WBL preview: 6-2 Van Wert at 4-4 Celina

The million dollar question is will Van Wert quarterback Nate Place play against Celina?

The Western Buckeye League’s leading rusher (122 carries, 1093 yards, 18 touchdowns, plus 1000 yards passing, eight touchdowns, two interceptions) injured his shoulder in the first half of last Friday’s 33-0 win at Bath.

Right now, there isn’t a clear cut answer as to his status for Friday night’s game at Celina, a game that would all but clinch Van Wert’s first playoff berth since 2000.


Jalen McCracken (23) and the Van Wert defense will face a potent Celina offense. Bob Barnes/Van Wert independent

“We obviously would love to have him, but also don’t want him to injure it worse,” Van Wert head football coach Keith Recker explained. “It will really be something that we have to take day by day and week by week, and if the doctor, trainer, and Nate think he’s able to go then he will play. If they think he isn’t able to then we will go without him.”

If Place can’t play against the Bulldogs, Owen Treece will step in. So far this season, the sophomore has completed 19 of 34 passes for 239 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions.

“Nate and Owen both throw the ball very well,” Recker said. “They are both accurate passers and have a very good understanding of where to throw the ball based on the coverage of the defense.” 

“They are different in the run game. Nate is an explosive runner who can score from anywhere on the field.  His break away speed is as good or better than anyone in our conference.”

“Owen also has good speed, but his running style is more grittier. Owen will break tackles and gain a lot of yardage after contact. Both guys are natural quarterbacks because of their work ethic and understanding of the game.  Our team will be in good hands no matter who is behind center.”

The Cougars (6-2, 4-2 WBL) have won five straight games, and not to be overlooked in that stretch is the defense, which has allowed just 111 yards rushing per game. The same unit has allowed 153 yards passing and has sacked opposing quarterbacks 35 times, with Keagon Hammons accounting for 11 of those takedowns.

“Keagon continues to step up and play well against bigger opponents,” Recker said. “He uses his speed and strength so well against typically bigger offensive lineman. He is a very tough football player and is a tireless worker.”

Joey Schaufelberger leads the team in tackles (45) while Jalen McCracken and Drew Bagley have each forced three fumbles.

Van Wert’s defense will need to be ready Friday night, because Celina averages 391 yards of total offense per game, including 280 rushing. Kyle Zizleman has rushed for 750 yards and seven touchdowns, while quarterback Brett Schwieterman for 570 yards and four touchdowns. Schwieterman has also competed 72 of 114 passes for 850 yards, nine touchdowns and six interceptions.

“Celina is a very capable offensive team,” Recker said. “They have a very good quarterback who has played a ton of football them over the past few years. He really hurt us last year through the air and on the ground. He has the ability to do both very well. Their running is a very good runner and is hard to take down when they get him moving into the line of scrimmage quickly.”

“They run some option which really challenges us defensively to make sure we are taking care of our assignment. We have to do a great job tackling because with the option there will be one on one match ups that we have to win in space.”

Meanwhile, Celina head coach Brennan Bader has concerns about Van Wert and the success the Cougars have enjoyed this season.

“I think Van Wert is extremely solid on both sides of the ball and they are a very talented team,” Bader said. “They are extremely physical and very well coached. Overall it appears they have returned a lot of experienced players this season which makes them very dangerous.”

“Offensively they have an outstanding athlete at quarterback who is a great runner and has the ability to hurt you in the air,” Bader continued. “They possess several weapons on the perimeter as well. Their offensive line has been very impressive too. They have some size up front, especially at the tackle positions.”

“We must slow down their running attack and force them into more obvious passing situations. Offensively for us we just need to finish drives and limit the small mistakes that have put us behind the chains.”

Celina (4-4, 3-4 WBL) has lost three straight, including back-to-back games against No. 13 Wapakoneta and No. 1 St. Marys Memorial.

Friday’s Van Wert at Celina game will air live on WERT 1220AM/104.3FM.