‘Cats end gridiron season on very powerful upswing

J. Patrick Eaken

In 2006, Woodmore senior quarterback Curtis Schlea completed 65 of 136 passes for 1,016 yards and six TDs and ran for 258 yards on 79 carries and five TDs. The Wildcats finished 5-5, including 3-4 in the Suburban Lakes League. 

In 2020, his first year as head coach at his alma mater, the Elmore resident was pleased when the Wildcats won their final two games and finished 3-7. The program appears to be headed in the right direction.

The big win was the season-ending 21-13 victory over Gibsonburg (5-5), but the week before the Wildcats took down Margaretta (2-8), 46-34. 

“They were huge. We got Margaretta and Gibsonburg scheduled five weeks (earlier),” Coach Schlea said. “It was big to finish out 2-0. There was so much energy the last two weeks and the seniors get to go out on a high note and hopefully it just carries over into the offseason.”

In the win over Gibsonburg, the Wildcats had a tough time stopping sophomore fullback Conner Smith.

“Gibsonburg started off scoring on the third play from scrimmage — Conner Smith had a 48-yard touchdown,” Schlea said. “We responded, drove it all the way down the field and tied it up at 7-7. Then, the next offensive drive Gibsonburg drove right down the field and Conner Smith had another long touchdown run. He is a real good running back.

“We made an adjustment on defense and the rest of the game they didn’t score a point. Then, we scored with about three minutes to go in the third quarter when (senior quarterback) Aaron Sandrock had a touchdown run, and because Gibsonburg missed an extra point on their second touchdown, we went up 14-13. Then, with about three minutes to go in the fourth quarter Aaron Sandrock had a 7-yard touchdown pass to (senior wide receiver) D.J. Melter and we went up eight after that.”

Sandrock finished the season completing 99 of 209 passes for 1,097 yards and four TDs, plus he ran for 645 yards on 144 attempts and 10 TDs. Melter ran for 368 yards and seven TDs and caught 24 passes for 263 yards and two TDs. Senior wide receiver Ethan McNair had 36 catches for 393 yards.

To shut down Gibsonburg’s offense, which has compiled 298 points this season, took strategy. This is where Schlea’s coaching expertise comes in.

“We pretty much switched from a four-man front to a five-man front, and (6-foot-1, 200-pound senior defensive lineman) Mike Brzeczek, our nose guard, had two sacks in the game and played phenomenal. (Defensive back) D.J. Melter had 11 tackles on defense, and in the closing minutes of the game Mikey had a forced fumble with about two minutes to go and (5-11, 190-pound sophomore) Jacob Roginski, our middle linebacker, recovered it and that kind of sealed the deal.”

For the season, Evan Hensel, a 6-3, 220-pound senior linebacker led the defense with 82 tackles, including nine for a loss, one forced fumble, two quarterback hurries and one batted pass. Brzeczek had 71 tackles, including 13 for a loss, 6½ sacks, two forced fumbles, 10 QB hurries and one batted pass.

There was also a 43-36 win over talented, but freshmen-laden Fostoria team (0-9) 43-36, a close loss to Northern Buckeye Conference foe Genoa (4-6), 6-3, and to Hicksville (5-5), 28-16, in the Division VI playoffs.


Learning on the job

The 2007 Woodmore grad came to his alma mater directly from Gibsonburg, where he had been a varsity assistant since the 2015 season, including helping the Golden Bears to a 19-2 record over his final two seasons there and winning back-to-back Sandusky Bay Conference River Division championships under one-time Woodmore coach Mike Lee. 

Schlea knew how to win as a player and as a coach, learning from Lee and others.

“I will take many aspects of their coaching and mold it to my style and plan. My first goal is to help the young men be their best off, and on the field, and give them the tools to become successful and responsible adults,” Schlea said when he was hired.

He says if anyone is going to get the program rebooted, it will be an alumnus, like him.

“That is the ultimate goal — to build the program back up to what it was in the 1990s. Trust me, it won’t be easy. We play a very tough schedule year-in and year-out. The players know that, and it takes a lot of hard work to win games,” Schlea said.

Woodmore and Elmwood are the two smallest schools in the Northern Buckeye Conference and add to that Eastwood and Otsego were facing each other in the D-V regional final.

“When the state came out with the new schedule where you play six games and the league came out with the new schedule, we opened with Otsego, Genoa and Eastwood. Otsego and Eastwood were playing each other and the winner was going to the state final four, and then we had Genoa, who we lost to 6-3,” Schlea said.

“Our defense did phenomenal, but our offense just couldn’t get going. Genoa had a very good year, they won the first round in the playoffs, and then we went into Fostoria. We had a 21-0 lead and then had a 28-6 lead right off the bat, and then we had a couple turnovers which gave Fostoria life. 

“That game turned out to be a shootout in the fourth quarter, but Aaron Sandrock had a heck of a game. He had 171 rushing yards and we scored a touchdown with about 40 seconds to go to win that one. That was our first win after an 0-23 game losing streak.”

Schlea says the close loss to the Comets was where he first saw his players feeling good about themselves.

“I saw a lot of confidence after Genoa, and then we played Eastwood. Eastwood, we played them very tough the first half. We looked very good and just had a lot of big turnovers that cost us,” Schlea said.

Schlea says to rebuild the program it has to start from the bottom up. One recent year, Woodmore wasn’t even able to put together a combined seventh and eighth grade junior high team. This year, Schlea says there were 23 players on the junior high team, including 16 seventh graders. 

“We haven’t had a seventh and eighth grade team in over 10 years, and every other team in the league has two teams,” Schlea said.




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