BAINBRIDGE – The proof is there for you to see.
In the past four years, Paint Valley has once again risen to an unmatched level in the local area. In that time, the Bearcats are 33-11-1 overall with a mark of 21-7 inside Scioto Valley Conference play to go alongside two conference titles.
The Bearcats’ record sits at 10-1 entering their second consecutive regional semifinal contest — this time, a match-up with Fredericktown. The playoff berth marks the third consecutive trip to the postseason, something that no other team in school history can proclaim.
“From a skill standpoint, this is probably one of the best teams we’ve ever had,” Paint Valley coach Pete Hollon said, who is in his 20th season with the program. “It’s a real, real nice blend of decent size up front and skill. It’s a nice tradition that we’ve got here. A lot of these kids were ball boys when they were 6, 7, 8 years old. It’s been real nice to see them mature into nice football players as well.”
Hollon, who is 128-78-1 with the Bearcats, has seen it all; including what some believe is the best team to ever run through Bainbridge in 2003.
That year, Hollon’s team — featuring all-Ohioans Drew Bobb and Travis Tatman — advanced to the regional semifinals before falling to Columbus Academy. The 2003 team was the first ever SVC team to start a season 11-0.
Believe it or not, 12 years later, there are some familiar images from that season right before our very eyes.
“This team isn’t as big as the ’03 team,” Hollon said. “But skill wise, they’re probably a little bit better even. A lot of these kids playing now had uncles, brothers and everybody else playing in that era. It’s a nice tradition that we’ve got here.”
When it comes to tradition, the Bearcats have plenty including 11 conference titles, eight gold footballs and now 10 trips to the postseason. The reason in which this team has carried on the tradition starts with its seniors.
“I would say that we’re up there with the best teams to ever play here,” senior center Austin Baker said. “But they also went 10-0 and made it to the regional finals. So if we want to be in that discussion, we’ve got some work to do. We’ve had a lot of success together and most of us were on the field as sophomores. So that helps a lot.”
The Bearcats will take 11 seniors into this weekend’s contest. But none are bigger than quarterback Anthony McFadden.
The 2015 SVC Offensive Back of the Year has had a tremendous year, going 88-of-147 passing for 1,355 yards including an 18-3 touchdown to interception ratio. However, none of that would be possible without 10 other seniors who are willing to put their bodies on the line for their QB.
“We like to see our backs do good,” senior lineman Dalton Waugh said. “It makes me feel good if I get a good block off and they get a nice run on it. Our team is unselfish. We just do our jobs.”
While it has yet to be seen if Paint Valley can advance to their first regional final since 2003, the Bearcats know they have already slayed one dragon with a 21-20 overtime win last Friday over Newark Catholic — who came into the contest 3-0 against PV.
In that game, Hollon called senior Caleb Johnson’s number twice in a row and it paid off; first with a touchdown and second with a two-point conversion to win it.
“The first play, (Caleb) went into the end zone untouched,” Baker said. “So when we ran the same play, (Newark Catholic) lined up exactly the same way and we were closer to the end zone. So it was just hitting your guy in front of you and wait and see what happens. I never had a doubt he’d get in.”
Waugh said, “That was overwhelming. It was the most excited I’ve ever been in my life. When I turned around and saw that wall of confetti coming at me, it was the best experience I’ve ever had.”
Paint Valley will look to continue its experience while the senior class looks to move to 3-2 inside postseason play — further cementing themselves into Bearcats’ folklore. In order to do so, they’ll have to top the Freddies this Saturday.
“We don’t want this to end,” Baker said. “(Fredericktown) is in the second round of the playoffs just like we are. You can overlook them. Every team left is good now. But it just comes down to if we complete our assignments or not. It’s a matter of playing together.”
Look for the Gazette’s story centering around Zane Trace’s magical 2015 season and the senior class that’s behind it.