LUCAS – Take it from the reigning Homecoming King. Lucas knows how to throw a celebration.
Rueben Luna and his “court” will do something historic Friday night when the 9-1 Cubs host 6-4 West Unity Hilltop in the school’s first-ever home playoff football game at Bob Wine Field.
This Division VII post-season opener is a party that has been in the planning stages for months, if not years, given that Luna — a four-year letterman and two-year starter at quarterback — and a stout senior class paced by tailback Mason Galco have been playing together since grade school.
“At our team camp before the season, we made a bunch of goals and having a playoff game at home was definitely one of them,” Luna said. “A lot of things make playing at home special … your teammates and the atmosphere, and the fans and the community really help a lot, making it fun for everyone.”
The Cubs got a strong taste of playoff football last season when they avenged a season-opening loss to Plymouth in the opening round before falling to Western Reserve in the regional semifinals.
With 19 starters back from that 7-5 squad, a second-straight trip to the playoffs seemed like a sure thing. But living up to lofty expectations can be a cross to bear.
“I don’t think we looked at it as a challenge so much as getting leadership from our seniors as far as keeping us focused week to week,” coach Scott Spitler said. “Every summer, we go away to camp and set goals and I think last year’s success made them even hungrier for this season. We approached each week as a step on the ladder to where we wanted to be.”
With Luna at the controls and Galco rushing for over 1,000 yards — 1,655 and 23 touchdowns, to be exact — for a third straight season, the Cubs have scored over 70 points twice, over 60 twice, over 40 twice and over 30 twice. Their biggest wins of the season have been 30-14 over 6-4 Centerburg and 20-7 over Loudonville.
The lone blemish was two weeks ago at state poll champion Danville in a setting Lucas hopes to replicate Friday night. With fans ringing the field and grabbing any seat they could, in truck beds and even on playground equipment, the poll’s top-ranked hosts beat No. 2 Lucas 41-0, breaking open what had been a 14-0 game at halftime.
The outcome wasn’t what the Cubs wanted, but everything surrounding the event was intoxicating and something Lucas is looking forward to matching against Hilltop.
“We have an extremely supportive community in every facet, not just football, and a really exciting atmosphere up on the hill of Bob Wine Field,” Spitler said. “We have a tremendous cheerleading squad that has decked out our entire school with spirit all season, but it’s even over-the-top come playoff time.
“We’re excited about someone outside of Lucas being able to experience that atmosphere on Friday and see how special our community is.”
Luna, who averaged 47 yards on five punts against Danville, including a 60-yarder, said there was plenty to take away from that game that should help Friday night.
“You learn a lot from a game like that and the adjustments you have to make,” he said. “I think it looked worse than it should have at the end, but you have to keep focused no matter what. I think that was an important lesson for me and the whole team to learn.”
Hilltop is a hard team to read. It opened the season with six straight wins but limps into the playoffs on a four-game losing skid. The Cadets’ last three losses have been by the collective score of 125-53, including a 48-18 spanking by 10-0 Gibsonburg last week.
“Every team in the playoffs has earned the right to be in the playoffs,” Luna said, “so they’re at least that good.”
Spitler said injuries have played a big part in Hilltop’s streaky season.
“They had a big one at quarterback, but he’s back now and early in the game with Gibsonburg they played well, so we know we have our hands full,” he said. “They have a very athletic quarterback out of a spread offense and defensively, because of what we do (with a wing-T attack), it’s hard to gauge what we’ll see. We’ve got to take care of our business; that’s all we can control.”
If teams focus all of their attention on Galco, Spitler says that works to the Cubs’ advantage because they also have weapons in Luna (252 yards and 5 TDs passing and 287 yards and 8 TDs rushing), freshman Jeb Grover (334 yards rushing, 6.8 ypc, 5 TDs) and sophomore Jackson Hauger (189 yards, rushing, 13.5 ypc., 5 TDs).
“We have a very athletic quarterback who can do things passing and running and great complements in our running backs, who on any play can take it to the house. And we’ve got an offensive line that has played really, really well,” Spitler said. “Mason will be the first to tell you his success is the result of everyone else on the team.”
Luna has played linebacker, safety and cornerback on defense, his spot dictated each week by the scouting report. Offensively, he came up through the ranks as a fullback, but asked to become a quarterback before his sophomore season. He watched and learned that season before taking over the reins and accounting for nearly 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns as a junior.
“When we were little we were mostly underdogs,” Luna said of a senior class that has clearly made its mark. “Our class was a bigger class and in middle school we had to play up (in competitive level), which made it harder. Even when we were freshmen, some of us played varsity.
“It definitely helped us mature. It’s our turn to dish it instead of taking it like we did all through middle school.”
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Playoff game tickets
Pre-sale tickets for Friday’s Division VII playoff game at Lucas with West Unity Hilltop are available at the Lucas High School office Wednesday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Thursday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Friday from 12 p.m to 4 pm. All pre-sale tickets are $8 and tickets at the gate are $9. Ticket gates will open Friday at 6:30 p.m. for the 7:30 p.m kickoff.