Back in 1994, Buckeye Local's football team was one of the premier teams in the Ohio Valley. That Panther squad was big, fast, talented, experienced and, typical of Buckeye Local football, they hit hard.
At home, they were unstoppable. As a matter of fact, they were pretty much unstoppable on the road. Friday night, some members of that team and the coaching staff returned to World War II Memorial Stadium in Yorkville for one more "hurrah."
As luck would have it, just as the 10 former players, three coaches and then athletic director Ron White were about to walk on the field for a much-deserved pre-game ceremony to honor their return, something stopped those Panthers.
PICTURED ARE the returnees from the 1994 Buckeye Local Panthers’ state runnerup squad. The team was recognized Friday night prior to the Panthers’ game against Central Crossing. Kneeling, from left, are Scott Trekal, Jim Runevitch, Clint Hepburn, Jim Dailey and David Cornish. Standing, from left, are then Buckeye Local A.D. Ron White, assistant coach Mike Groves, assistant coach Phil Pest, Jon Soos, Bob Ogden, Ross Wetherell, Mike Wilt, Mason Boyce and assistant coach Blair Closser.
A big boom, then lights out.
No, it wasn't one of their 1994 opponents that returned for some payback. It was transformer on a power pole just outside the stadium. When the transformer blew, so went the lights.
There would be no announcements with their return Friday night. No spotlights. No stories over the PA. Instead, there was a tunnel formed by the current Panther junior high teams and the returning 1994 players were led on the field then escorted, one by one, by current Panther varsity players through the tunnel to cheers from the Buckeye Local crowd who have yet to forget their exploits of '94.
"It's just fantastic," former Panther two-way tackle Bob Ogden said about his return Friday night. "It was such a great feeling walking back out in that field.
"Every now and then, when some of us get together, we talk about (the '94 season)," Ogden, who still lives in Smithfield, added. "It was a lot of fun. It was nice having those huge crowds. Knowing that so many people were behind us, well, it was wonderful."
After graduation, Clint Hepburn,, another two-way lineman on that team, moved to Columbus shortly after graduation, but returned to the area a couple years ago.
"It was great to have a chance to come back and see some of the guys," the soft-spoken Hepburn said. "It was really a lot of fun playing that year. It took a lot of hard work, but we enjoyed it.
"I haven't had the opportunity to get to many Buckeye games, but it was really nice to have the opportunity to get together with everyone and see some of my coaches again."
Through the first 20 years of Buckeye Local existence and Panther football, there have been seven Panther teams have advanced into the post-season. Only the 1994 team made its way to Massillon and the Ohio state championship game.
"It was really great having some of those guys back here from the 1994 team," Panther head coach Anthony Barsch said after the game. "It was a shame that things happened the way they did with the lights, but I think the fans really enjoyed having them back."
"Three of the coaches were here and two of them are on my staff. They were all a part of that and I'm very happy for them", Barsch added.
"I really hope that we can continue to do things like this. It's great to bring back former players from years past and from throughout our communities. They all had a part in building the tradition that we have become a part of ourselves."
AFTER FINISHING off a perfect 10-0 record that season with notable wins over teams like Upper St. Clair, East Liverpool, Martins Ferry, Edison and Wheeling Park, Buckeye Local moved into the playoffs for what was then a third trip in four seasons.
Prior to '94, they lost post-season openers to Steubenville and Beloit West Branch at Harding Stadium. The 1994 season was different. They enjoyed a great post-season run that fall. Buckeye knocked off Uniontown Lake, 25-7, in the regional semi-finals, then disposed of Columbus Watterson, 26-7, in the regional finals.
In the state semifinals at Dublin Stadium near Columbus, the Panthers, coached by Ron Pobolish knocked off unbeaten Piqua in a thrilling 21-14 win to advance into the state finals.
Piqua drew first blood in the game, scoring at the 7:13 mark in the first quarter. But in a sign of what was yet to come, the Panthers bounced right back when Chet Pobolish, head coach Ron Pobolish's son, scored on a 10-yard run and Jon Soos booted the PAT to knot the score with 1:55 left. The Panthers scored once in the second on a Dan McCain three-yard run and again in the third with McCain running it in from the two.
Piqua opened the final frame with a touchdown and PAT that brought the Indians to within a touchdown of the Panthers. While the Buckeye faithful held its collective breath, the Panthers' hard-nosed defense put up a brick wall against the challengers and held on for the win and a berth in the state title game.
A week later, in a match-up of two unbeatens, who were both top-seeded coming out of their regions, Buckeye Local squared off with Chardon in that state finals at fabled Paul Brown Stadium in Massillon.
Chardon came into the finals on the heels of a 1993 season that saw the Hilltoppers advance to the state semifinals for a second time in that school's history. Buckeye was treading on new ground and a trip to Massillon had been just a dream for the Panthers until they stepped off the bus that early December night.
After a scoreless first quarter in that Division II championship game, the Panthers fell behind early on a 5-yard run by Chardon's Eric Ash with 9:19 left in the first half. More important than the touchdown, it was the extra point kick by Marty Mackar that prevented the Panthers from ever having a lead in the game.
With 3:49 left in the half, Panther quarterback Eliot Hosenfeld hooked up with lightning quick Pobolish on a 33-yard pass play for a score that cut the margin to 7-6. Buckeye's run for the PAT was stopped and the teams went into the half with Chardon leading 7-6.
Chardon scored two more times and held a Panther offense which had outscored opponents by 272 points scoreless in the second half and Buckeye dropped a heart-breaking 17-6 decision to the Hilltoppers and just miss bringing home a coveted state title.
Post-season honors were abundant for the Panthers' players and staff. River Valley League champs. OVAC champs. Players selected as all-Ohio were not enough. They say that people never remember who the runner-up was, but this group will never be forgotten.
Friday night saw the return to of players Dave Cornish, Jim Dailey, Scott Trekal, Mike Wilt, Mason Boyce, Ross Wetherell, Jim Runevitch, Bob Ogden, Clint Hepburn and Jon Soos. Wilt is also on Barsch's staff .
Coaches from the '94 staff that were in attendance included Blair Closser, Mike Groves and Phil Pest, along with former AD Ron White. Groves and Pest are on the Panther staff this season.
Unfortunately, Pobolish was unable to attend the ceremonies. He was tending to his wife who had surgery last week. Pobolish, who was recently inducted in the Dillonvale High School Hall of Fame, enjoyed great success at Buckeye. The accomplishments of his '94 team are surely at the top of the list.