ST. CLAIRSVILLE, Ohio — I don’t know Andy Hake, personally.
And frankly, after Saturday night, I don’t consider that a loss.
Hake, the head coach of Berlin Center Western Reserve football team, made it a point to be obnoxious and arrogant prior to kickoff of Saturday night’s Division VII state championship game.
It was Hake, an adult, who went to midfield and yelled at his team — while Trimble players were stretching just yards away — that “the REAL athletes on the field are over here” with a point to his Blue Devils. It was Hake, according to several sources, who told his team prior to kickoff that would he quit the next day if his team lost to a bunch of “Muppets’ — a pointed reference to Trimble’s penchant for colored mohawk haircuts. It was Hake, again according to multiple sources, who chided the Tomcats when they walked past the Western Reserve locker room with taunts like ‘You’re not playing Nelsonville tonight’ and ‘They’re just a big show.’
I could crank out 20 inches about what kind of life lessons Hake is imparting when he decided to run down the opponent, instead of trying to lift up his own team, prior to its biggest game of the season. I could ponder the wisdom of having the face of your program acting like the overzealous booster. I could opine about how the coarsening of our culture shouldn’t be encouraged by someone entrusted to act as a positive influence on the lives of young people.
I could, but I won’t.
The Trimble Tomcats made all those points, more eloquently than I could, with their play Saturday night and with the way they’ve embraced the process week after week in 2013.
The Tomcats are 14-0 and will conclude the season next week in the Division VII state championship game. It’s the first appearance ever in the final by Trimble, and the first for an Athens County team since 1981.
The Tomcats’ journey from uncertainty to state finalist in just two short years is nothing short of remarkable. And it’s been done with a focus on getting better, on improving, on helping your teammate get up — not on cutting the opponent down.
Oh sure, Trimble plays physical football. They’ll talk on the field, in the heat of the moment. They’ll try to stuff you, they’ll hit you hard, they’ll celebrate after big plays.
The Tomcats love to prove you wrong if you disrespect them, but they’re not worried about what you’re saying about them. They’re more concerned with their teammates, their accountability to the players lined up next to them and the coaches on their sideline.
Trimble quarterback Konner Standley showed off his toughness, once more, against Western Reserve with tough running more suitable to a fullback than a quarterback with more than 2,100 yards passing. But when he fumbled late in the fourth quarter on Saturday, he had a team full of brothers to pick him up.
“If we fumble the ball, somebody else is there to pick us up and get it back next time. That’s what our team is about,” he said. “Being a team.”
Sophomore running back Justice Jenkins was electric early on for the Tomcats with two first-quarter touchdown runs. After suffering a knee injury in the second quarter, he was in tears on the sideline.
Somehow, he pulled himself together. He got back in the game and continued to play cornerback and run the ball hard when his number was called. Why?
“I just had to get back out there. Our guys are counting on me to do my job,” Jenkins said.
Austin Downs shook off a shoulder injury and finished with three interceptions. Jacob Altier had half a roll of tape on an injured ankle. Caullin Lunsford went toe-to-toe with an offensive linemen who outweighed him by a 150 pounds.
These Tomcats hold the rope. It’s what they do and who they are when they play football.
Hake, unfortunately, was more concerned with talking the talk. Afterward, after the Tomcats has suffocated his offense for four quarters, after Trimble had shown more fight, more toughness and more skill, even Hake had come around.
No, these Tomcats aren’t all show without substance.
Trimble will be a big underdog next week when it faces Marion Local (14-0) in the state championship game, which is set for a 7 p.m. start inside Massillon Paul Brown Tiger Stadium. Hake couldn’t keep the sarcasm out of his voice when he wished the Tomcats “good luck” in that matchup.
But even Hake had to admit Trimble has the bonafides to be there.
“They’re a tough team. They’re championship caliber. They won the day,” Hake said.
The Tomcats didn’t get there through cynicism. They got there by loving what they do, and who they represent.
“This is our passion. We love doing this, and bringing the community up and boosting morale,” Jacob Altier said. “The fact we did that for this community is amazing. It’s one of the best feelings there is.”
It’s a winning feeling, which on this night Hake knew nothing about.
Jason Arkley is a sports writer at The Athens Messenger. Send him an email at email@example.com.