Green Wave tradition still alive
Of the 12 teams that competed for high school football state titles Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, four had never won a championship and each had numerous individuals playing at that level for the first time.
Among those first-timers, it's likely no one knew what to expect more than Newark Catholic junior free safety Mike Lohr Jr.
Like his teammates, Lohr plays for one of the most tradition-rich, small-school programs in Ohio.
His coach, Bill Franks, was part of three consecutive championship teams at Newark Catholic from 1984-86 and then helped the program return to its glory days by leading it to the 2007 title, its first since 1991.
Lohr, a Pataskala resident who grew up in Reynoldsburg, admits he knew nothing about his current school or even its tradition before his family decided he'd enroll there while he was in middle school.
Since joining the Green Wave, however, he's heard all about the seven state titles it won from 1978-91. He can see a picture of the first of those teams simply by walking into the coach's office.
Add in that Lohr's father, Mike Lohr Sr., was a senior in 1985 for DeSales when it beat Orrville 21-13 for the Division III state title, and the idea of playing Maria Stein Marion Local on Nov. 30 for the Division VI state title was at least a concept that wasn't totally foreign.
The Green Wave came up short of adding another title, losing to Marion Local 28-21.
But what's fascinating about Newark Catholic's latest run was even though the eight titles it has won are the second most of any program behind only Cleveland St. Ignatius' 10, the Green Wave didn't exactly ride on the coattails of its past success.
After it won the 2007 title in Franks' sixth season, Newark Catholic went 25-17 the last four seasons, with its only playoff appearance in 2010 when it lost in a regional semifinal.
Those aren't the type of seasons Lohr and fellow Pataskala residents Reed Mathews (junior, DL/special teams), Patrick Oehlman (sophomore, DB) and Mitchell Willis (sophomore, special teams) have heard so much about.
In this case, Newark Catholic's tradition and a coaching staff that believed a state championship was possible despite the last four seasons helped fuel this year's run.
"We've been expecting this all year," junior linebacker Eric Lensink, a Johnstown resident who made special mention all-district, said before the state final.
The Green Wave lost its opener 34-20 on Aug. 25 to visiting Ready, which was coming off consecutive 4-6 seasons and had a new coach. Although the Silver Knights proved their win wasn't a fluke by making the Division IV playoffs, it wasn't exactly the start Newark Catholic was looking for.
"That was kind of like a reality check for us," Oehlman said.
The Green Wave's only other regular-season stumble came Oct. 19 when it lost 14-7 to visiting Granville. Considering the Blue Aces averaged 34 points and made the Division III playoffs, that proved to be one of Newark Catholic's more impressive defensive performances of the year.
To begin the postseason, Newark Catholic shut down another impressive offensive team in Fairfield Christian, winning 41-14 on Nov. 2.
Then Lohr, a first-team all-district defensive back, was among the standouts in a 20-13 win over Glouster Trimble on Nov. 9. He blocked a punt and returned it 20 yards for a touchdown, and later in the game took a direct snap and ran in for a two-point conversion.
As good as it was defensively during the first two rounds of the postseason, the Green Wave got it done offensively in wins over Danville (48-46 on Nov. 16) and Mogadore (38-21 on Nov. 23).
"It's an incredible blessing to play for the state championship," Lohr said before the game. "(Franks) has told us a few stories, and we just know what it takes to win."
Hearing stories about championships isn't enough to get any team to the state's highest level. But sometimes, as the Green Wave proved this season, being taught what it takes to win a championship by those who have experienced it firsthand can make a big difference.
Jarrod Ulrey is a ThisWeek sportswriter. Follow his blog, "On the Recruiting Trail," for the latest in central Ohio high school recruiting news.