By Rob Kiser
SIDNEY — You can’t blame Lehman football coach Richard Roll and his squad if they hope a different site will lead to a different result.
Lehman will play Delphos St. John’s in the Division VII, Region 28 semifinals at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Allen East High School. The two teams met in the state semifinals in both 2008 and 2010, with the Blue Jays winning and going on to win state titles — but both those games were played at Wapakoneta.
“The 2010 game, they beat us pretty good,” Roll said.
It is a meeting of two teams with a rich playoff history.
Delphos St. John’s is making its 18th appearance in the postseason and has a 53-11 record in playoff games. The Blue Jays have gone to the state championship game seven times, winning six state titles.
It’s the 16th playoff appearance in program history for Lehman and fifth straight.
The Cavaliers have a record of 19-15 in the postseason and have advanced to the state semifinals four times, most recently in 2010.
“These seniors have been there every year,” Roll said. “A lot of them played as freshman. They know what this is about. They know this is their last shot.”
And while this is a very different Blue Jay team that comes into the game 7-4, don’t be fooled by the record.
Delphos St. John’s has been tested every week and has two signature wins. They knocked off Lima Central Catholic in the season opener — and the T-Birds haven’t lost since — and finished the regular season with a win over Coldwater.
“They are a different team than they were back then (2008, 2010),” Roll said. “Like us, they have gone to a spread look on offense. You know when you are playing a MAC team, they are well schooled.”
Junior quarterback Jared Wurst (6-foot-4, 200 lbs.) is the trigger to the Delphos St. John’s offense. Wurst completed 75 of 151 passes for 1,072 yards with five touchdowns and nine interceptions. He was also the team’s leading rusher with 603 yards rushing on 146 carries and 14 touchdowns.
Last week’s playoff win over Riverside was no different.
Wurst completed 10 of 17 passes for 207 yards and rushed for 81 yards on eight carries.
“Their quarterback is pretty efficient,” Roll said. “And he is a strong runner too.”
Senior Cole Reindel leads the running backs with 470 yards on 88 carries. Junior Curtis Schwinnen (6-2, 168) led the receivers in the regular season with 16 catches for 251 yards. But senior Connor Hulihan (6-0, 160) added 15 receptions for 206 yards and led them against Riverside with four catches for 110 yards.
Defensively, the Blue Jays are impressive out of their even-front look.
Senior Troy Elwer led the team with 117 tackles, while senior linebacker Isaac Musser (5-9, 175) had 106 and senior linebacker Troy Schwinnen (5-7, 180) had 105 tackles and five interceptions. Senior Matthew Miller added three interceptions.
“They are in even front most of the time,” Roll said. “They are real solid on defense.”
Lehman is coming off a 46-6 romp over Lima Perry in its playoff opener.
“The offense had a few hiccups, but they played well for the most part,” Roll said.
Junior quarterback Elliott Gilardi (6-0, 165) completed nine of 11 passes for 81 yards and two touchdowns in that game, while senior running back Owen Smith (5-11, 170) rushed for 181 yards on 13 carries.
Gilardi has completed 91 of 134 passes for 1,440 yards, with 24 touchdowns and five interceptions. He has also rushed for 950 yards on 112 carries, while Smith has rumbled for 1,727 yards on 152 carries.
Smith has 21 touchdowns rushing, while Gilardi has 17.
Senior Kameron Lee (6-4, 210) leads the receivers with 29 catches for 516 yards and seven touchdowns.
“We are a big-play offense,” Roll said. “Owen (Smith) can break a big run at any time and Elliott (Gilardi) can make plays both with his arm and running the ball. Kam (Kameron Lee) can outjump just about everyone.”
The defense was as close to flawless as it gets.
The Cavaliers had two interceptions and two fumble recoveries on defense, with Lee having one of each.
Senior defensive lineman Michael Bunker returned a backward pass for a touchdown and leads the pass rush with 13 sacks.
Sophomore linebacker Tyler Sollman (5-10, 155) has 69 tackles, junior linebacker Drew Barhorst (6-0, 165) has added 68 and senior linebacker Braiden Sherman (6-0, 150) has 56.
Lee leads the secondary with two interceptions.
“Like I said after the game, that was our best defensive effort of the year,” Roll said. “It was great to see the way they prepared for the game and executed.”
Special teams was also a strong point.
They came up with a safety, recovered an onside kick and junior kicker Michael Denning 6-1, 175) was five for six on PATs and booted a 30-yard field goal.
He is now 69 for 72 on PATs and four-for-six on field goals.
Now comes a chance for another big win — against a familiar opponent at a different site.
Rob Kiser can be reached at (937) 451-3334.
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