KENTON -- Before Friday's kickoff between Defiance and Kenton on Friday night at Kenton's Robinson Field, Defiance coach Jerry Buti knew his team would have to play its best game of the season to have any chance of beating the undefeated Wildcats, who entered the contest ranked No. 1 in the state in Division IV.
Following Kenton's 54-15 victory over the Bulldogs (4-5, 3-5 WBL) in which senior signal-caller Maty Mauk threw for 388 yards and five touchdowns, while also running for two scores for the Wildcats (9-0, 8-0 WBL), Buti likened what he witnessed to his team having gone under the knife.
"Maty Mauk was a surgeon out there ... he just picked us apart," stated Buti following the loss. "Tonight their receivers beat guys on our team that hadn't been beaten all year on pass plays, so I give them credit. They do what they do and they do it awful well, led by a great player in Maty. I thought we moved the ball well enough during the game, but we came up short on some fourth downs. If we convert some of those early on and score, we keep Maty off the field."
Kenton head coach Mike Mauk was pleased to see his team come up with some big stops on fourth downs in the first half of the contest, but he still is looking for improvement from his club.
"We knew Defiance was going to play hard and they did, and we were fortunate to score on every possession in the first half, but we didn't have the ball that much because we let them control the clock," said the elder Mauk, Maty's dad.
"I was happy at times tonight, but their offense did some good things controlling the clock at times. We tried to keep them from controlling the ball, and thankfully we came up with some stops on fourth down when we needed to."
Defiance was behind the 8-ball from the get-go after a failed onside-kick attempt gave Kenton the ball at the DHS 44-yard line to start the game. Just three plays later, Maty Mauk connected with Kieran Fetter on a 14-yard scoring toss in the corner of the end zone. After Mauk ran in the conversion, the Wildcats led 8-0 with 10:54 left to play.
On Defiance's first possession, the Bulldogs were able to grind it out behind the running of Nick Lopez and some key third down pass plays from quarterback Joe Keween. But after driving to the Kenton 33, the Bulldogs found themselves facing fourth-and-five. A Keween pass Trey Guilliam was batted down, however, in what proved to be the beginning of a trend for DHS.
On the night, Defiance tried to keep drives alive seven times on fourth-down plays, converting only one.
"If we convert half of those fourth downs, it would have a made a big difference," said Buti. "We came here with that plan in mind, we weren't going to punt if we could help it. We were going to go for two (points) if we scored and we were going to onside kick, all things they do. But, we don't have the same ingredients they do."
After stopping Defiance on its initial drive, Mauk hooked up with Fetter again on a 28-yard scoring strike to push the advantage to 14-0 in favor of the Wildcats after the two-point conversion failed. The home team moved in front 20-0 right before the end of the first stanza, with Mauk capping off a 60-yard drive with a 4-yard TD scamper.
"I told the kids before the game to go out there, play hard, play your best and see what happens," Buti said. "But Maty is a great show out there, he's just really, really good. I thought we had pressure on him where we were going to get him, but he got free and made plays. He's just amazing."
Trailing 26-0, DHS got on the scoreboard right before half when Keween connected on an 8-yard touchdown pass to tight end Ryan Voll with 9.3 seconds left in the second quarter. Keween then found Guilliam in the front of the end zone for the two-point conversions, as the Bulldogs headed into the locker room down, 26-8.
The visitors could have climbed within striking distance if they could have scored on the opening possession of the second quarter, but once again a failed fourth-down play put Kenton in the driver's seat. When Mauk, who is headed to Missouri to play football next fall, threw a touchdown pass to Justin Sawmiller on a bubble-screen play with 8:36 to go in the third quarter, the home team was in front 34-8 and in firm control.
Trailing 46-8 in the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs scored their final points when Lopez dove in from one yard out to cut the deficit to, 46-15. Lopez carried the ball an incredible 51 times for 187 yards in the contest, while also finishing with five catches for 46 yards in the loss.
"Nick didn't look tired to me after the game, he was a monster out there tonight," said Buti. "He took some shots out there too ... he's just a warrior. I thought our offense moved the ball well at times, but Kenton shut us down when they had to. Finishing 1-of-7 on fourth down certainly didn't help us tonight."
Mauk finished 26-of-38 passing for 388 yards and five TDs, to go along with nine carries for 85 yards and two rushing scores.
Defiance finishes the season on Friday on the road at Elida, while Kenton will square off against unbeaten Wapakoneta on the road, with the winner capturing the outright WBL championship.
First Downs 21 11
Rushing Yards 64-192 11-65
Passing Yards 117 452
Total Yards 309 517
Passing 13-23-0 30-47-0
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 1-1
Penalties 6-66 6-38
Defiance 0 8 0 7 - 15
Kenton 20 6 20 8 - 54
K - Fetter 14-pass from Mauk (Mauk run).
K - Fetter 28-pass from Mauk (run failed).
K - Mauk 4-run (pass failed).
K - Mauk 10-run (pass failed).
D - Voll 8-pass from Keween (Guilliam pass from Keween).
K - Sawmiller 6-pass from Mauk (Sawmiller pass from Mauk).
K - Fetter 5-pass from Mauk (run failed).
K - Sawmiller 1-pass from Mauk (pass failed).
D - Lopez 1-run (Hancock kick).
K - Stollar 46-pass from Sherman (Furbush pass from Sherman).
RUSHING: Defiance - Lopez 51-187; Kahle 3-12; Chavez 3-9; Meyer 2-5; Batt 1-1; Conley 1-(-3); Keween 2-(-9). Kenton - Mauk 9-85; Sherman 2-(-20). PASSING: Defiance - Keween 13-23-0-117. Kenton - Mauk 26-38-0-388; Sherman 4-9-0-64. RECEIVING: Defiance - Lopez 5-46; Guilliam 4-35; Hancock 2-15; Hale 1-13; Voll 1-8. Kenton - Bahr 7-170; Fetter 6-79; Sawmiller 5-62; Wolowicz 7-58; Stollar 1-46; Cook 2-20; Fackler 2-5.