Rockets’ gridiron success brings community together

Yaneek Smith

Oak Harbor football has answered the call this season.
        Faced with steep expectations, 13-0 Oak Harbor has played at a high level for the duration of the season and achieved some lofty goals. The Rockets won a regional championship and Saturday night played in a Division V state semifinals against perennial powerhouse Kirtland with the hopes of reaching a state championship game next Saturday.
        The 35-28 regional final victory over Orrville, the reigning state champions, was a monumental accomplishment as Oak Harbor held one of the best players in the state, running back Marquael Parks, in check in the second half and rallied from a 14-point deficit. Parks rushed 26 times for 252 yards and four touchdowns, including scoring runs of 65 and 73 yards, respectively, in the first half, but rushed for just 90 yards and a score in the final two quarters.
        "We had tweaked our defense going into the game to give them a different look that they hadn't seen," said Oak Harbor coach Mike May. "Once we got down 21-7, we went back to our base defense, and once we did that, we were able to hold (Parks) in check for the most part."
        That decision proved to be the difference in the game as the Rocket defense rose to the occasion in the second half.
        Quarterback Jac Alexander completed 6-of-13 passes for 163 yards and a touchdown and rushed 23 times for 134 yards and a score and running back Clay Schulte carried the ball 20 times for 199 yards and three touchdowns. His lone catch, a 67-yard touchdown reception, came with 10:40 remaining and was the final score, breaking a 28-28 tie. Wide receiver Tyler May, an unsung hero for the team, also helped pace the offense, catching four passes for 92 yards.
        May credited his team for staying focused and rallying from a 14-point deficit and tying the score at 21-21 at halftime.
        "That was a reflection of our senior leadership. Our seniors never get too high or too low," he said. "If someone from the outside came to watch us practice, they might think we are flat, but it's just our guys being businesslike. That approach and that leadership have helped us get through the tough times.
        "The regional championship was one of our major goals, and it is every year. I was happy for our football team, especially our senior class. It's exciting to be playing football for Thanksgiving week."
        It was the third regional title for a program with a storied history that includes a bevy of league titles, 10 playoff appearances, including a 13-8 postseason record, and great performances in big games. The win over the Red Riders brought back memories of Oak Harbor's defeat of reigning state champion Coldwater, 38-20, in the regional semifinals in 2006. In that game, Oak Harbor, like it did against Orrville, won the battle at the line of scrimmage and exerted its will over the Cavaliers.
        The Rockets defeated Beachwood, 41-7, in the first round of the playoffs and held off Eastwood in the semifinals, defeating the Eagles, 34-14. In the win over the Bison, Alexander carried the ball 17 times for 137 yards and three touchdowns while Schulte had 17 carries for 82 yards and two scores. In the defeat of Eastwood, Alexander and Schulte ran wild, rushing for a combined 302 yards.
        Schulte was a force, running 17 times for 156 yards and four touchdowns, and Alexander was just as effective, carrying the ball 22 times for 146 yards. He threw the ball just five times, completing four passes, one of which went to Schulte on a 24-yard touchdown.
        For his career, Alexander has completed 230 of 364 passes for 3,477 yards and 46 touchdowns with just 12 interceptions. He has not thrown an interception this year. On defense, he has 62 tackles this year, including four interceptions, and 204 tackles for his career, including 14 interceptions.
        For his career, Schulte has run for 2,973 yards on 456 carries with 48 TDS. This season, Schulte has caught 33 passes for 584 yards and 10 touchdowns this season, and for his career has 90 catches for 1,223 yards and 17 TDs.
        On defense, Schulte has 163 tackles this year, including 15 for a loss, seven sacks, 19 quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles, one recovered fumble, three interceptions, and two TDs. For his career, he has 565 tackles with 35 for a loss, 23 sacks and five interceptions.
        It's been a very successful two-year run for Oak Harbor, which has won two consecutive Sandusky Bay Conference Bay Division titles and made the playoffs twice while going 4-1 in the postseason.
        "I've really haven't been a part of a group that was so tight and that helps. Just knowing that you have guys that are there for you and have your back, not everybody gets to be a part of something like that," said Alexander. "It's been like that since day one. The group of guys that we have, that's been our group for so long.
        "The guys we have, we weren't always the quickest, fastest, biggest and strongest, but that has (changed) a little bit of the work ethic. People always told us we were special because of that core group of guys that could rely on each other. I think that's really important. That core group of seniors and has shown the younger classes that that's kind of the way to be successful."
        This postseason run has brought a divided community together that has dealt with contentious levy issues for the past few years.
        "It means a lot because we haven't been to state in such a long time and to have the community together and involved as much as they are is awesome," Schulte said. "It means a lot to us as players to know they have our backs."


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