By David Fong
CASSTOWN — Shooting stars can be wonderful things, soaring across the night sky and igniting the darkness, if only for the briefest of moments.
Ultimately, however, as exhilarating as shooting stars can be, what people ultimately need is something more permanent — a star they can count on to rise in the east in the morning and set in the west in the evening.
After years of moments that ignited the darkness since it arose from the ashes in the late 1990s, the Miami East football team showed signs of true staying power last season as the Vikings reached the playoffs for the third year in a row, something no other team in school history had ever done.
The rebuilding project that began when Max Current took a downtrodden program in 1999 has reached an apex — the Vikings have staying power. Last season, the Vikings went 9-1 (7-1 in the Cross County Conference, good for second place) and earned a spot in the Division VI regional quarterfinals.
Here’s a look back at Miami East’s 2014 season:
It didn’t take long for Miami East to prove there would be no dropoff from 2013’s playoff team, as the Vikings came out of the gate scoring at least 35 points in their first six games — and 41 or more points in five of their first six games — while holding opponents to 14 points or less in six of their first seven games.
The Vikings kicked off the 2014 season with a 42-7 win over Miami County rival Milton-Union. Colton McKinney finished the game with 12 carries for 90 yards and a touchdown, while also catching a touchdown pass from quarterback Conner Hellyer, who completed 7 of 10 passes for 86 yards. East’s defense held the Bulldogs to 137 yards in total offense, including no passing yards.
In the second week of the season, Miami East outlasted National Trail 48-32 on the strength of a 29-point second quarter.
After the Vikings scored to go up 29-12 late in the second quarter, Mark Beaty picked off a pass and ran it back to the Blazer 10-yard line, and Conner Hellyer hit McKinney on the final play of the half on a touchdown pass that made it 35-12 at the time.
“We had a real good second quarter,” Current said. “Our offense did a nice job. We had them on their heels by mixing up the run and pass. And defensively, we eliminated their explosive plays, especially in the first half. On defense, we bent but did not break.”
A balanced offensive attack paced Miami East in a 41-14 thrashing of Ansonia the third week of the season.
Braxton Donaldson got the scoring started on the night with a 51-yard fumble return, then McKinney scored on a 7-yard run and caught a 45-yard touchdown pass from Hellyer to make it 21-0 Miami East. After Ansonia got on the board, the Vikings went right back to work as Hellyer hit McKinney for a 37-yard score to make it 28-7.
Jacob McNulty scored a pair of touchdowns in the second half to give the Vikings a 41-7 lead before the Tigers scored a meaningless touchdown late.
McKinney had 169 yards rushing on 10 carries and added 82 receiving yards on three catches. Kurt Brower added 77 rushing yards on five carries and 28 receiving yards on two catches, and McNulty had 59 rushing yards on three carries. Hellyer was 5 for 9 for 115 yards.
In Week 4, Arcanum scored first, but it was all East from there as the Vikings rolled to a 35-3 victory.
The Vikings took the lead on a 12-yard touchdown pass from Hellyer to Donaldson, then Brower made it 14-3 at the half with a 2-yard run.
Cody Ingle scored a 2-yard touchdown and McNulty broke off a 44-yard run to make it 28-3 after three quarters, and Ingle scored again on a 1-yard run to ice the game in the fourth.
Against Mississinawa Valley in Week 5, Hellyer got the scoring started with and 86-yard touchdown pass to Logan May and East never looked back in a 42-14 victory. Hellyer would add another touchdown pass and Kurt Brower ran for a pair of touchdown to keep Miami East undefeated.
After missing two games with an ankle injury, McKinney returned in Week 6 to lead the Vikings to a 42-7 win over Bethel. In the first half alone, he had eight carries for 148 yards and three touchdowns. Ricky Werling returned an interception for a touchdown and Hellyer connected with Donaldson for a touchdown pass once again.
That set up a crucial Cross County Conference match-up with traditional CCC foe Covington in Week 7. After four straight losses to the Buccaneers — including three straight shutouts — East turned the tide on Covington, coming away with a 20-0 victory. The Vikings’ defense did the job Friday night, holding Covington to 146 total yards — with 84 of those coming in the first half. They bent but didn’t break, though, with the two first-half goal-line stands. Brower’s 59-yard touchdown run sparked the Vikings on offense, while McKinney and Hellyer also added touchdown runs.
After the win over Covington, however, eventual CCC champion Tri-County North — which would go undefeated during the regular season — handed the Vikings their lone-regular season loss, 42-14, in Week 8. The loss would cost East a shot at the conference title.
East rebounded the next week, however, outracing Belmont in a 68-52 shootout.
Miami East (8-1) gave up 500 rushing yards, but the Vikings answered with 363 of their own — and added a massive amount of kickoff return yardage thanks to McKinney. McKinney finished with 256 return yards on five attempts, including touchdowns of 79 and 74 yards. He also added 156 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 18 attempts.
Brower piled up 150 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 19 attempts, and McNulty had 54 yards on four attempts.
Miami East closed out the regular season with a 14-7 win over Twin Valley South. Brower and McKinney both scored on touchdown runs for the Vikings. With the victory, Miami East improved to 9-1 and clinched a home playoff game.
The following week, East would take on Versailles in a Division VI regional quarterfinal contest. Versailles jumped out to a quick 12-0 and appeared to be off to the races, but Miami East battled back every time the Tigers looked to blow the game open, but eventually ran out of a time in a 34-27 loss.
Brower’s touchdown run brought the Vikings to within one touchdown with a little more than a minute to play, but Versailles fell on the onside kick to ice the game and end East’s season.
Still, though, the 2014 season further cemented East’s return to prominence.
“I’m proud of our boys,” Current said. “They never ‘rang the bell’ (gave up), which was kind of our mantra all season long. They gave it everything they had and they finished every game strong.”
Contact David Fong at [email protected]; follow him on Twitter @thefong