Thursday, November 30th, 2017
1992 Roughriders had dream season
By Robb Hemmelgarn
Plenty of hype surrounded the St. Marys football program as the 1992 season began, especially after their campaign the year before had ended in the first round of the playoffs.
That 1991 squad, whom many consider one of the best St. Marys teams to ever take the field, finished the regular season ranked fourth in Ohio at 10-0, had an average margin of victory of 38 points and were crowned outright Western Buckeye League champions for the second season in a row. Their unexpected loss provided plenty of lessons for those returning in 1992.
"It was definitely motivation for us as it taught us that no matter how good you are or what you are ranked, that you can always be defeated," said Luke Kleinhenz, a junior halfback on the 1992 squad. "Coach (Skip) Baughman always used to say that you don't want to be remembered as a 'shoulda, coulda, woulda' team and we certainly didn't want to be in that position at the end of the 1992 season."
The Roughriders opened the 1992 slate with a pair of decisive victories over Sidney and Elida, before having their resolve tested in a 20-14 Week Three setback to Lima Bath, their first WBL loss since 1989 when they had fallen to Bath in Week Two of the regular season.
"I feel that game really helped us to refocus for the remainder of the season," Kleinhenz commented. "The game went to overtime and Bath was a very good team. We had a few injuries, but that really isn't an excuse. It was great to be challenged early in the season and I believe that loss helped us to become a better team."
From there, Baughman's crew averaged more than 40 points per game as they fired off seven straight victories to finish the regular season 9-1 overall and also nabbed their third straight outright league title and finished the year ranked fifth in Division II as they prepared for their postseason opener against Greenville.
"We didn't change anything heading into the playoffs in 1992, despite the early exit in 1991," former assistant coach Roger Duncan advised. "The biggest factor in our change of focus that year was definitely after the Bath loss. There was really hell to pay in practice that following Monday and from that moment on, the kids were focused and on a mission. They expected nothing less than excellence."
The Roughriders trounced Greenville 61-14 before shutting out Chaminade-Julienne 35-0 in the regional championship. After edging Columbus Brookhaven 27-13 in the state semifinal, it was back to Stark County for the second time in three years, where St. Marys prepared to face Fostoria. The Redmen were riding a 27-game winning streak and the defending state champions were led by future Ohio State Buckeye Damon Moore.
"We defeated Fostoria in the playoffs in 1990, but we thought after that particular game that they took us sort of lightly," Duncan remarked. "They were the defending state champions and ranked number one in the state, but we felt they were pretty arrogant. Our plan was to go out, stick to the basics, and take it to them. We weren't just happy being there, we were there to win it all."
The Roughriders blew in front 21-0 through the first three quarters thanks to touchdown runs by Shawn Lamb, Mike Elston, and Tony Hirschfeld. Kleinhenz set up his team's final touchdown with his fourth interception of the postseason, and before long Hirschfeld put the finishing touches on what would become a 28-14 victory.
"Winning a state championship is an unbelievable sense of accomplishment," Kleinhenz pointed out. "Football is a very long season beginning back in August and that doesn't include all of the time in the weight room in the offseason. There is no feeling like walking off the field as a state champion. It was a huge sense of relief in a lot of ways and we were all very excited and proud to end the season in that manner."
Although the Roughriders had plenty of star power in 1992, they were also loaded with kids who simply loved to play the game and did it well. Elston and offensive lineman Tim Connerty earned first team All-Ohio accolades, while those two, along with defensive standouts Dean Miller and Blaine Smith were named first team All-WBL.
"Mike and Dean were the leaders of our offense and defense, respectively," Duncan concluded. "They played at the highest level and expected their teammates to do the same. The 1992 group was loaded with a great blend of seniors and underclassmen – they all worked hard, filled their roles and as the season wore on, they expected to give nothing but their absolute best. Once all of those aspects were intact, everything fell into place. It was a remarkable season."