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Thursday, September 20th, 2012
By Robb Hemmelgarn
Flyers had a memorable win over Tigers in 1989
Last Curtain Call
Dan Thobe, Ron Arling and Tim Pohlman realized that time wasn't on their side.
The only shred of their high school football careers at Marion Local that remained was their senior year and with it came one last shot at taking out Versailles in the season opener.
It was the summer of 1989, and the three were also aware that besides time, the odds weren't necessarily on their side either as they had fallen short in each of their previous tries against the Tigers.
After advancing to the Division IV state title game in 1988, the Tigers were also on the cusp of a spectacular decade-plus run of dominance over Ohio high school football. With a solid stable of returning players, including 1,000-yard rusher Kenny Baltes, the Tigers had advanced to the postseason in three straight seasons and normally marched into week one playing in midseason form.
"Everyone was excited about the start of the new season, including all of the players and coaches, as well as both communities," recalled Pohlman, who played on the Flyers' offensive line. "One of the difficult things about playing Versailles is that even though you knew what plays they were going to run, they executed so well that it was extremely difficult to stop them. They were one of our biggest rivals and I remember during our summer workouts they were always on our minds. We used that game as motivation to push ourselves to get better."
With an untested sophomore quarterback, but an extremely-heralded pair of running backs in Thobe and Matt Fleck, the Flyers snatched the opening kickoff and pushed across the field to Versailles' 19 yard line, only to have the series die when signal-caller Brad Huelsman was picked off.
Unshaken, the Blue and Gold regained control later in the period and fired up a drive near their own 40-yard line. Thirteen plays later, and into the second quarter, Fleck bullied his way across the goal line for a five-yard touchdown run.
Marion Local's celebrating continued when the Tigers mishandled the ensuing kickoff and the Flyers recovered 33 yards from pay dirt. This time, it took only four plays before Thobe bumped his team in front by two scores with a three-yard touchdown plunge.
"I remember we had the ball inside the five and were getting ready to score our first touchdown with a dive play to the right," Pohlman explained. "I was the guard on that side and wanted to get off of the ball quick, but unfortunately, I went a little too quickly and we were penalized. We managed the score two plays later though, so all was good!"
The Tigers' most promising scoring opportunity before halftime was squashed when they fumbled the ball into the end zone and Marion Local's Eric Schwartz pounced on it to preserve the Flyers' 13-0 halftime advantage.
The Tigers strolled through the Flyers' defense to start the second half before crashing into a wall just across midfield, where the home team slammed the door shut on four consecutive plays. Defenses prevailed for the remainder of the third quarter, and before long, the Flyers were 12 minutes away from beginning the season 1-0.
"I remember really keying in on Baltes, who was their big-play guy and a stud at running back," Arling pointed out. "We shut him down and as the game wore on, we realized it was going to be all about defense. We concentrated on avoiding mistakes and went out and hit them as hard as we could. What really resonates with me is how we all played as a team and worked together to get the job done."
The Tigers' final threat came early in the fourth quarter, but a pass attempt just past midfield landed in Matt Fleck's hands and from there the Flyers' fate was in their own hands.
With 3:27 remaining, and in the shadows of their own goal post, fourth down reared its unwelcome head. Rather than award the Tigers with promising field position, punter Dan Thobe elected to give up the safety. Versailles managed to take the ensuing free kick to Marion Local's 33-yard line, but Scott Thobe's interception sealed the 13-2 win for the Flyers.
Thobe paced the Flyers offensively with 161 yards on 31 carries while Fleck added 55 yards on 13 totes. The Flyers' defense was remarkable, limiting Versailles to only five first downs and just over 160 yards of total offense, while forcing five turnovers and holding Baltes to only 45 rushing yards.
"I will never forget the feeling after that game and how happy and proud we were of one another," Thobe pointed out. "As several of our classmates stormed the field and looking at the scoreboard that read '13- 2', is something that will always stick with me."
The Flyers went on to finish 1989 with a very respectable 7-3 record, while their win over Versailles was the Tigers' only blemish before their loss in the Division IV state semifinals.
Unfortunately, the traditional season-opening tilt between the two fell casualty in recent years to adjustments in the Midwest Athletic Conference schedule reformatting. Although they face off against one another again this season, knocking helmets in the season just isn't quite the same.
"I certainly think it has lost some of its luster because we played Versailles in the first game for so many years," Thobe concluded. "It went back a generation or so and you would always hear them talk about that first game of the season. What made it even worse was not playing them for those two years (2010 and 2011 due to another scheduling adjustment). Change happens though - sometimes for the better and sometimes not."
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