By Mark Altstaetter
WAPAKONETA — It’s not the way a team starts, but how it finishes that really matters.
After starting its season 2-4, the Minster football team rallied all the way back to make it to the Division 7 state semifinals.
In Saturday’s state semifinal matchup with McComb at Harmon Field in Wapakoneta, Minster continued to show its resiliency by coming back in the fourth quarter to win 27-23 and notch a berth in Saturday’s state championship game.
The Wildcats will play Warren John F. Kennedy (13-1) at Ohio Stadium, and kickoff is set for 10 a.m.
In Saturday’s first-ever matchup between the two programs, McComb (12-2) battled back from a 21-0 deficit, scoring 23 unanswered points and claiming a 23-21 lead, late in the third quarter.
However, midway through the fourth quarter, Minster quarterback Jared Huelsman led his offensive unit on an 11-play, 83-yard scoring drive, which he capped off with a 2-yard run for the go-ahead touchdown.
For the game, Huelsman rushed for 62 yards on 17 carries with two TDs. In the air, he was 14-of-25 passing for 101 yards and a TD. Huelsman also got it done on defense, intercepting a pass from McComb quarterback Malachi Abbott right before the end of the first quarter and running it back 37 yards for a TD.
“It’s a great feeling, battling through so much adversity,” Huelsman said. “We’ve been in this situation before. We just knew we had to keep fighting and good stuff will happen.
“We knew the game wasn’t over until the clock hit zero. So we knew we had to keep fighting and keep battling until it did hit zero. That’s exactly what we did and it paid off.”
After winning the Division 6 state title in 2014, Minster (10-4) is returning to Ohio Stadium in hopes of winning another state championship.
“We’ve had that goal in mind since the beginning of the season,” Huelsman said. “It was a little rough in the middle (of the season), but we battled back. I’m so happy.”
Despite losing a 21-0 lead, Minster coach Geron Stokes remained confident of his team in the second half of Saturday’s game.
“I love our kids,” Stokes said. “We came out on fire, and we knew they were going to battle back, because they’re a very good team. Our kids were on the ropes a little bit. They responded, just like you want tough kids to respond. They handled it the right way. They went out and made plays.”
Minster jumped out to a 14-0 lead by the end of the first quarter. With 21 seconds left to play in the first, Huelsman scored on a 14-yard run to cap off a 12-play, 54-yard scoring drive. With the point-after by Isaac Schmiesing, the Wildcats led 7-0.
On McComb’s next possession, Huelsman picked off Abbott’s pass and ran it to the end zone for a 14-0 lead.
Then, with a little more than six minutes left to play in the first half, Huelsman connected with Jonathan Niemeyer for a 19-yard TD pass. With the PAT, Minster’s lead was 21-0.
The Panthers got a 2-yard TD run by Caden Schroeder. However, the extra point was missed, and Minster led 21-6.
Then, with two seconds left until intermission, McComb’s Tanner Schroeder booted a 24-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 21-9.
McComb came out strong in the third quarter.
A little more than three minutes into the second half, Abbott connected with Graham LaRue for a 56-yard TD pass. With the two-point conversion, Minster’s lead was 21-17. That scoring drive took just three plays for the Panthers.
Then, with less than two minutes remaining in the third quarter, Caden Schroeder ran it in from five yards out, giving his team the two-point advantage, and the only lead of the game for the Panthers.
Huelsman gave Minster the go-ahead TD, with 4:02 left to play in the game, on his 3-yard scamper to the end zone.
Abbott led McComb with 103 rushing yards and was 8-of-15 passing for 56 yards.
“I think they deserve it,” Stokes said about his team. “I’m a big believer that you always get what you deserve. They forced themselves to grow. They’ve done a heck of a job. I’m really proud of our kids. We weren’t perfect, but we fought and we’re going back to the ‘Shoe’.”