BLOOMDALE — Typically, when a high school football team loses, media does not talk to players from the losing team unless it’s an important game.
Elmwood’s loss to Liberty Center in the Division V regional finals at Perrysburg’s Widdell Field at Steinecker Stadium Friday was an important game.
Not because the Royals lost — it was because the game concluded a record-setting 12-2 season that will go down in history as one of Elmwood’s best, if not the best.
After the loss Friday, two-way Elmwood senior lineman Zach May wanted to thank his community.
“We just want to say, on behalf of everybody on the team, thank you to the entire community, even from other schools, who supported us during this,” May said.
“We appreciate everything. We couldn’t ask for anything more. For a lot of years, the team didn’t have very much support because we were not very good, but these last two years for me they have been really good,” May continued.
“They showed up and supported us, and it’s more now than ever. The school was really excited about everything, so was everyone in the community and there were houses decorated and everything. It’s all Elmwood football and we love to see it.”
The Royals, which led by four points, 32-28, in the fourth quarter, missed out on qualifying for the state final four, losing to Liberty Center, 49-38.
But no Elmwood team has ever made it to the regional finals, although there have been historic teams that won Suburban Lakes League championships and even the 1965 team that won a Northern Lakes League title.
The loss to perennial powerhouse like Liberty Center, where they live high school football like it’s the only thing in town, came down to a few mistakes late in the game.
“They are real good and obviously we have some really good players. Hats off to them,” Elmwood coach Greg Bishop said. “They play hard, and we play hard, too, but our kids made some mistakes offensively and defensively and we ended up short.
“We didn’t execute like you know we needed to, and when you make some mistakes in the elite eight, you know it’s going to hurt you,” he said. “I’m super proud of our kids. It hurts a little right now but when the dust settles, we have a lot to be proud of about this season.”
Bishop said that May and his classmates have set a standard that he hopes will continue when Elmwood joins the Blanchard Valley Conference next year.
“I love them and hey, from here on out for our upcoming juniors and seniors, this year’s senior class is the standard. We’ve got to continue that standard,” Bishop said.
Resilient playoff run
The playoff run included a 28-7 win over Battle of the Woods rival Eastwood in the regional semifinals, avenging a 49-48 loss to the Eagles during the regular season that cost the Royals the Northern Buckeye Conference title.
“Our kids played with a lot of toughness, enthusiasm and discipline right from the get-go,” Bishop said. “We played very physical, and we preached all week, and our kids were locked in, dialed in and ready to go.
“With all the practice that we had that week, we were in week 14, so it was exciting to see things come together and put together one of the best performances we’ve seen here in a long time, to come together and knock off Eastwood.”
May added, “It was just a big emotional win for the community — something that we were really looking forward to. We lost to them the first time, so there was a little revenge factor.”
In that game, Elmwood senior quarterback Hayden Wickard completed 7-of-11 passes for 142 yards.
“It was a great team win. We came out, practiced hard for a team that we were going to come out and show them what’s up,” Wickard said. “When we executed, we went out, fought hard and made sure we were the better team.”
There was also a 34-15 regional quarterfinal win over Tinora in which Elmwood had to come back from a 15-7 third quarter deficit by scoring 27 points unanswered.
“The first half we looked at film and we weren’t executing like we should. We had some mental errors and just some basic things that we were not doing right,” Bishop said.
“So, we made adjustments at halftime, and we needed to execute our assignments at a higher level. We challenged our kids at halftime to do that, and we responded with 27 unanswered points in the second half.”
In the win over Tinora, Wickard completed 15-of-26 passes for 148 yards, and against LC, he completed 21-of-32 passes for 264 yards and four touchdowns.
For the season, Wickard completed 198 of 304 passes (65%) for 3,353 yards with 34 TDs and just 10 interceptions, and Bishop is confident there are college programs interested.
“He’s 6-foot-4, and weighs 200 pounds, and he can sling the ball, so there is interest for him. He’s a big kid,” Bishop said.
Throw in the running of 5-10, 200-pound senior back Mason Oliver, who ran for 2,051 yards on 224 carries, averaging 9.2 yards every time he totes the ball, and you have multiple players in that class who are looking to play collegiately.
Bishop is not afraid to remind us about his linemen, too, and how they helped set the table for all of Elmwood’s skilled players. That includes how they stepped up in the second half in the win against Tinora.
“Our linemen are stout. Against Tinora, we challenged them at halftime specifically to execute at a higher level and do your job better,” Bishop said. “We were able to draw up some things on the board, just amazing things, ‘Here’s how we need to execute these things, guys.’
“Zach May (6-0, 245), he is a second team center and the leader up front, and (junior) Jimmy Palmer (6-1, 235), a first team guard and (junior) Luke Barringer (6-2, 230), a second team tackle — we have some kids who can move people up front, and we have speed up front,” Bishop said.