Jason Arnold's South Adams football squad has risen from the ashes of an 0-5 start to reclaim their season and can actually go over the .500 mark this week as the 5-5 Starfires face John Diener's 5-5 Northfield Norsemen in the Secitonal 35 semi-finals at Starfire Field.
"We have discussed the fact that a win brings a trophy game to South Adams for the first time in a long time, but we are absolutely not getting ahead of ourselves. The players have done a good job all season of keeping their focus on what we have set out to accomplish," stated Arnold.
To do that, the Starfires will have to defeat a team that is "almost a mirror" of itself, according to Diener, who puts out a double-wing, no tight end offense that looks exactly like the South Adams Run and Shoot. "Put their uniforms on us, and we'd look just like them," said Diener.
The winner at Berne will meet the winner at Churubusco as the Southern Wells Raiders visit the state's fifth-rated team. Northfield stopped Fremont last week 56-20 while 'Busco hammered Adams Central and Southern Wells topped Southwood.
South Adams and Bluffton have two common foes in Bluffton and North Miami. Bluffton beat the Stars on a final micro-second pass, 18-17, while Northfield downed the Tigers 21-6 in the season opener. North Miami topped Northfield 29-14, while South Adams scored in the final period to beat North Miami last week.
While South Adams is all about running the ball, the veteran Diener,, who has coached at every level at Northfield since 1974, has a very balanced offense, with 1499 receiving yards and 1466 rushing yards.
And Diener is an equal-opportunity coach. Five receivers have over 100 yards in receptions, and five backs have over 100 yards, led by the 571 of fullback Matt Shafer, who missed two games this year with an injury.
Justin Parker has 306 yards, Hunter Wells 198, Andy Roser 164.
and quarterback Austin Gottschalk 101 yards.
Gottschalk, a first-year starting senior QB, has hit 93 of 191 passes for 1259 yards, 10 TDs and 13 interceptions.
Justin parker has 40 catches for 631 yards and Joe Frieden is 25 for 411 yards. Andy Roser has just six catches, but for 145 yards. Jared Kirtlan has 144 yards in receptions.
The Norseman are also a disciplined team with only 32 penalties for 231 yards for the year compared to 500 yards in penalties for the opposition. They have lost only six fumbles all season.
"We know South Adams is hot right now, so we can't make mistakes, we have to play our game and do what we do well," said Diener.
"With both teams running the ball, it could be a fast game," he points out.
Northfield has eight seniors starting on offense and six on defense, and he likes what he has. "This group of seniors is the best group I've ever had because of their leadershihp and understanding what we're trying to do offensively and defensively," said Diener.
The coach is also pleased with the emergence of Gottschalk as a competent QB. "We're to the point where Gottshcalk is making calls at line of scrimmage. He really understands our offense and what the defenses will do," praised the coach.
Northfield runs a 4-4 defense. Tackle Scott Ammons leads the team in tackles for loss. Linebackers Shafer and Evan Huiras and defensive end Roser have been key stoppers.
The Stars are averaging over 300 yards a game on offense, but their big return game has been key for them. Returns set up a pair of touchdowns last week.
"They have the best special teams we've seen all year. Their No. 26 (Taylor LeFever) is really something when he breaks into the open," noted Diener.
SA quarterback Dustin Wanner has matured into a strong runner and leads the Starfires with 120 attempts, netting 494 yards with 9 touchdowns scored. Halfback Taylor LeFever has 93 carres for 658 yards (7.1) with 6 touchdowns. Zach Morgan is at 387 yards on 85 tries (4.6) with two touchdowns. Marcus Rich has 269 yards on 39 carries (6.9). The Starfires total 2,161 yards, or 5.6 per play with 20 rushing touchdowns.
Wanner has completed 58 passes out of 107 tosses for 910 yards and 11 touchdowns with 7 interceptions.
LeFever also leads the receivers with 25 catches for 393 yards and four more touchdowns. Nick Batt has 11 snags for for 251 yards (22.8) and three scores. Morgan has 9 catches for 95 yards and three touchdowns.
The Starfires started their incredible string of wins with a blowout of rival Adams Central, 46-21. The key wins included a 21-17 victory at Garrett and a total destruction of Southern Wells at Poneto, 69-14. The Stars opened the playoffs with a 20-14 win at North Miami, beating a team with a wide-open offense.
"The positive about this victory is that we were able to win a close, hard-fought ball game," said Arnold.
"North Miami did a good job of taking over momentum and tying the game by halftime, but our team did not panic. We played good offensive and defensive football, and we made enough plays at the end to win the ballgame. Anytime you win a good game like that, it can only help prepare you for bigger games."
The Stars, which have basically made their break by running the football, face a 5-5 Northfield team which also likes to stick on the ground, running an option offense.
"We are a team that is playing with a lot of confidence now. The juniors who were first time varsity players at the beginning of the year have matured nicely into key players for us," said the coach.
"Northfield shows a few more formations than we do. They are pretty balanced on offense and will throw the football more than we have been during the winning streak. We have planned for them and are ready to go," declared Arnold.
The maturing of a steady defense has played a critical role in the rebirth of the Starfires. Arnold credits linebackers Trevor White and Sam Amstutz, as well as defensive end Curtis Mitchel for their work last week.
"They have made big plays for us all season long. Each of them made a key stop on fourth down attempts, and Curtis recovered the final fumble to seal the victory. Evan Johnston also stepped up with three sacks Friday night," praised the coach.
White leads the Stars with 72 tackles, four assists and six tackles for losses. Amstutz has 48 stops, four tackles for losses and five quarterback sacks. Mitchel has five stops for losses and four sacks for 37 yards in losses. Johnston has been credited with 5.5 sacks and three tackles for losses.