[This is my column in the Nov. 12 issue of The Commercial Review.]
It was more than two decades in the making.
The Fort Recovery High School football team hosted its first playoff game in program history on Friday.
There is a certain buzz that surrounds football games on Friday nights, and what happened in Fort Recovery last week was special.
Even before arriving at Barrenbrugge Athletic Park, the pomp and circumstance was in full force.
Pop-up canopies were peppered throughout town, grills fired up and the smell of tailgate food permeated the air.
It was hard not to get caught up in the moment.
Nearly an hour before the game started, the home side of the stands was just about half full.
It was easy to see the implications of the game.
For 22 years Fort Recovery didn’t make the playoffs, let alone host a postseason game.
Last year, the Indians treated the village to the former, playing on the road and at a neutral site.
This season it got to experience both.
And the football team took notice.
“It was packed. There were a ton of people here,” senior Brandon “Speedy” Schoen said.
“The whole town was here cheering us on,” Darien Sheffer added.
The Indians didn’t disappoint either.
After forcing Miami Valley Christian Academy to punt on the opening drive of the game, quarterback Caleb Martin and the Tribe needed just one play to hit the scoreboard, a 57-yard strike to senior wide receiver Tanner Koch.
Normally, the firing of a cannon would follow a touchdown.
But not Friday. An OHSAA mandate said Fort Recovery could not use its cannon.
Instead, a blow horn wailed from the home of Don and Pat Wendel to the east of Barrenbrugge Athletic Park. The Wendels are the parents of Cliff Wendel, Fort Recovery’s first quarterback.
The horn was loud, and it was heard often as the Indians scored nine times, seven in the first half alone.
Fort Recovery — the village, not the team — needed this, the home playoff game. It had suffered through many disappointing seasons, including a 4-36 stretch from 2003 to 2006.
Fort Recovery — the team, not the village — made it a night to remember, thrashing the visiting Lions 62-34.
To add to the fanfare that night, those in attendance were treated to a surprise, an idea of how far the program has come in 23 years.
Fort Recovery Local Schools superintendent Justin Firks and others tracked down the 1992 team — the first in school history — and invited them to be honored at halftime.
That squad had 21 players and a coaching staff of five. It went 1-3, winning the season finale 14-6 against Landmark Christian.
Friday night, 15 players and four coaches returned.
“That was really nice (to bring them back),” said FRHS coach Brent Niekamp, who didn’t get to see the ceremony as he and his team were preparing for the second half. “I remember those guys really well and those coaches really well. It was fun.”
The Indians were in a place no other team had been before, playing on their home field in week 11. With the win, the Tribe is now 2-1 in playoff games.
Fort Recovery plays Lehman Catholic at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Lima Spartan Stadium. The Indians shut out the Cavaliers 36-0 in the season opener Aug. 28.
With another win, Fort Recovery can once again be in uncharted territory — among the eight remaining teams in the state and playing for a regional championship.
Just as Fort Recovery the village deserved the home playoff game in week 11, Fort Recovery the team deserves the chance to play for a regional title.