Oak Harbor’s offensive line big part of their success

Mark Griffin

There’s no denying that the running game is the most dynamic aspect of Oak Harbor’s offense this season, and it all starts up front.
They wear numbers 52, 56, 75, 77 and 78 and they rarely get the recognition they deserve from anyone other than their teammates. The Rockets’ offensive line has been the road-grader that coach Mike May’s squad has ridden all the way to Saturday’s Division V state semifinal game at Pat Catans Stadium in Strongsville.
Third-ranked Oak Harbor (13-0) beat defending Division V state champion Orrville (11-2), 35-28 by running for four touchdowns and throwing for another last Saturday in a rain-soaked Region 18 final at Elyria.
“It was definitely a huge win,” May said. “That was one of our main goals coming into the season, to win our region. We felt really good for the kids. The seniors have done a great job all year, and our success is a reflection of them.”
The Rockets advanced to this Saturday’s state semifinal game against the top-ranked Kirtland Hornets (13-0), the 2018 D-VI state champion. Kirtland beat Maria Stein Marion Local, 16-7, in last year’s state title game and has one of the top programs in Ohio.
The Hornets have won four state titles, including last year’s championship, and have three state runner-up finishes. Kirtland is 41-10 in 15 playoff appearances and has reached the state semis eight times since 2011.
Oak Harbor is 13-9 in 10 playoff appearances and reached the state semifinals in 1999 and 2006. The Rockets lost to eventual D-IV state champion and Sandusky Bay Conference rival Sandusky Perkins, 21-0, in 1999, and lost to Plain City Jonathan Alder, 24-7, in the 2006 semifinal.
This year’s Oak Harbor squad, the SBC Bay Division champion, has been prolific offensively..
Senior running back Clay Schulte has 1,453 yards rushing and 32 touchdowns. Senior quarterback Jac Alexander has rushed for 1,373 yards and 19 touchdowns and thrown for 1,615 yards and 24 scores. Senior Tyler May has 38 catches for 787 yards and 10 touchdowns.
The Rockets’ offensive line was bolstered by the addition of senior left tackle Gabe Dowling and his twin brother Will, who starts at left guard, in the offseason. The Dowlings are transfers from Clyde, which reached the D-IV state semifinals this weekend. The Fliers (9-4) compete in the SBC’s Lake Division.
Both Dowling brothers earned first-team All-SBC honors this season.
“Gabe is very physical and has a mean streak on the field,” coach May said. “He brings a lot of toughness to us up front, and he and his brother are really good at finishing blocks. Will is a lot like his brother in that he brings a lot of physicality and he’s been very consistent with his play. He’s had a high-ankle sprain for six or seven weeks and has played through it. He also has a shoulder that is banged up. He spends a lot of time in the training room, but he never misses practice.”
Junior Aiden Hall has been the starting center since week six, when regular starter Ronnie Gonzalez suffered a knee injury. Both players are first-year starters.
“Aiden stepped in for Ronnie when Ronnie got hurt, and we haven’t really missed a beat,” May said. “He’s kind of undersized at 5-foot-7 and 185 or 190 pounds, but he plays bigger than his size. And, he’s very intelligent.”
The right side of the line consists of senior guard Reece Laughlin, a third-year starter, and senior tackle Parker Smith, a two-year starter. Smith earned second-team all-conference honors this season and Laughlin was an honorable mention pick.
“Reece missed three games with mono and came back in the first game of the playoffs,” May said. “(Junior) Egan Bolander started in those three games. Parker has been very consistent every week. He never has a bad practice or a bad game. He’s a tough kid who doesn’t say a lot, but when it’s game time he’s ready to go.”
May said the coaches had high expectations for this year’s offensive line.
“We knew we had Reese and Parker coming back this year, and Ronnie worked hard in the offseason,” May said. “Once the Dowlings joined us, we thought we would have a pretty good lineup. We didn’t know much about them, but once they got here we realized pretty quick they were pretty good football players. They’ve had some Division II offers.”
The other D-V state semifinalists, fifth-ranked Ironton (12-1) and No. 8 West Jefferson (12-1), play Saturday at Herrnstein Field in Chillicothe. Ironton has made 35 playoff appearances and has a 48-32 record, with 12 semifinal appearances and two state titles. West Jefferson is 26-19 in 22 playoff appearances. The Roughriders won state titles in 1976 and ‘82 and are making their fifth semifinal appearance.


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