After a tough single-digit loss to rival Napoleon in week one, Defiance will only have a short time to regroup as a 2018 playoff team will invade Fred J. Brown Stadium on Friday in the Van Wert Cougars.
Van Wert (1-0), 34-13 winners over Bryan in its non-league contest, finished 9-3 a season ago en route to the program’s first playoff berth since 2000 and a first-round win over Huron. Van Wert dispatched Defiance 37-0 in week 10 last season and has won the last two matchups by a combined 85-7 score.
Meanwhile, Defiance had six possessions end inside the Napoleon 25 while managing just two touchdowns, including an interception in the end zone in the third quarter.
Three total turnovers and lack of execution doomed Defiance against the Wildcats, but flashes of talent showed up as well, giving DHS mentor Kevin Kline optimism heading into the first of nine straight Western Buckeye League matchups.
“It is tough, but you’ve got to move forward with things, win or lose,” explained Kline. “We missed some chances that we should have taken advantage of. I think our kids played hard and I’ll take that any time.”
With the DHS-Napoleon game kicking off Thursday, the off night Friday allowed Kline and the Bulldogs to see their next opponent up close as Van Wert traveled to Bryan and put a hurting on the Golden Bears.
Standout athlete Owen Treece was stellar for Van Wert, passing for 188 yards and two TDs (13-of-20) while rushing for 129 yards on 21 carries with another score.
Versatile weapon Nate Jackson caught four passes, one for a score, while tallying 36 yards rushing and another TD before exiting with an injury.
“They had some really good pieces coming back and they impressed me,” said Kline. “They looked fast and they’re picking up right where they left off from a year ago. They’re very well-balanced offensively, they can hit you with a lot of different looks.”
Replacing WBL Offensive Player of the Year Nate Place is Treece, who saw time at receiver a season ago and provides a new dimension for the DHS defense.
“Their offense is going to stretch our defense, we’re going to have to defend both the run and the pass,” added Kline. “We didn’t have the threat of the QB running the ball (against Napoleon) that we do with Van Wert. (Treece) really impressed me watching him in person.”
After a bit of a slow start, Van Wert broke things open early with a 45-yard pick-six from TJ Reynolds that got things going. Aside from a 65-yard fourth-quarter TD pass from Nate Miller to Connor Arthur, the Cougars held Bryan in check to the tune of just seven first downs and 155 total yards.
On the Defiance side of things, a new-look offense produced some solid results, especially in the first half, as Tyrel Goings scored a pair of touchdowns from his fullback spot and the play-action game allowed senior QB Aaron Cruz to make plays.
The red-zone woes aside, Defiance has an opportunity to right the ship and turn some heads with their second of a three-game homestand to start the year.
“Offensively, if we score in the red zone, we’re having a different conversation,” noted Kline. “It’s looking at those things, it draws your attention to the things you need to get better at. We like what we’re trying to do.”
Cruz finished with an even 100 yards passing on nine completions from 12 attempts while Goings had 81 yards on 21 attempts, but just 14 on eight totes in the second half. Seven different players earned rushing attempts against Napoleon while five different players caught passes.
Senior linebacker Romero Pearson led the defensive unit with 12 tackles while Caden Kline and Connor Bujalski added eight and seven, respectively. Bujalski added an interception.
“I don’t see any down weeks in the league,” said Kline of the WBL, which went 5-5 in week one with four single-digit losses, counting Defiance. “Everyone’s trying to figure each other out. Even teams that lost, they were in those close ballgames. I don’t think there’s going to be a single week off.”