D-IV playoff preview: Huron at Van Wert

History will be made Saturday night, when Van Wert hosts an Ohio High School Athletic Association football playoff game.

With a 37-0 victory over Defiance in the regular season finale, the Cougars (8-2) ended a playoff drought that stretched back to 2000 and clinched the No. 3 seed in Division IV, Region 14, and a home playoff game for the first time in school history.

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Nate Place and the Van Wert Cougars will host the Huron Tigers on Saturday. Photo courtesy of Jerry Mason

The Cougars, winners of seven straight, will host the Huron Tigers and head coach Keith Recker believes the postseason berth was made possible back in Week No. 4 of the regular season.

“Ever since we were able to overcome the adversity of the Ottawa-Glandorf game and win in overtime, this group has continued to become more and more confident,” Recker explained. “Confidence is also important as we start the game.”

“We have done a good job this year of scoring first and getting a stop. That really sets the tone for the game. Against Defiance we weren’t able to get a score right away, but we settled in and found what work and were able to put things together.”

Huron is located on the shores of Lake Erie and is over two hours away. The Tigers (7-3) play in the Sandusky Bay Conference’s Bay Division, which this year is made up of five teams, meaning the team played just four conference foes and six non-conference opponents, a schedule that Huron head coach Sam Hohler thinks helped his squad prepare for the postseason.

“Our schedule this season has been a little different,” Hohler stated. “We have played some tremendous running backs in Sandusky and Roger Bacon. We’ve also played some tough physical teams in Perkins and Ravenna Southeast and we scrimmaged Norwalk as well. Our SBC Bay Division had two strong defensive teams in Oak Harbor and Port Clinton.”

“We know Van Wert plays in a terrific football conference, but we also feel our schedule has helped prepare us for the postseason. Many of our kids have started over 20 games the last few years and have played in some big ball games. This one will be another exciting challenge for us.”

Huron quarterback Drew Sterett has passed for over 1,300 yards, 11 touchdowns and 10 interceptions and has rushed for over 500 yards and six touchdowns. As a team, the Tigers average 25 points and 280 yards per game, with 150 coming on the ground. Defensively, Huron allows 21 points and 275 yards per game.

“Huron is a very well coached and aggressive football team,” Recker said. “Huron is not a team that will beat themselves, specifically with giving away the football or with bad penalties.”

“I believe Huron is similar to teams in our league as we look at their players and their scheme. They will spread you out offensively but have a good mix of run and pass. They have a good size offensive line that does a good job of getting movement on their inside zone play. They have good skill players at all positions as well.”

“Defensively, again they are very aggressive and run to the ball well. They have a good mix of size and athleticism on the defensive side of the ball. They will switch in and out of three and four man fronts, so our offensive line must do a good job of being aware of what they are in so we can take care of our assignments.”

The Cougars have two 1,000 yard rushers: Nate Place (151 carries, 1,319 yards, 21 touchdowns) and Jake Hilleary (197 carries, 1,057 yards, 15 touchdowns). In addition, Place has completed 127 of 190 passes for 1,361 yards, 11 touchdowns and three interceptions. Drew Bagley has 56 receptions for 441 yards and a touchdown, Tanner Barnhart has 24 catches for 355 yards and four touchdowns, Owen Treece has 23 catches for 292 yards and a pair of scores, while Dru Johnson has 20 receptions for 226 yards and five touchdowns.

As a team, Van Wert will enter Saturday’s playoff game averaging 35 points and 414 yards of offense, including 253 rushing. Defensively the Cougars allow 19 points and allow just 262 yards per game, with 111 of that coming on the ground.

“Van Wert is the real deal,” Hohler said. “They have some terrific athletes on both sides of the ball. They are physical up front and they have played a tough schedule this season as well.”

“For us, the key will be to get our offense rolling and continue to play well defensively. Limiting big plays and getting a few turnovers in playoff games are crucial. We also feel our special teams has come up big for us all season and we would need to play well in that area too.”

The winner of Saturday’s Van Wert-Huron game will face the winner of St. Marys-Orange next Saturday at a neutral site to be determined.

Any and all Van Wert playoff football games will air live on WERT 1220AM/104.3FM.