Quarterback Colin Smith finds open field in the second half of Van Wert’s 61-20 loss to Wapak. Smith threw for three scores for the Cougars. (Times Bulletin/Tina Eley)
By John Parent
Times Bulletin Sports Editor
VAN WERT - The Wapakoneta Redskins made themselves at home with a 61-20 victory over the host Van Wert Cougars on Friday. It was the final home game for the Cougars, who say goodbye to seven senior members of the team and one long-time member of the football community.
Wapak came into the contest with just a single blemish on their record and that loss came at the hands of unbeaten and top-ranked Kenton. Van Wert, on the other hand, came in without a win this season.
With just one game remaining on the schedule, the Cougars will have to win on the road next week versus St. Mary's Memorial if they want to avoid an 0-10 campaign.
The Redskins came out with a plan to take away the Cougar screen game and they wasted little time in implementing that strategy. On the opening drive, Cougars quarterback Colin Smith dropped back and his linemen released to create the screen pass, but the Wapak defense snuffed it out and senior Zach Schmerge snatched the pass out of the air.
It wasn't the last time that Schmerge would make an impact on the game.
Wapak entered play as the best running team in the Western Buckeye League. Van Wert, meanwhile, allows more rushing yards per carry than any WBL squad.
Right away, the Cougar defense was up to the task, forcing the Redskins to face a third-and-13 after the turnover. At that point, quarterback Aaron Huffman fired one of just two passes he would try on the night and found Nate Posada on a curl rout that got the ball inside the Van Wert 20. Facing a fourth-and-three on the next play, Keaton Metz took the hand off on a counter trap and raced off tackle for an 18-yard touchdown run.
Metz and the Redskins continued to move the ball on the ground, using split back and flexbone formations. If it wasn't Metz taking the ball to the outside, it was Schmerge running dives and leads up the middle.
Wapak scored on each of their first four possessions in the game, with Metz finding the end zone three times in the first half.
Van Wert missed a scoring chance with four minutes to go in the opening period when senior receiver Terrence Branson got loose in the secondary, but Smith's pass was too tall and the Cougars wound up turning it over on downs.
Smith would find the range early in the second quarter, however.
The Cougars were down by three scores when Branson found running room on a jet sweep that went for 32 yards. Smith then completed four consecutive passes, hitting senior Michael Smelser twice, including a quick out that Smelser turned into a 22-yard touchdown catch.The Redskins answered that score with one of their own and added a fifth touchdown just before halftime when Huffman found Metz on a seam pattern on the first play following a Cougar fumble. Metz was wide open and took it in for an easy 23-yard catch and run.
Schmerge, who had done nearly all of the dirty work in the first half while Metz scored all the points, got his chance to celebrate on the first play from scrimmage after intermission. A simple fullback dive turned into a big play when Schmerge broke a tackle and raced down the field, out-running the Cougar defenders and reaching the end zone 61 yards later.
Van Wert continued to move the ball well on offense, and added a pair of second-half scores, but the hole was far too deep. Smelser caught his second touchdown pass of the game, getting free deep down the field on a play action fake with Branson going in motion on a would-be sweep. That pass play went for 45 yards, giving Smelser a team-high 84 yards on the night.
Smith would fire his third scoring strike of the contest with 10 minutes to go in the game. Nick Krugh caught a bubble screen and broke three tackles as he weaved his way through the Wapakoneta defense for the 25-yard catch and run.
Smith finished his day at 10-for-19, throwing for 164 yards and three touchdowns to go with one interception. Branson, who caught four passes for 52 yards, also gained 61 yards on six carries. Smith led the Cougars with 86 rushing yards, 74 of them coming after halftime.
"There were things open early, we just didn't hit them," noted Van Wert head coach Keith Recker. "We didn't sustain blocks and they fought off blocks. They're just a really good football team."
"We didn't plan on running the fake jet (sweep) with the play action over-the-top, but they were giving it to us," added Recker of his team's success through the air. "We had to find something to go deep, we weren't going to get our screen game going this week, so we had to take our shots."
"We thought we'd be able to take some more shots down field, actually, but their safety, number six (Metz), did a nice job taking away some of our deep stuff and playing over top of Terrence."
It wasn't the way the seniors wanted to end their home football careers, certainly, but Recker says they'll always be remembered for what they've given this program.
"I told them there is nothing I could ever do to repay them for what they've meant for us. To stick through the hard times, keep the group going, continue to fight - these guys refuse to quit. For these guys to set the tone they way they have will hopefully pay dividends for our program in the very near future."
In addition to saying goodbye to the senior football players, Van Wert honored former Cougar standout Willie Hernandez prior to the game. Hernandez, a 1953 graduate and former All-Ohio defensive back for the Cougars, has been working the chain gang on the sidelines of home games since halftime of the 1954 season opener. Friday marked his final game on the sidelines, where he has spent the past 60 seasons. He never missed a game.