In the midst of all of the recruiting activity over the past two weekends, it seems as if the stunning victory by Cincinnati Colerain over Canton McKinley in Ohio’s big school title game might have been overlooked just a bit. So between breaths after the second weekend of recruiting visits, I thought this might be a good time to recognize Colerain and their head coach Kerry Coombs another time for their remarkable accomplishment.
Sure the 50-10 win was mighty impressive but following Coombs around on the sideline for the last few minutes of the contest and then watching him speak to the crowd after the game and then hearing him talk in the post-game press conference was even a better show, if you can believe it.
As time was winding down in the contest with Colerain on the verge of winning their school’s very first state championship, Coombs was enjoying every last minute on the sideline.
With his team starting to whoop it up behind him and the Colerain crowd beginning roar in approval, Coombs snuck down the opposite end of the sideline, away from the action, to share a tearful minute with one-time Buckeye Jefferson Kelley and a group of guys from the 1995 Colerain team who never got to make the trip to Fawcett Stadium even though they earned the right to on the field. Colerain won their semifinal game that year, 49-7, and they were coming up to Canton to play the number-one ranked team in the country, Cleveland St. Ignatius.
When Coombs returned to the other end of the field he knew was going to be a target for the gatorade jugs and he even warned against it, but the players still doused him anyway. And though he might not have liked it, for a brief second, it was easy to see that he loved every second of it.
Somewhere along the way he found his son Brayden on the sideline and hugged and embraced him like there was no tomorrow. And he kissed his son on the sideline, the son who was the water boy on the ‘95 team and now was an integral part of senior class that won the championship for not only themselves but for that group of guys as well.
But maybe the most impressive thing that I witnessed came after the game when the celebration just seemed to be kicking into full force. All of a sudden Coombs climbed on top of a table on the sideline and looked up into the crowd and began speaking to them about his team and the championship, without a microphone, as if he was having a normal conversation with 5,000 or so of his closest friends.
It was almost like being stuck in a time warp as Coombs had everyone’s complete attention and you could hear a pin drop between sentences. As I looked around at field level, I saw all of the players and cheerleaders and everyone else on the field looking up to him as he spoke and it was chilling. But when I stepped away from where Coombs was on the sideline and looked up into the stands, I was even more astonished.
There was nearly one complete side of people at Fawcett Stadium looking down at Coombs in silence as he spoke and the fence between the stadium and the stands was lined with Colerain people as well, all eager to take in every word from their much-respected head coach. It was a surreal experience and one that I haven’t witnessed in all of my years covering high school football.
Truly the love between the team and the fans and their head coach was more than apparent and it was a well-deserved championship for the Colerain faithful who’s beloved Cardinals finished the campaign with an unblemished 15-0 record. Without question, the best team on the field won that championship game that night.
Coombs was then gracious and enlightening as he addressed the media at the post-game press conference after a quick change of shirts. After introducing Dominick Goodman, who needed no introduction after that record-setting performance he just completed, Coombs commented on the game and then he spoke glowingly about everything else related to Colerain, which, for those of us from the north, is pronounced Cole-rain.
“That was a pretty good game,” he said with a chuckle.
But then he addressed the disastrous start of the game when Colerain fumbled on their first three possessions of the contest and handed McKinley great field position on their first three drives.
“The start of our game was as poor of a start as we’ve had all year,” he said. “We wanted to get off to a fast start and I think we did exactly the opposite. We shot ourselves in the foot. We dropped the ball several times. But defensively I thought we played outstanding in the first quarter.”
Despite the early adversity Colerain held McKinley to just a field goal and led 6-3 at the end of the quarter and it was pretty much all down hill for the Cardinals after that. Except, of course, for the one defensive lapse early in the second quarter when Ryan Brinson of McKinley had a long touchdown run to give McKinley their last lead in the game at 10-6.
“We (finally) get moving the ball offensively and the defense has a breakdown and Brinson gets a long run,” Coombs said. “So we took turns on either side of the ball not playing very well there in that first half. I thought we finished (the half) strong and I thought the field goal at the end of the half was an important play just from a momentum standpoint.”
Colerain had a 23-10 lead at the intermission and things only got worse for the Bulldogs who were shut out on the scoreboard in the second half. The Cardinals never even punted once the entire night.
“We thought the start of the second half was going to be critical because we thought they’d come out on fire again, and I thought we played great on both sides of the ball there,” Coombs said. “I thought the second half was a great half for us.”
Coombs then addressed the exceptional play of his quarterback who tied the Division I record for touchdowns in the championship game with four and broke the rushing record for that game with 259 yards.
