Answering The Bell: St. Marys Moves On

St. Marys’ Lukas Walter, Hunter Fultz and Blake Knaorr tackle Franklin running back Gabe Johnson (43) for a 1-yard loss on fourth down in a Division III, Region 12 quarterfinal on Friday.
Sports Editor

This team is playing another week.

Surrendering three first downs, two on fourth and one on a penalty that would have resulted in fourth down, the St. Marys defense stuck with it, stuffing Franklin running back Gabe Johnson on fourth down in the redzone to cement a 14-10 Division III, Region 12 quarterfinal win on Friday at Franklin Lions Club Municipal Park.

On a cold night on the road — where the Roughriders have had their struggles away from the friendly confines of the Roughrider Athletic Complex — the Riders prevailed against the 11th state-ranked team without much offense and a defense with its back up against the wall.

And now these resilient Riders get to play another week.

St. Marys will play Trotwood-Madison — in another rematch from that 2016 postseason — next week in a place to be determined. The Rams defeated Wapakoneta 33-21 in the other quarterfinal game on Friday.

“Those defensive kids did a whale of a job, Tanner Howell, Lukas Walter — that whole group,” Roughriders coach Doug Frye said. “I credit our kids, but I also want to give credit to our defensive coaches. We have just continued to get better and better.”

Following a three-and-out by St. Marys with 7:24 left in regulation, Franklin started its final drive at its own 34 yard line.

Back-to-back incomplete passes resulted in third and 10 when Dylan Trogdlon was flagged for defensive pass interference for a fresh set of downs. Three plays later, Johnson ran it up the gut on fourth and 2 for a first down at the Riders’ 43 yard line and facing another fourth down, Franklin quarterback Braden Woods darted a pass to sidelines to Ryan Russel for 14 yards and a first down.

But inside the redzone at the 12 yard line, Franklin could not move the ball with St. Marys’ tight man-to-man defense as Johnson ran the ball all four times with the final run resulting in Johnson being met by Lukas Walter, Blake Kanorr and Hunter Fultz for a loss on fourth and 4 from the 6 yard line as they stuffed the middle of the line for the win.

“When you lose a kid like [Ty] Schlosser in the middle of the defense, that is not an easy person to replace because he is such a fantastic player, but our coaches and players just did a wonderful job,” Frye said. “I am proud of our kids tonight. It wasn’t an easy environment against a quality opponent and are there things we can do better? Absolutely, but the character that we displayed tonight was exceptional. Our kids just kept believing and kept playing.”

St. Marys has had some of its toughest games on the road this season, including nail-biting victories at Sidney and Kenton and one-possession losses at Ottawa-Glandorf and Wapakoneta, but St. Marys broke the ice in what ended up being a defensive battle on its third possession of the first quarter with a 6-yard TD run by Ty Howell for the much-needed first score on the road.

However, neither team scored for the rest of the half as St. Marys mustered just 88 yards of offense and Franklin 175 yards for the rest of the game.

“There was a concern with the long trip because we haven’t played really well early in the year,” Frye added. “From an offensive standpoint, I felt like we were always backed up on our own goal line tonight, but there was some great punting tonight from Brandon Bowers. I thought his punting was a big part of the game.”

Franklin’s best chance to tie the game came halfway in the second quarter, but the drive stymied and a field goal attempt was blocked by Howell to keep it at 7-0 with 1:35 left in the first half.

Franklin pulled within 7-3 on its third drive of the second half on a 32-yard field goal that was almost blocked by Howell again with 1:46 left, but the Roughriders answered by jumping out to a 14-3 lead on a 21-yard run by No. 20, Ross Henschen with 45 seconds left in the third quarter.

Three plays from scrimmage after Franklin got on the board, Henschen found the endzone on runs of 32 yards down the right sideline and 21 yards for the score to extend St. Marys’ lead to 14-3 with 45 seconds left in the quarter.

Henschen saw more action beginning in last week’s regular-season finale against Defiance and had a TD run on a productive 110-yard evening. Frye said the staff was seeing a lot of good things out of him in making the decision to play the back more.

“I am seeing a lot of good things out of all of those young kids,” Frye added. “It brings some good competition and it makes it fun, really, every week you are starting over and I won’t even know who the starters are going to be. It makes it competitive and it makes it fun.”

Frye thought his team had chance to put the game away when St. Marys recovered a fumble to end the third quarter, but the Wildcats struck after a Riders’ three-and-out with a 63-yard catch and run from Woods to Dylan Dirks on second and 31 to pull within 14-10 with 9:13 remaining in the fourth quarter. That play set up the Kenton-esque finish from earlier this season when those Wildcats drove inside the redzone with under a minute left in the game and threatened to beat St. Marys before the defense came away with the play of the game to win it.

The Roughriders now have a date with Trotwood. The schools last played each other in a Region 12 final three years ago in Piqua where the Rams won 34-27. Since then, both communities have been supportive on one another on and off the field.

“Our Friday night lights guys really stepped up and I just think our kids really wanted to win this football game and we were going to find a way, one way or another, to win this game,” Frye said.