Colin Smith drops bck to pass in Van Wert’s 55-19 loss to Celina at Eggerss Stadium on Friday. (Times Bulletin/John Parent)
Colin Smith drops bck to pass in Van Wert’s 55-19 loss to Celina at Eggerss Stadium on Friday. (Times Bulletin/John Parent)

By John Parent

Times Bulletin Sports Editor

sports@timesbulletin.com

VAN WERT - A glance at the final score, or even the halftime margin, would indicate that the Celina Bulldogs blew away the host Van Wert Cougars at Eggerss Stadium on Friday night.

The difference in the game, a 55-19 Celina win, however, might have really come down to just a handful of big plays.

Celina came into the game at 5-1 overall and 4-1 in Western Buckeye League play. Van Wert was coming off a crushing defeat at the hands of Bath on Homecoming night.

But when the Bulldogs scored on their opening drive, an 18 yard run by sophomore quarterback Caleb Hoyng, the Cougars stormed right back, moving the ball 38 yards on their first two plays. On the third play, Van Wert quarterback Colin Smith kept the ball on an option read and busted through the Bulldog defense. He was eventually caught from behind inside the five yard line and officials ruled that the ball had come free before Smith's knee hit the turf. Celina recovered the fumble and seized the momentum.

From there, a 97-yard drive commenced that saw Celina covert a crucial third-and-eight when Hoyng run up the middle and stretched as he was brought down to reach the sticks to keep the drive alive. Three plays later, facing another third down, Hoyng once again called his own number and gashed the Cougar secondary for a 28-yard burst off right tackle.

The Bulldogs capped the drive with a one-yard dive for the score and added a two-point conversion to move ahead 14-0 when the score could have easily been 7-6, Cougars at that point.

On the first play of the second quarter, the Cougars hit on a big play of their own when Smith found senior wideout Michael Smelser up the east sideline for a 29-yard gain. Terrance Branson caught a pass crossing the field on the next play and got inside the Celina 10 and Smith was able to finish the drive with a scoring run from a yard out. The extra point failed, but the Cougars had pulled to within 14-6.

Any momentum that might have been gained by Van Wert was gone almost immediately, however. On the first play from scrimmage following the kickoff, the Bulldogs reached into their bag of tricks and pulled out a halfback pass. Senior Louden Limon took the toss and moved toward the sideline, but as the defense drew near, Limon lofted the ball to a streaking Braelen Bader, who was wide open. Bader out-ran the Cougar secondary and finished in the end zone 63 yards later.

Three minutes later, after forcing a Cougar punt, Hoyng executed an outstanding play fake and connected with junior Sean Kirk running free through the Cougar defensive backs and all the way to the end zone for another Bulldog score, this one from 40 yards out.

Hoyng would throw a second touchdown pass before the half, finding Stefan Chittum from 15 yards out on an out pattern on fourth-and-12. The Cougars had one final chance before time ran out in the second, but a Cougar receiver fell down on what would have been an easy touchdown cathc and Smith's fourth down run came up just shy when the Cougars needed less than a yard from the 12 with 32 seconds to go. That gave the visitors a 35-6 halftime edge.

"That first half, we had that fumble, then they have two trick plays that they score on and it's 35-6 instead of 14-14 or 21-14," stated Van Wert head coach Keith Recker after the game.

In the second half, Smith, who also plays the bulk of the defensive snaps as a safety for Van Wert, came up lame with the Bulldogs driving for yet another score. He suffered a sprained ankle and would not return to action on Friday.

Sophomore Drew Myers, just back from missing the last month with a concussion, took over behind center for the Cougars and had the first snap sail over his head, a difficult thing to do to a guy who stands 6'3" tall, but Myers recovered and kept his poise. Two plays later, on third-and-22, Myers connected with Justice Tussing on a swing pass that gained enough yardage to move the sticks. The drive would stall and Van Wert punted from near midfield and down 42-6.

On the next Cougar possession, Myers threw for the sidelines, but was intercepted by Kyle Balthis, who took the pick all the way back for the 55-yard score.

Myers, however, was undaunted and came back with not one, but two touchdown passes before the end of the game. He hit Branson on a bubble screen that turned into a 50-yard catch and run that ended with a score. After Branson intercepted a Hoyng pass at the Cougar goal line, Myers and Nick Krugh hooked up for a 73-yard touchdown strike, with Krugh doing the bulk of the work after the catch.

"(Myers) stepped right in. I think he was confident," said Recker of his backup quarterback's effort. "He put the screen right on Terrance. He still floats the ball a bit, but he hasn't thrown a ball in four weeks, so he's going to have mistakes, but at least we can look at those and see what we can fix on his technique throwing the ball and have him ready to go Friday if we need to."

Myers was four-for10 in the game, throwing for 191 yards in the second half of the contest.

Whether it was the situation of the game or simply a new energy, The Cougars seemed to perk up when Myers took over the offense. Does that mean that we'll see him running the show next week when Van Wert travels to Defiance? The answer may depend on how quickly Smith's ankle can recover.

"We can't fumble on the two yard line against Celina and think we're going to be okay," noted Recker after the game. "It's been the situation all year. Untimely miscues like that really cost us and we get down and just can't make it up."

"There were some good things tonight," added Recker. "I really liked the passion we came out with in the middle of the third quarter. Terrence (Branson) came out with a couple of big hits, but we have to do that from the start. We feel our way around and when we finally realize we can play with this team or that team, it's 35-6."