MARIA STEIN — Maybe nothing illustrates the next-man-in-line mentality of the Marion Local football program better than Justin Rutschilling, the Flyers’ own proverbial rags to riches story.
Just a junior varsity player from a season ago as a junior, Rutschilling worked his way into becoming a first team All-Midwest Athletic Conference player on both offense and defense this fall.
“I think it was bad coaching,” Marion Local head coach Tim Goodwin deadpanned in a teleconference on Monday. “We talked as a coaching staff and we wondered, ‘why in the heck weren’t we play him last year?’”
No one other than an incessantly self-deprecating Goodwin accuses him of being a bad coach, though. This is Marion Local’s sixth stab at a state title. They’ve only come up empty once in the past five tries.
Marion Local simply finds new ways to use the incoming talent to its best abilities.
The Flyers are no stranger to the state championship game. But Marion Local does it with a whole new crop of players this season.
Marion Local searches for its fifth state championship on Saturday morning when it plays Buckeye Central (12-2) at 11 a.m. at Canton’s Fawcett Stadium.
Rutschilling is a shining example. He plays right guard and inside linebacker for the Flyers.
“Justin is the first kid who ever had who in his first year starting went from JV to first team all-league as a senior,” Goodwin said. “He’s had an incredible senior year.”
“We’ve lost senior classes,” Goodwin said. “But we have kids stepping in who put the time in and stuck with program and didn’t get discouraged. They didn’t let themselves quit and senior year they had great years. We’ve had it in the past, Justin is just an extreme example of that, even for us. He’s our emotional leader.”
Flyers Reloaded: The Flyers weren’t necessarily picked to get back to the title game after a large exodus of players to graduation from last season’s team that lost to Minster in the regional semifinals.
Even in the early weeks of the season, Marion Local looked far from a team headed to Canton in Week 16.
“(At the start of the year) we were very young and inexperienced,” Marion Local head coach Tim Goodwin said. “We had some kids back on defense but our offense was brand new. We’ve enjoyed watching this offense grow. It’s been a lot of fun.”
The emergence of sophomore quarterback Adam Bertke has been a large part of an offense that went from scoring just seven points against Shawnee in a 13-7 overtime loss to a squad that won the MAC and is averaging more than 36 points per game during the playoffs. Goodwin pinpointed the Week 4 and Week 5 wins over Minster and Anna as the turning points of the season.
Now Marion Local runs it and throws it equally well, with a Bertke gaining confidence throwing to a pair of skilled wideouts in Lee Pierron and Dylan Thobe along with Heitkamp gaining chunks of yardage in the running game.
“I like our balance on offense,” Goodwin said. “ Jake Heitkamp and Adam Bertke have really come on throughout the season.”
“We’ve always told our kids that if a team is going to be playing a seven-man front on defense, we have to be able to run,” he added. “If they run an eight-man front we have to be able to throw it to make them pay.”