As a throng of blue-and-white clad Williamsburg fans moseyed out of Ken Osborne Field on Nov. 8 following a 27-20 defeat at the hands of West Liberty-Salem in the first round of the Division IV, Region 22 playoffs, the feelings of momentary disappointment were overcome by the realization that they wouldn’t have to wait another 33 years to see another home playoff game.
Head coach Scott Lefker’s Southern Buckeye Conference National Division championship squad had officially changed the culture of Wildcats football. Gone are the days of .500 records and 10-week seasons. Williamsburg has turned the corner and because of that, Lefker and his team now need to elevate their preseason goals.
“(This playoff appearance) has given us a taste of how good we really can be,” Lefker said. “Obviously, the goal was to win the game, but going forward it’s going to cause us to change our goals a little bit.
“We set three goals at the beginning of the year: one is to win the league, the other is to get into the state playoffs and the third goal — which is usually our first goal — is to beat Batavia every year. Those are in writing and we hand them out to our team, but now that we’ve accomplished those three goals, we need to add to it. These kids aren’t going to be satisfied with getting to the state playoffs; they want to win in the state playoffs.”
The 2013 edition of the Wildcats were the standard bearers for this new way of thinking. Behind strong senior leadership, Williamsburg went 7-3 in the regular season after starting the year 0-2. Seven wins and a conference title later, the Wildcats earned just the fourth playoff appearance in school history — the first since 2001 and first home game since 1980.
Lefker gave a lot of the credit to this season’s success to his senior class, led by the Player of the Year in the National Division, Lane Edmisten and buffeted by fellow All-Star selections Jordan Wright, Cody Minnie, Nick Felts and Isaiah Bradford.
“Our leadership has been great,” Lefker said. “This has been one of the best senior classes that I have coached. Out of the 11 seniors that I have, eight of them have been in the program all four years. They’ve been through the ups and downs. This was their chance to win a league championship and make it to the playoffs.
“Lane had a great year passing. He makes good decision and he takes it upon himself when he has to to do whatever it takes. Jordan Wright was our rock on defense in the middle. He plays his heart out.
“These kids have had a great four years at Williamsburg.”
The leadership and change in culture was on full display in the final quarter of the Wildcats’ season. Trailing WL-Salem 27-6 to begin the fourth quarter, Williamsburg clawed their way back into the game scoring 14 points in less than 20 seconds to make the game a one-possession contest with 6:52 remaining.
Edmisten hooked up with junior Austin Horn for a 29-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to 27-12. On the ensuing West Liberty-Salem drive, Horn jumped an out route and took the interception 37 yards to the house to cut it to 27-18. A Mason Hall two-point conversion cut the Tigers’ lead to seven with plenty of time on the clock.
“Our team never feels like they’re out of the game,” Lefker said. “We’ve made surges and came back earlier this season. They wanted to win and they knew how important it was and they weren’t going to quit.
“They didn’t want to leave on a sour note and they didn’t. They made us all proud.”
Salem was able to settle in on what would become the last possession of the game, milking the clock through timely first-downs and as the beneficiaries of a few Williamsburg penalties that would prolong their drive.
The heart and desire in the Wildcats was evident even through their last defensive stand, unwilling to give up any points, but unable to get off the field.
When West Liberty-Salem’s quarterback Brandon Upton took a knee in the victory formation to cement the victory, the Williamsburg seniors were able to walk off a muddy field knowing that they had elevated their program.
As for the sophomores and juniors, they couldn’t get back to work soon enough following the official end of the season.
“Going forward, I think the program is going to take a huge leap because now (the team) is confident,” Lefker said. “We have a lot of good underclassmen that get a lot of minutes that are coming back. I’m looking forward to next year.”
My phone’s been going off the hook all weekend from the underclassmen asking when weight lifting is going to start. They’re ready to go. We’ve got some guys with some gas in the tank all the way down to our sophomore level.
“The future looks good.”