MARIA STEIN -- There are years it must seem like winning the Midwest Athletic Conference football title is easier than capturing the state championship.
Given the fact the MAC includes powerhouses like Marion Local, Coldwater, Anna, Delphos St. John's, et al., that may not be far from the truth.
Six members of the MAC, based in western Ohio, have combined to win 37 state football titles, often during the same year in different divisions.
Don Kemper, the MAC commissioner, told the New York Times in a story published today, "Kids grow up wanting to play on Friday nights and have that success. No place is perfect, but we live in the middle of cornfields, and there are a lot of things that go on in the big cities that we don't see."
That's the league-wide challenge Lucas (12-2) faces on Saturday at 10 a.m. when the Cubs take on the Flyers of Marion Local (12-2) in the Division VII state title game at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton.
It's the first time for Lucas in a football state title game. It's the ninth consecutive state championship game for the Flyers, who hammered Hamler Patrick Henry last Saturday night in the state semifinals, 40-6.
Longtime Marion Local coach Tim Goodwin, who had to replace starters at 18 of 22 positions from last year's Division VI state finalist, knows his Mercer County team faced stiff challenges during the regular season.
"We're always poking and prodding, trying to find something," Goodwin told the Celina Daily Standard after the win over Patrick Henry. "That's the thing about playing in our league: when the other team throws out a defense, they usually have 11 good players. Sometimes you get into the playoffs and that's not the case.
"Sometimes you can find something that you can poke a little harder," said Goodwin, who has led the Flyers to 10 state titles since taking over the program in 1999.
The Flyers, whose losses this season were to Division III Columbus Bishop Watterson (31-7) in week two and Division VI playoff participant Minster (27-26) in week eight, certainly found things to poke on the ground and in the air against Patrick Henry.
Charles Huelsman caught seven passes for 250 yards and three TDs. Kyle Muhlenkamp completed 10 of 12 passes for 289 yards. Sophomore Peyton Otte had a 97-yard TD run in the first quarter and had 141 yards in total offense.
The win against the Patriots was just the latest for the Flyers, who also defeated Mississinawa Valley (56-6), Fort Loramie (24-21 in overtime) and New Bremen (27-0).
Despite two decades of success, it's nothing Goodwin, his staff, his players or his community take for granted.
"We talk to the seniors every year about protecting the tradition and so forth," he told the Daily Standard. "They take it personally. They don't want to let this program down. They've done a great job.
"It's special every time. Every team's different. Every team has a different personality. This team has a really good attitude," Goodwin said.