All in all, the first half of Friday’s Western Buckeye League opener between Van Wert and Defiance was essentially even.
Except on the scoreboard. A pair of deep passes on desperation heaves ended up in Van Wert hands for touchdowns to seize momentum in the first half and the Cougars pulled away from there to down Defiance, 32-7.
Defiance (0-2, 0-1 WBL) outgained the 2-0 Cougars (1-0) 250-127 on the ground and ran 74 plays to Van Wert’s 43 but the Bulldogs’ redzone woes continued for a second straight week. Aside from a nifty Aaron Cruz TD right at the end of the first quarter, the Bulldogs were frustrated on multiple drives that ended up fruitless.
“We were evenly matched for just about every other part of it, except for on the scoreboard,” lamented DHS coach Kevin Kline, whose Bulldogs had seven different possessions end in Van Wert territory without points. “I feel like our kids are still fighting, they’re clawing and they’re hanging in there. It’s not a question of effort. Our execution has got to get better, that’s plain and simple.”
On the Van Wert side of things, injuries to the team’s top two running backs left 5-7 senior Levi Newell as the main ballcarrier along with QB Owen Treece. The shifty Newell made multiple plays against a tenacious defensive front from the Bulldogs, finishing with a gritty 77 yards rushing with a touchdown run to his credit.
“There’s no ifs, ands or buts about it, we had some lucky plays in the first half to get us up,” admitted VW coach Keith Recker, who has his Cougars at 2-0 heading into a key matchup with 2-0 Wapakoneta at home next week. “If we don’t that’s a completely different game in the second half. Owen Treece our quarterback does a great job keeping plays alive.We had the breaks tonight.”
The first half marked multiple missed opportunities for Defiance on both sides of the ball. A tipped pass on a third-and-long situation fell right into the hands of a wide-open Ian Cowan, who raced 64 yards for a touchdown on the game’s third play.
Defiance forced a fumble on Van Wert’s next possession at the DHS 44 and moved to the Van Wert 32 before turning the ball over themselves. An interception by Simeon Sweeney again put the Bulldogs in scoring possession and the Blue and White finally made good, driving 40 plays in six plays, capped by a four-yard dive by Aaron Cruz on the final play of the first period.
Van Wert again capitalized on a long pass play with a jump ball to 6-3 wideout Tanner Barnhart on 4th-and-10 to the Defiance four. A Newell TD run gave Van Wert a 13-7 lead and a blocked punt on Defiance’s next possession gave the Cougars another prime spot at the Bulldog 38.
On fourth-and-seven from the DHS 25, Treece was forced out of the pocket and a Hail Mary heave to the endzone found Cowan behind the defense for a back-breaking touchdown with 2:57 left in the first half.
From then on, Van Wert was able to sit on the lead and pad things with a pair of third-quarter touchdown runs from Treece, who toted the rock 21 times against Bryan but only needed nine rushes Friday in a comfortable win.
Defiance reached as close as the Van Wert 22 on its second possession of the second half before a lost fumble ended the threat. The Bulldogs again moved into Cougar territory but a drive stalled at the VW 26, keeping Defiance out of the end zone again.
“The good thing is that (the mistakes) are correctable,” noted Kline. “It’s a coachable thing and we’ve got to spend a little bit more time in practice going over it but I still like how these kids are playing. I mean they’re playing hard and I think they’re competing.
“Effort’s a hard thing to fix ... I guess I still look at it and say, man there’s a chance for us to really put some things together and do some good this year. But we’ve got to work on it. We’ve got a long ways to go.”
After the week two setback, Defiance will play the third and final game of the opening three-game homestand against visiting Lima Shawnee (2-0, 1-0 WBL), a 30-20 winner over Celina in week two.
Tyrel Goings led the Bulldogs in yardage for the second straight week, nearly cracking the century mark with 96 yards on 15 carries.
First Downs 9 19
Rushing Yards 27-127 51-250
Passing Yards 201 63
Total Yards 328 293
Passing 8-16-1 8-21-0
Fumbles-Lost 2-2 2-2
Penalties 4-35 8-70
Van Wert 7 12 13 0 — 32
Defiance 7 0 0 0 — 7
VW — Cowan 64-pass from Treece (McAlpine kick).
D — Cruz 4-run (Hutcheson kick).
VW — Newell 4-run (kick blocked).
VW — Cowan 25-pass from Treece (kick failed).
VW — Treece 25-run (kick blocked).
VW — Treece 13-run (McAlpine kick).
RUSHING: Van Wert — Newell 17-72; Treece 9-55; Reynolds 1-0. Defiance — Goings 15-96; Kline 8-41; Cruz 7-8; Kellermyer 5-27; Haynes 4-14; Pry 2-25; Thompson 2-21; Hale 2-20; Rey 2-2; McDonald 2-0; Davis 1-(-1); Held 1-(-3). PASSING: Van Wert — Treece 8-16-1-201. Defiance — Cruz 5-15-0-34; Kline 3-8-0-29. RECEIVING: Van Wert — Barnhart 4-84; Cowan 2-89; Reynolds 2-26; Pratt 1-2. Defiance — Rivera 2-15; Kline 2-12; Haynes 1-29; Held 1-7; Kellermyer 1-3; Sweeney 1-(-3).