Last weekend, with playoff football coming to town for the first time ever, 900 presale tickets were snapped up by Columbia fans, which packed the home grandstand and witnessed a 39-34 victory over Archbold.
At Fremont, the visitors’ side was jam-packed with green-clad fans, and, despite the score getting quickly out of hand en route to a 56-15 loss to Hamler Patrick Henry, all of those fans stayed until the bitter end.
They even gave the team a standing ovation following the postgame handshake for their remarkable run. To which Ward had his team stand up and applaud them right back for all of their support.
Ward even had his players turn around and applaud the Columbia band, who continued to play and do Columbia cheers.
“I love this team,” Ward said. “I love this town. I love this school. It’s really everything you want as a coach. Everything that you aspire to with your program is because of these fans and this community. 10-2 doesn’t mean a whole lot. Championships don’t mean a whole lot unless you have the support of your community and your parents and your fans and your alumni.
“That’s clearly something that we’ve gotten with this program, and I couldn’t be more happy about the support that we’ve gotten. These are great people to be around, and I’m proud to be their coach.”
Several former Columbia football players, including members of the 2010 playoff team that lost, 35-12, at Patrick Henry, stood on the sideline and gave words of encouragement to the players.
“These fans … the fans, the cheerleaders, the band, everyone associated with this team did an amazing job supporting us this entire year,” junior quarterback Jay Banyasz said. “It wouldn’t be the same without them. They really just made us even better.”
In normal instances, the school that is the higher seed is labeled the home team, which would give the fans the home bleachers at the stadium.
However, despite Columbia being the No. 3 seed in Region 18, the Raiders wore their road whites and their fans sat on the visitor side.
The explanation for that is because the home and visitor were based on the predetermined bracket.
Because Patrick Henry upset second-seeded Northwood last Saturday, the Patriots simply slid into the spot which would have been occupied by the No. 2-seeded team in the region. Therefore, they were considered the home team.
Both Ward and Patrick Henry head coach Mike Inselman pulled out all the stops to try to catch the other off guard.
Inselman, knowing that Ward’s defense would stack the box to stop their fierce running game, allowed quarterback Gabe Jones to throw more than he has this season. One dropped pass midway through the first quarter was the lone blemish on Jones’ 9-of-10 for 290 yards with three touchdown night.
Columbia, meanwhile, opened the game with five receivers and no running backs, with Banyasz alone in a shotgun formation. Inselman said it threw him and his coaches for a loop.
“Defensively, to contain Banyasz the way we did, I thought was exceptional,” Inselman said. “He’s a tremendous athlete. Secondly, they came out in a formation we had hardly ever seen from them. I thought my defensive coordinator Bob George made some great adjustments, and our kids didn’t panic.
“That’s just a credit to our kids, as well.”
Not so Fantastic
Ohio high school prognosticator Drew Pasteur, who runs the Web site www.Fantastic50.net, picked against Columbia each of the last two weeks.
Last Friday, Pasteur had Columbia pegged to lose to sixth-seeded Archbold by 11 points. The Raiders proved him wrong by winning, 39-34.
This week, Pasteur only favored 12 of the 48 lower-seeded teams in the regional semifinals, with Patrick Henry being one of them. The Patriots were 11-point favorites over the third-seeded Raiders and wound up exceeding that with a 41-point win.
Nod to the Inland
Columbia and Avon were more than just the lone Lorain County football teams alive in the state playoffs.
The schools were rivals in the old Inland Conference from 1957-1986, when the Eagles left to join the newly-formed Lorain County Conference. Columbia joined the Metropolitan Athletic Conference (MAC-8) in 1988 when the Inland dissolved.
This was also the first time in recent memory that two Lorain County teams were playing in the same round at the same facility in back-to-back nights.
During the week leading up to the game, Ward was very impressed with the Carrizales brothers — Patrick Henry defensive linemen Caleb and Jake. Both were as advertised.
Caleb ended the game with seven tackles and a sack while Jake, a senior, had 3.5 sacks and 11 tackles. He also broke up a pair of passes and delivered a number of wicked hits.
“We knew that they were a pretty violent football team … that they were a hard-hitting football team,” Ward said. “It takes a lot for our freshman wide receiver to stand in there and take some of the hits he did and keep running back out there. We have a courageous bunch.