Cougars quarterback Colin Smith gets a block as he looks for running room on the outside during Van Wert’s loss to Wapak last Friday. The sophomore signal caller will look for a big passing day against St. Marys this weekend. (Times Bulletin/Tina Eley)
Cougars quarterback Colin Smith gets a block as he looks for running room on the outside during Van Wert’s loss to Wapak last Friday. The sophomore signal caller will look for a big passing day against St. Marys this weekend. (Times Bulletin/Tina Eley)

By John Parent

Times Bulletin Sports Editor

sports@timesbulletin.com

VAN WERT - The Van Wert Cougars weren't able to send out their senior class out with a win in the season's final home game last weekend, but they have one last chance to give their leaders a proper send-off.

The Cougars travel to Skip Baughman Stadium for a clash of teams taking one final stab at the win column in 2013.

Van Wert, who comes in at 0-9 overall and 0-8 in the Western Buckeye League, last won a game when they hosted St. Marys Memorial last season in week nine. The Roughriders, also 0-9 and 0-8, have lost 20 consecutive games dating back to week nine of the 2011 season. The opponent that week? Van Wert, of course.

The Roughriders present a challenge that's familiar for Van Wert head coach Keith Recker.

"They are second in our league in rushing, so I wouldn't think they have any reason to think they'd need to change against us."

"We've given up the most rushing yards in the conference," Recker noted. "I would think they'll feel pretty good about what they do and I'd anticipate we'll see a lot of the running."

Knowing what's coming has its advantages and seeing St. Marys one week after the rushing attack of Wapakoneta, a team that runs a similar style of offense, lends itself to the kids being more familiar with what they're up against. "I like our game plan to get them stopped or at least slowed down," Recker added.

St. Marys has moved the ball well enough offensively, but often have wound up as their own worst enemy. The Roughriders have lost 11 fumbles this season and thrown nine interceptions. The Cougar defense will have opportunities to gain possession of the ball this week, and must capitalize if Van Wert is to snap their 10-game losing skid.

"They've had a little bit of trouble holding on to the ball, so we'll have to focus on forcing turnovers. They run eight, 10, 12-play drives and anytime you run that many plays, there is greater chance of something bad happening," said the Cougar head coach. "There aren't as efficient in the pass game as they are in the run, but our defensive backs have got to be pass-first guys and only worry about the run once the ball is across the line of scrimmage."

"We not only want to not give up big plays (in the passing game), but maybe this week be able to create some momentum by getting some turnovers."

Offensively, the Cougars were able to gain big chunks of yardage last week through the play action game and hitting receivers over-the-top of the defense. The key to getting the defenders to bite on the run fake is, of course, establishing a running game. Though the Cougars are just eighth in the WBL in rushing, Recker knows they can't simply drop back and throw the ball on every down.

"We're going to have to get something going in the run game. (St. Marys) likes to play their corners off and keep everything in front of them, so we'll have to be very efficient in the pass game and work the underneath stuff quite a bit."

"We'll have to get some long drives just because of their defense and how they'll play us. If they do come up and press our receivers, we'll have to make sure we take advantage of that with some deep routes as well."

The Cougars have played some of their best football on the road this season, especially on offense. Van Wert moved the ball well in games at Shawnee, at Elida and at Defiance. In a match up of two teams that often find ways to lose, the effort given by each team may well determine the outcome.

In the final game of the careers of the Cougar seniors, coach Recker doesn't think his team will have any issues there.

"The seniors have taken it upon themselves to send a message to the rest of the team this week," Recker noted. "The hurt that they felt last week was obvious and we told them that this doesn't have to be the way you remember football. We have that last game left (on the schedule) to send them out the right way."

"What those seniors have done, as far as improving the program with their attitude, their work ethic and their play on the field, each one of us as coaches, players and everyone involved in our program owes it to them to give the best effort they can and lay everything on the line," Recker continued. "At 10:30 Friday night, they can relax and it's the off season, but from 7:30 to 10:30 it has to be maximum effort and giving everything you have to go out and beat that guy lining up over you."