According to Van Wert athletic historian/official statistician Gary Friemoth, the last time the Van Wert Cougars won eight games during the regular season was 30 years ago, in 1988.
The Cougars (7-2, 6-2 WBL) have the opportunity to match that mark and secure a home playoff game with a win over visiting Defiance on Friday.
Isaiah Bretz (81), Parker Conrad (17) and the rest of Van Wert’s defense will square off against Defiance’s power rushing attack. Bob Barnes photo
It’s been an exciting season for Van Wert. After back-to-back losses to state ranked Wapakoneta and St. Marys Memorial, the Cougars bounced back with six consecutive wins, including last Friday’s 38-20 victory at Celina.
With Week No. 10 here, head coach Keith Recker said the season has been a blur.
“The regular season has certainly went much faster this year than in other years,” Recker said. “The way we approach each game puts a lot of emphasis on daily preparation for the upcoming opponent. With that approach, you make each week the most important week of the season. Our guys have done a great job at that, and that makes the weeks go by quickly because there is no looking ahead two or three weeks.”
While Van Wert has shown a great deal of improvement this season, the same can be said for the Bulldogs (4-5, 3-5 WBL), a team that finished 1-9 last year.
“A couple of things that have helped us this season is our senior class and their leadership,” Defiance head coach Kevin Kline said. “They have done an outstanding job of working hard and wanting to change things, especially in the off-season. Their attitudes have been awesome and their willingness to work has made them a fun group to coach. We have also stayed relatively healthy this season and that makes a big difference.”
Defiance still has slim playoff hopes and is averaging 19 points per game, but has scored just one touchdown in the last three games. The Bulldogs average about 260 yards of total offense per game, with running back Chris Fluker averaging about 100 yards rushing per outing.
On defense, Defiance allows 27 points and 310 yards per game.
“Defiance has done a great job at playing to their strengths this season,” Recker said. “They have very good size and strength and use that to get the running game going offensively. Defiance has two running backs who are over 200 pounds, and they are both good athletes who are tough to take down.”
“Defensively they do a good job stopping the run. They are in the top half of the league in regards to run defense. We need to do really be up to the task of playing and competing in a physical game with the type of team Defiance will bring to town.”
Meanwhile, Kline is aware of Van Wert’s success this season and he said the Cougars will present different challenges to his team.
“Van Wert is a very good, physical team,” Kline explained. “They are very impressive on film and they don’t seem to be afraid of anyone. They play with a lot of confidence and they have found different ways to win games.”
“Nate (Place) is the best running quarterback in the league and they offset him with (Jake) Hilleary who is a downhill runner. Their line play is really good and you cannot forget about (Drew) Bagley, an all-league player that is key in their run game and their passing attack. They present you with a lot of match-up problems and they have the ability to stretch you vertically and horizontally.”
“Defensively they are tough against the run,” Kline continued. “They are second in the league in rush defense and the defensive line really gets off the ball well. They are good tacklers that flow well to the ball and are physical.”
“We are not good at throwing the ball so being able to run vs that defensive front is a big concern. When you see them stopping teams like St. Mary’s and Celina it tells you they take pride in what they are doing on defense.”
Friday’s Defiance/Van Wert game will air live on WERT 1220AM/104.3FM.