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Golden Bears return from hibernation

BUILDING CONFIDENCE — The Oak Glen football team has fun in the snow following Tuesday’s practice. -Contributed

NEW MANCHESTER — After am historic regular season for the Oak Glen football team, the Golden Bears will make a little more school history Saturday when they host Wyoming East in the first playoff game at the Bears Den in the opening round of the Class AA playoffs.

“I’m hoping it will be electric,” head coach Ted Arneault said. “It’s the first playoff game at Oak Glen in the history of the school. We’re hoping we are able to pack the stands and people show up and support us.”

Despite the accomplishments his team has already achieved, Arneault knows they will not mean as much if his team does not back it up when it matters most.

“It’s a new season, that other season is done,” he said. “We’re very proud of what we accomplished in the regular season. We went 10-0, which is something to celebrate because we had never done that in school history, and we won the first OVAC championship since 1965 and got our first home playoff game, which is great. But, that is all done. Now we need to focus on the next season, which is a much larger task at hand and some difficult opponents — including the one this week — that we have to refocus our goals for.”

That larger task begins with the 11th-seeded Warriors, who come in sporting an 8-2 record and are winners of their last three games. They make a more than five-hour trip from the bottom of the state to Hancock County.

Similar to Oak Glen, Wyoming East has had a turnaround season after going 2-8 in 2018. It is led by first-year head coach Larry Thompson, formerly of Mount View.

“It’s an interesting matchup. They had a pretty big turnaround,” Arneault said. “They are an up-and-coming, upstart team. They have really done well this year as far as establishing some consistency. I’ve been very impressed with the varied looks that they’ve shown on defense. They are very aggressive. They can run and pass the ball. They are overall very balanced.

“They are very much an improved team. (Thompson) has done a great job of establishing a winning culture there. There is a lot of excitement for their team and where they are going.”

Though the Warriors and Golden Bears have not seen any common opponents, Arneault compared them to Toronto.

“I would compare them to Toronto because they do some unorthodox things,” he said. “They are more unorthodox on defense than on offense, to where Toronto showed a lot of different looks offensively. They are very similar as far as teams that we have seen so far.”

Wyoming East averages 36.9 points per game, with some highly skilled playmakers led by standout junior tailback Caleb Bowser’s 1,944 yards and 27 touchdowns. When they are not giving the ball to him, the Warriors have a senior quarterback in Seth Ross, who has thrown for 1,407 yards and 13 scores. He has two senior receivers in Caden Lookabill and Jacob Bishop, who have 584 and 448 yards respectively.

“They get into a lot of two back sets, they have a nice quarterback in Seth Ross. He’s a nice passer,” Arneault said. “They don’t run the QB as much, but he has a very good pocket presence and is very accurate within 15 yards. They like the short, accurate passes.

“Their running back, Bowser, has almost 2,000 yards. They are a very balanced attack and can do a lot of different things. We have to make sure we stop the explosive play. We have to keep our run game under control and not allow Bowser to get past the second level. We have to make sure we don’t have any blown coverages or assignments or do anything that would allow them to score quickly, because we want to make sure every time they try to drive. They have to earn it.”

Those playmakers will test the Oak Glen defense, which is the top unit in the Herald-Star/Daily Times coverage area, allowing just 159.5 yards and 10.3 points per game.

Meanwhile, the Warriors defense, which allows an average of 25.1 points per game, will be tested by a Golden Bear offense that has no shortage of playmakers of its own and averages 437.2 yards and 43.6 points per contest.

Leading it is junior quarterback Nick Chaney with 1,690 yards, 20 touchdowns and five interceptions. The Golden Bears have a balanced attack, as Hunter Patterson has 1,614 total yards and 23 total touchdowns, while Paxton Shuman has racked up 794 rushing yards and 13 scores.

“It’s very important to be balanced against them. We have to be able to both run the ball and pass the ball effectively,” Arneault said. “We cannot be one dimensional and win the ballgame. We have to be multiple. We’re not like a Bridgeport or a Keyser where we can run the ball 90 percent of the time. Our offensive line is out-sized by pretty much every team, so we have to find ways to take what the defense is giving us at the appropriate times.”

The defense his offense will be facing will put the emphasis on the playmakers.

“They run a multiple defense, they run a 5-2, but they can also get into a six-man front and run like a bear 6-2. It depends on what they are up against,” Arneault said. “They like to play a lot of man coverage, a lot of cover 0, cover 1 and two- high man under. They don’t play much zone. It’s something we’ve worked on all year. We feel like we run good routes.

“We always like to see situation where we can see our athletes get into space and make plays, and certainly man coverage forces you to do that. It can put pressure on you, too, though, because if you can’t get open in a certain amount of time, the pressure gets to you and it can make it difficult on the pass game.”

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