and his players seem oblivious to any pressure, real or imagined, generated by their success.
“Number one we have extremely high expectations of our program. No one puts more pressure on us than we do,” Moyer said emphatically. “You can’t get to 10-0 without being 9-0. We prepare extremely hard. “
The Royals are ranked second in the D-VI JJHuddle.com Power Poll. They have outscored opponents by an average of 40-9. That doesn’t mean Wynford hasn’t had a couple of close calls.
The Royals had to score late in the fourth quarter in Week 2 to get past Mohawk 19-12 and were tied at halftime, 7-7, most recently against Ontario. But none of that seems to matter as the only thing on the minds of most Wynford fans is another playoff appearance and being at home in Round 1 of the playoffs. The Royals will host Dalton (9-1) at 7 p.m. Saturday night.
But Moyer admits over the last year there have been more than a few rough patches that have had nothing to do with football.
Late last season freshman football player Chris Isaacs was killed in an automobile accident. Then in June, senior two-way lineman Jon Griffin was diagnosed with cancer and has been undergoing intense chemotherapy treatments ever since.
Shortly before practice began this summer, longtime assistant and close friend of Moyer’s, Jerry Harbaugh, told Moyer he wouldn’t be coaching in 2009. In a matter of weeks, Harbaugh died unexpectedly.
“Our kids have been through a lot and it’s brought us closer together,” Moyer said. “I’m really proud of our program and the way we handled it in terms of composure and maturity. We talk about football being like the game of life. We’re certainly experienced.”
The Wynford football program kicked off a fund-raising program immediately for Griffin and his family. They raised more than $26,000 with donations coming in from all over the country before Week 1.
This Friday there was a special tribute at Crestline for Harbaugh. Crestline is the hometown for both Moyer and Harbaugh. Before joining Moyer at Wynford, Harbaugh was a fixture on the staff at Crestline including the years when Moyer was an All-Ohio linebacker there.
“I can’t say enough about him and the amount of passion he showed,” Moyer said of Harbaugh who is the uncle of both Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh and Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh. “One thing about Jerry is he will never be forgotten. It will be an emotional time on Friday.”
Another potentially distracting issue was taken care before the season started. All-Ohio quarterback Tyler Brause and tight end/defensive lineman Tevin Eatmon both made verbal commitments to the University of Kentucky and are expected to sign letters of intent in the February signing period.
“We tried to get as much done and get it taken care of as soon as possible,” Moyer said. “Fortunately for Tyler and Tevin they found a place they’ll be comfortable in after they leave Wynford.”
Shaking his head, Moyer added, “We’ve seen all the aspects of life over the last year.”
Moyer credits both the experience and the youth of his team for its success. Moyer says that like all successful teams, his depends heavily on senior leadership. But, points out a coach who has taken teams to the playoffs six times, his young players have gotten a lot of Friday night time due to putting teams away early and that has paid big dividends.
“We’re playing five sophomores right now,” Moyer said. “Any time they’re on the field we expect good things from them.”
While the Royals’ offense gets deserved accolades and the lion’s share of attention from the media, it’s the defense that has really come into its own. Wynford leads the NCC in total defense, giving up less than 200 total yards per game. The Royals also have the conference’s best defense against the run and the pass.
“As far as a team we always want to have a shutout and keep them under 100 yards rushing,” said one of the Royals defensive leaders, Zach Niedermier. “If a tackle comes my way, I want to make it.”
But like everything else in the Wynford program, it’s always about team and teammates.
“We have some young guys who are stepping up and making plays,” Niedermier said. “Tevin (Eatmon) and Alex Linn are doing a good job keeping people off the linebackers.”
And while Brause was recruited to Kentucky as a quarterback and leads the league in passing, a defensive gem may have been one of his best plays of the season.
Wynford was leading rival Bucyrus 14-7 just before halftime. However Bucyrus was driving and well into Wynford territory going in for the tying score. Brause tipped a pass out into the flats to himself, caught it and raced nearly 80 yards for the score to put the Royals firmly in control.
“My coverage responsibility is the flat,” Brause said of the momentum-changing interception. “I recognized it and got the jump on it.”
If Brause were a few decades older, he might have been nicknamed Jack Armstrong. He leads the league in passing with 1,513 yards passing and 21 touchdowns against just three interceptions. He leads his team in rushing with 921 yards through nine games, a 7.8 yard per carry average and 19 rushing touchdowns. Throw in 31 booted PAT’s and a league-best 37.4 average per punt.
But it’s very hard to get the big, raw-boned Wynford quarterback to talk about himself.
“I always know there are 10 other guys out there that have my back. It’s a great group of guys,” Brause said.
Nor does he or any of his teammates complain about the numbers they could put up if they weren’t routinely on the bench by the middle of the third quarter.
“No, not really. We try to get our work done and get a lead,” Brause said. “The numbers we put up in two quarters – other teams put up in four quarters.”
Brause’s favorite target this year is junior Chris Brown. Arguably one of the best pure athletes on the team, Brown leads the league in catches, 31, and reception yards, 588. Seven of his catches have gone for scores and he’s added five more running the ball including a 71-yard end around on Friday.
But Brown insists he can do better and he’s working towards that end.
“I guess a lot of times I find myself not playing to the best of my ability. I tend to take plays off and I’m trying to change that,” Brown said, carefully choosing his words to explain what he means. “We’re working on routes and I’m getting a lot better.”
The thought of Brown getting a lot better is almost Halloween-like scary.
The Royals have made it as far as the regional finals in Division V and a lot of people assumed when they dropped to Division VI this season they would be a shoe-in for the state tournament. Moyer wasn’t one of them.
“We didn’t get any favors,” Moyer said. Seven of the top 12 Division 6 teams in the AP poll are in Wynford’s Region 21.
“We know there are quality football programs in Division VI. We have great respect for the teams in our region. Some people have called it the toughest region of any in the state in any division. But our goal is to win a state championship.”
If that happens, Moyer says his seniors will lead the way.
“We’ve got a lot of unsung heroes that don’t get media attention. But they mean a great deal to this team.”