Cougars beat Celina, clinch playoff spot

CELINA — Behind four rushing touchdowns by Jake Hilleary, Van Wert secured a spot in the Division IV Region 14 playoffs with a 38-20 win at Celina on Friday. It will be the first postseason appearance for the Cougars since 2000.

“It’s just so special for these guys,” Van Wert head coach Keith Recker said. “They put in the work and their really excited for it. It’s a really special time right now, and I’m really happy for our guys.”


Cougar players and coaches chat after Friday’s win at Celina. Scott Truxell/Van Wert independent

The Cougars had two impressive scoring drives in the opening quarter. After receiving the opening kickoff, Van Wert drove 75 yards in 11 plays and scored on Hilleary’s first touchdown of the game, a two yarder at the 8:28 mark. Nate Place, who left last week’s game against Bath with a shoulder injury went 4-4 for 44 yards on the drive.

After forcing Celina (4-5, 3-5 WBL) into a three and out, the Cougars drove 69 yards in just five plays, including a 45 yard run by Place. The drive ended with a three yard touchdown run by Hilleary and it gave Van Wert a 12-0 lead with 5:09 left in the quarter.

However, the Bulldogs fought back and scored on a 35 yard touchdown pass from Brett Schwieterman to Chase Stephens. The PAT by Austin Cotterman trimmed Van Wert’s lead to five, 12-7.

The Cougars put together another impressive drive, but it ended with a bad snap that cost Van Wert eight yards, then an incomplete pass on fourth down at the Celina 18. The Bulldogs started to drive and reached the 50 before Jalen McCracken intercepted a Schwieterman pass and returned it to the 44.

“That was huge, because it was getting to the point where we were struggling to stop them because they had found their option and where they could hit us with it,” Recker said of McCracken’s interception.

After the turnover, the Cougars ran off seven plays and scored on a 14 yard pass from Place to Dru Johnson, then Place booted the PAT to give Van Wert a 19-7 advantage with 4:15 remaining in the second quarter.
The Cougars weren’t done though. After forcing a Celina punt, Van Wert drove 75 yards in seven plays, including a 39 yard pass from Place to Tanner Barnhart. Place capped the drive with a 12 yard touchdown run with to extend the lead to 26-7 with just 26 seconds left until halftime.

“To finish out the half the way we did was huge,” Recker said.

The Bulldogs reached into their bag of tricks to score in the third quarter. Schwieterman threw a lateral to Cooper Jones, who then fired a 43 yard touchdown pass to Austin Okeley to trim the deficit to 26-14 with 8:41 left in the period.

Van Wert responded with a 10 play, 78 yard drive that ended with Hilleary’s third touchdown, a two yarder with 5:31 left in the quarter.

Hilleary, who finished with 34 carries for 149 yards scored his final touchdown on two yard run on the first play of the fourth quarter.

“He’s just a tough runner,” Recker said. “He puts his head down, and he’s a guy who’s not going to lose yards. He might go for zero or one once in a while but he’s not going to lose yards because of his running style.”

Celina’s final touchdown came with just 13 seconds left on the clock on a 10 yard pass from Schweiterman to Stephens.

Schweiterman finished the night with 14 carries for 116 yards, but was just 9 of 21 passing for 128 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, leading Recker to credit his defense, especially the front four.

Our defensive line with Joey Schaufelberger and Drew Bagley at the ends and Keagon Hammons and Nathan Temple inside, those guys are just doing a fabulous job, and it frees us up to play five in the secondary.

Place rushed 15 times for 124 yards and completed 15 of 20 passes for 206 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Drew Bagley had four catches for 43 yards, Dru Johnson had four receptions for 40 yards, while Barnhart and Owen Treece each had three catches for 64 and 46 yards respectively.

The Cougars (7-2, 6-2 WBL) will finish the regular season at home against Defiance on Friday, with a win locking up a home playoff game.

Scoring summary:

Celina        7   0 7 6 – 20
Van Wert 12 14 6 6 – 38

8:28 1st qtr: Jake Hilleary 2 yard run (kick failed)
5:09 1st qtr: Jake Hilleary 3 yard run (kick failed)
1:59 1st qtr: Brett Schwieterman 35 yard pass to Chase Stephens (Austin Cotterman kick)
4:15 2nd qtr: Nate Place 14 yard pass to Dru Johnson (Place kick)
:26 2nd qtr: Nate Place 12 yard run ( Place kick)
8:41 3rd qtr: Cooper Jones 43 yard pass to Austin Okeley (Austin Cotterman kick)
5:31 3rd qtr: Jake Hilleary 2 yard run (kick failed)
11:49 4th qtr: Jake Hilleary 2 yard run (kick failed)
:13 4th qtr: Brett Schwieterman 10 yard pass to Chase Stephens (kick failed)