Culbreath: Central and Whitmer win respectWritten by Matt 'Shaggy' Culbreath | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Last weekend, two of Toledo’s top prep football programs had the opportunity to play for the OHSAA Football State Championship title. One team, the Central Catholic Fighting Irish, captured the Division II crown with a spectacular defensive stand. The other, the Whitmer Panthers, had a fourth-quarter comeback snuffed out. What both teams have won, though, is the admiration and respect of every football fan in Northwest Ohio.
During the regular season, we all carry the flags of our alma maters: Red and Blue, Blue and Vegas Gold, Brown and Orange. Even to this day, I still hear the echoes in my head of “Swanton High we proudly hail thee, Purple and the White!” (Sidenote: Please, Swanton High, give me something to proudly hail.)
When it comes playoff time, however, those banners are put away as we all become Northwest Ohio boosters. We root for Knights, Titans, Wildcats, Panthers and Yellow Jackets alike; quite literally cats and dogs living together. Well, assuming they’re not playing against each other in those early rounds.
In this year’s tournament, as CC and Whitmer wound their way through the tournament, the whole state got to see what we already knew: that these two teams were something special. Central Catholic breezed through the first three rounds of the Division I bracket, and then staged a fourth-quarter comeback against fifth-ranked Aurora to punch their ticket to Massillon to play defending champion Trotwood Madison. For Whitmer, semifinal exits in 2010 and 2011 became the perfect backdrop to its Division II postseason run that included its own fourth-quarter comeback in the second round against Hudson.
The championship games, however, couldn’t have played out more differently. Central Catholic established the run early, jumped out to a quick lead, and held off Madison for a 16-12 victory and the Division II title, its second in the past seven years. Whitmer was knocked off its game early by turnovers, played from behind the entire game and couldn’t gain any momentum until the final quarter. By then, there wasn’t enough gas in the tank to carry the Panthers across the finish line, and their perfect season was upset by Cincinnati Moeller 20-12. The Whitmer kids were crushed; many thought that while they were beat, they were still the better team. They probably were; after all, it was only a few weeks back when they pounded Central 49-0… the same Irish team that was making space in their trophy case.
It hurts to write about those two games back to back, because it feels like the Whitmer loss taints Central’s victory. It shouldn’t be that way: the Irish title is just as impressive this year as it was the first time, and the kids on Cherry Street will have a story they will tell for years to come. The story of the City That Went 1-for-2 suffers simply because of scheduling: had Central’s game been played on Saturday instead of Friday, we’d be talking about an Irish team that redeemed the Panthers loss the day prior. Had both teams lost, we would be talking about two great teams who represented their city proudly, even though their runs fell just shy of glory. With the loss following the win, it becomes “the letdown,” which is not fair to either team.
While both crowns aren’t coming back to the 419, the good news is that a cursory glance at any social media outlet would tell you that we were not disappointed in the young men who made the trip. For the champion Irish, a celebratory rally was held the very next day. For the Panthers, we are keen to look at the bigger picture: a 39-4 record over 3 seasons isn’t just “good,” it’s epic. A paragon of excellence. The players themselves may not be happy with the way things went down on Saturday, but in the 14 games prior, they played brilliant football. Many will continue to do so, either as they become the upperclassmen on their teams, or as they move on into the college ranks.
Instead of looking at 2012 as “what could have been,” this season should be held up as a celebration of Northwest Ohio football. 1-1 in state championship games sounds a whole lot better than not being in any finals at all. Celebrate these two teams: they deserve every bit of it.
Email Matt ‘Shaggy’ Culbreath at email@example.com.