“He’s a difference maker,” the coach said that night following the game. “There’s something about Dominick and about the way his teammates like him that tells you something about the kid. It isn’t just how he runs the ball or how he makes decisions, because he made bad decisions tonight and he didn’t do everything right, but the kids like him and they believe in him. And because of that he’s got this kind of charismatic personality that the rest of the kids want to do well with him. And I think that’s the difference. That, I think, is the most special quality that he brings to us.”
According to Coombs, Goodman’s performance against McKinley, albeit spectacular, was somewhat routine.
“He’s had a lot of games like that. That probably puts him over 2,000 yards for the 15 games,” he said. “We’ve got a great fullback and when everybody goes after the fullback, the quarterback has got to make plays. He’s got to keep the ball and break tackles and make runs, and that’s what Dominick does. And he’s really good at that. We’ve got a talented group of kids and it makes it really hard to lay on one area of the option because somebody else is going to get you.”
Goodman, who has already signed a letter of intent to play basketball at Findlay College, has the type of natural skills with the football in his hands that can make college recruiters drool. He briefly commented on his future commitment to playing on the hardwood.
“I still love (basketball). Basketball has always been in my heart since I was growing up as a little kid,” Goodman said. “Football is a sport that I love too but basketball I just love so much because I played it at a young age. Whatever happens, happens but I still love basketball.”
Coombs clarified Goodman’s position. Or did he? He actually made it sound as if something could possibly in the works concerning football be it at Findlay or another institution.
“Dominick has signed a letter of intent to play basketball at the University of Findlay next year,” he said. “There’s a lot of attention on Dominick as a football player, understandably so, but as of right now he signed a letter of intent to play basketball. We’re going to talk to Findlay before we do anything else with Dominick’s football career because he’s a pretty good football player and there is a lot of people that would like for him to play there and Findlay I’m sure is one of them.”
In addition to Goodman, Mister Simpson was an integral part of the Cardinals program not only this season but the last few years as well. Coombs exchanged heartfelt words with Simpson, who verbally committed to the University of Michigan, late in the game.
“Mister lost his dad last summer and I just said, ‘You know Mister your dad is proud of you tonight,’ and he said ‘I know Coach.’ I said, ‘I love you, Mister,’ and he said, ‘I love you, Coach.’ And that’s what we said. That’s a kid who’s been a three-year starter and the heart and soul of our program and what we do offensively, and because he’s `Mister’ Simpson he gets so much attention, and some of it negative, and that daggone kid is a great kid.
“His mom and I are close and I just wanted him to know (how I felt). He had the R.I.P. wristband on for his dad. It was just something that I would want somebody to say to my son if I wasn’t there.”
Coombs talked about how special it was having the opportunity to share a state title with his son.
“I can’t think of a more memorable way to win a state championship then to have your boy on the sideline,” he said. “He was a water boy in ‘95 when we were awful close. Next season will be the first day that I go to a football practice or football game that he’s not there since he was 5 years old or for the last 13 years. I don’t know what that’s going to be like and I’m not really ready for that.
“I was standing out in the hall waiting for this press conference and I was thinking that it’s the last time that I get to coach these guys and that makes me sad. It’s a great night, my heart is filled and I’m excited but I’m sad. Not only because it’s my son but it’s his friends. ‘Goody’ has been at my house, spent the night at my house, played basketball in my front yard, played PlayStation in the basement and so have a whole lot of the rest of them. And I don’t think that they’re coming over anymore and that makes me sad because I love them and we have become really close because of that.”
It’s easy to understand why Coombs, being the man that he is, spoke to the crowd after the game.
“That’s kind of tradition. We really believe that we’re doing this as a community and I love our place,” he said. “I live five minutes from our school, my kids all go to school there and I went to school there and that’s all family stuff. I don’t think we’re where we are today just because we’re a football team. I think we’re where we are because we have a community of folks, we had a sendoff rally on Friday that I’m going to tell you that I’ll never forget. The gym was overflowing, people lined Colerain avenue which is a major avenue in our town. They shut down the traffic. Strangers were coming out of businesses to come to the street and wave.
“We got onto the highway and I got up on the front of the bus and I looked back and I said, ‘That’s pretty neat wasn’t it?’ And they all were grinning and they said, ‘Yeah.’ They’re high school kids and it’s hard to make an impression on them with this corny old stuff, but they loved it. And it’s what we do and it’s what we are. We talk to them after every game. I think we love them and they love us and it drives us, I really do.”
Arguably this was the finest high school team to ever play for a state championship in Ohio. I’m sure other schools like Canton McKinley or St. Ignatius might disagree. But for this one particular season, the Cardinals of Colerain High School were certainly a team of destiny.
“I think there’s no question, I’m not talking about any other team,” Coombs said. “We’re not talking about next year and we’re not talking about last year. For tonight, this team is the best team I have ever been around, that is the absolute truth.”