Battle of the Cats: VW 60 Kenton 33

KENTON — Nate Place accounted for seven touchdowns – three through the air and four on the ground – and the Van Wert Cougars kept their playoff hopes alive with a big 60-33 win at Kenton on Friday night.

The victory improved Van Wert’s record to 4-2 (3-2 WBL), and it unofficially vaulted the Cougars to No. 6 in Division IV, Region 14. The top eight teams from each region qualify for the postseason.

Van Wert took advantage of an early Kenton fumble and scored on Nate Place’s 36 yard touchdown run with 10:13 left in the first quarter, but the Wildcats struck back at the 8:15 mark when quarterback Jaron Sharp hit Jayden Cornell for a 69 yard touchdown. However, the PAT failed and Van Wert maintained a 7-6 lead.

The Cougars increased the advantage to 13-6 with 1:33 left in the opening quarter when Place connected with Dru Johnson for 17 yards. It was Johnson’s second touchdown catch in as many games.

Sharp tied the game 13-13 with a 39 yard touchdown pass to Brian Blakenship with 7:31 left in the second quarter, but Place scored five minutes later on a seven yard touchdown run. The Wildcats found the end zone again to draw to within one, 20-19, before Place stretched Van Wert’s lead to 27-19 with a 19 yard touchdown pass to Owen Treece with 18 seconds left until halftime.

The Cougars kept the ball rolling in the third quarter, when Place found Blake Henry for a 59 yard touchdown pass at the 11:10 mark, then Jake Hilleary hit paydirt from three yards out with 3:36 left in the period to give Van Wert a 41-19 lead.

“We executed very well offensively,” Van Wert head coach Keith Recker said. “Nate did a good job of getting us into good plays on offense, and our offensive line really controlled the line of scrimmage agianst a good Kenton defensive line.”

Sharp put the Wildcats back on the board with a 49 yard touchdown pass to Cornell with 3:05 left to go in the third quarter, but Place scampered in from five yards out to put the Cougars up 47-25 with 11:19 left in the game.

Kenton’s final touchdown came on Sharp’s fifth touchdown pass of the game, a 12 yarder to Landon Rush, but Place and Hilleary each added rushing touchdowns, with Place scoring from six yards out, and Hilleary’s coming on a nine yard run.

“Our defense played very well outside of three missed assignments in coverage,” Recker said. “It was a very good team effort tonight.”

Place finished the game 14 of 23 for 200 yards and three touchdowns, while rushing 29 times for 232 yards and three more scores. Hilleary had 28 carries for 137 yards and two scores. Henry finished with two receptions for 68 yards, Drew Bagley had three catches for 42 yards and Treece had two receptions for 41 yards. As a team, the Cougars had 569 yards of total offense, with 369 coming on the ground.

Sharp was 22 of 41 for 388 yards and five touchdowns, but the senior quarterback was intercepted four times. His leading receiver was Cornell, who had 12 grabs for 245 yards. Kenton was held to -28 yards rushing.

Van Wert will host Elida on Friday.

Scoring summary:

Kenton      6 13   6   8 – 33
Van Wert 13 14 14 19 – 60

First quarter
VW – Nate Place 36 yard run (TJ Reynolds kick)
K – Jaron Sharp 69 yard pass to Jayden Cornell (Pass failed)
VW – Place 7 yard pass to Dru Johnson (kick failed)

Second quarter
K – Sharp 39 yard pass to Brian Blankenship (Bryce Ellis kick)
VW – Place 8 yard run (TJ Reynolds kick)
K – Sharp 7 yard pass to Landon Rush (pass failed)
VW – Place 19 yard pass to Owen Treece (TJ Reynolds kick)

Third quarter
VW – Place 59 yard pass to Blake Henry (TJ Reynolds kick)
VW – Jake Hilleary 3 yard run (TJ Reynolds kick)
K – Sharp 49 yard pass to Cornell (pass failed)

Fourth quarter
VW – Place 5 yard run (kick failed)
K – Sharp 12 yard pass to Rush (Pass to Ellis)
VW – Place 6 yard run (kick blocked)
VW – Hilleary 9 yard run (TJ Reynolds kick)

Note: The Kenton Times contributed to this story