Preview: Elida Bulldogs at VW Cougars

After suffering two early season losses, the Van Wert Cougars have bounced back nicely with three straight wins, including last Friday’s 60-33 victory at Kenton that dramatically improved the team’s postseason chances.

While fans are excited about a potential playoff berth, head coach Keith Recker said it’s not something team members and the coaching staff talk about.


Nate Place and Van Wert’s offense are on a roll as of late.Bob Barnes/Van Wert independent

“We don’t discuss it,” Recker said. “I’m sure our guys know where we are and they know that playoffs are within reach, so I don’t need to mention it. The only thing we can do this week is bring our best so we can to get win number five.”

During the current three game winning streak, the Cougars (4-2, 3-2 WBL) are averaging 46 points and 470 yards of total offense, including 316 yards rushing per game. During last week’s win over Kenton, Van Wert rolled up 569 yards of total offense.

“Consistency has been a big key,” Recker explained. “We have remained relatively injury free, which allows for consistency and continuity with our lineups.”

“The players are comfortable with the scheme and with the communication that takes place between them, which allows them to play fast. We have been playing very well with our offensive line the best three weeks, which has allowed us to run the ball consistently.”

Through six games, Van Wert quarterback Nate Place is 83 of 127 for 720 yards, seven touchdowns and two interceptions. His favorite target continues to be Drew Bagley, who has 37 receptions for 263 yards one touchdown. Place is the team leader in rushing with 97 carries for a league high 791 yards and 10 touchdowns. Jake Hilleary has 109 carries for 539 yards and eight touchdowns.

“I think Van Wert is on a roll right now,” Elida head coach Bill Speller said.  “They have some very nice athletes and will be a real good team to face on Friday. We need to play our game of speed and fast moving offense, while keeping an eye on Place at quarterback.”

The Bulldogs are 2-4 (2-3 WBL) entering Friday’s game, but a closer look shows Elida’s four losses have come to teams (Tiffin Columbian, Celina, Wapakoneta and St. Marys Memorial) with a combined 20-4 record.

“Injuries have played a significant reason for our current record,” Speller said.  “We were a young team this year to begin with, and with the injuries have had to play some even younger players.  But, we are now starting to get healthier.”

“Elida is a very good offensive team,” Recker said. “They are second in the league in passing yards behind Kenton (188 yards per game). They will put the ball in the air quite a bit and are good at it.”

“Their coach does a good job of finding holes in the defense and trying to exploit them over and over. They have some very good athletes that they make sure they get the ball too. You can’t just concentrate on one guy, we need to do a good job of covering the entire field.”

Elida quarterback Evan Unruh has completed 97 of 179 passes for 1125 yards, 14 touchdowns and nine interceptions. KeShawn Spivey is the team’s leading receiver with 21 receptions, 314 yards and four touchdowns.

As a team, the Bulldogs average 119 yards rushing per game.

Elida has struggled defensively this season, giving up 330 yards rushing and 423 yards of total offense per game, and 43 points per game, all last among Western Buckeye League schools.

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