Friday, November 29th, 2013
Revisiting Celina's 1983 postseason
Last Curtain Call
By Robb Hemmelgarn
Jerry Harris had stood before his team a couple of dozen times since taking over the Celina football program two years earlier, but this time was unique.
As his players' eyes were locked on him in the locker room of Welcome Stadium in Dayton, he dissected the final pregame details just as he had many times before, only this time he, his coaching staff and the players on his roster understood in the back of their minds it was the most prolific game any of them had played in to that point in their careers as they were minutes away from kicking off the 1983 Division II state semifinal game against the Lemon-Monroe Hornets.
"At that time, the playoffs were only about 10-or 11-years old and we made it there for the first time in school history," said Harris, who coached at Celina from 1981-1999 and again in 2006-2007. "Only two teams per region made it in and you basically had to have an unbeaten season to advance. We finished 10-0 in a very strong Western Buckeye League, so we were confident by the time we got to the playoffs but were also just enjoying the fact that we were able to get there."
The Bulldogs' defense had been lights-out to that point in the season. They allowed just 75 points in 11 games but had yet to stare down an athlete the caliber of what awaited them on the other side of the field - Eddie (The Dream) Martin.
"We spent a lot of time concerned about Martin the week leading up to that game. He was billed as the real deal," said Harris. "He was regarded as the fastest player in Ohio and we thought, 'my goodness, how are we going to slow him down on Astroturf?' We felt we would certainly have to play our best game of the season defensively to contain him while also scoring enough points to keep us ahead."
Despite their unfamiliarity of the playoffs, the pressure of being on the cusp of heading to the state championship game and the accolades of the highly-touted Martin, the Bulldogs left little doubt from the beginning that the night belonged to them.
Early in the first period, Celina quarterback Jeff Wiley dialed in to receiver Gary Fennig for a 24-yard pitch-and-catch that Fennig took in for a touchdown. Wiley then hooked up with Rick Ross a few moments later for the two-point conversion that put their team in command 8-0. Later in the period, Ross sprinted 66 yards for his first of two rushing touchdowns in the game while Wiley's conversion pass to Tim Frysinger gave Celina a 16-0 cushion at the end of the first period.
"The adrenaline was definitely flowing for us in the early parts of that game," said All-Ohio linebacker Greg Eichenauer. "Without a doubt Martin was the fastest player we had faced, but we were ready for him. As a defensive unit, we had a mindset all year that we didn't even want to allow a first down. Martin made a few comments in the newspaper that week and we took it personal and wanted to set the tone early."
Things settled down offensively for the Green and White in the second and third quarters as they failed to dent the scoreboard but thankfully the defense prevailed and the contest rolled into the fourth stanza with Celina still in charge 16-0.
The Bulldogs' offensive lull stopped in the fourth quarter when Wiley orchestrated a drive that was highlighted with completions to Mike Roth for 15 yards and another to Frysinger on a vital third-down play. Soon after, Wiley hooked up with Fennig again for a six-yard touchdown that gave Celina a 22-0 led.
The Hornets enjoyed their best drive of the night on the ensuing series as they sliced their way into Celina's red zone, but a crucial sack by Kerry Roberts and an incomplete pass on fourth down squashed their spirits.
On the first handoff of the ensuing drive, Ross tucked the ball in and sprinted 77 yards for a touchdown and after Dave Knous' PAT kick, the Bulldogs extended their advantage to 29-0.
"At the beginning of the playoffs, coach Harris put a picture of Ohio Stadium out in front of us in the locker room," said Eichenauer. "It signified that the end of our journey in the postseason meant we would play there. When I came off of the field after the semifinal win, I remember assistant coach Walt Shreffler giving me a huge hug and yelling that we were going to the 'Shoe!"
Ross finished the battle with 208 rushing yards on 17 carries while Fennig added 117 receiving yards. Celina's defense was a nightmare for 'The Dream', as they held Martin to just 67 yards, with 11 yards being his most damaging rush of the night.
"To win that game in the fashion we did was amazing. Our defense came through so well and they still hold the school record for points per game allowed in a season," said Harris. "You know, we played outstanding in that game just as we had all year but there was one major key that helped us enjoy the success we endured that season. We played 21 different players offensively and defensively throughout the year. Greg Eichenauer was the only one who went both ways and not one time did anyone miss a game that entire season. When we qualified for the playoffs and won a couple of games, it was just icing on the cake for a remarkable year. It was a fun ride and winning that game was one that I won't soon forget."