Perry, Riders Rush Past Van Wert

St. Marys' Sean Perry breaks a tackle during a Division IV, Region 14 semifinal against Van Wert on Saturday.
Sports Editor

Heading into Saturday’s Division IV, Region 14 semifinal rematch between St. Marys and Van Wert, the Roughriders — the top rushing offense — faced the Western Buckeye League’s top rush Cougars’ defense.

And as the old adage goes, numbers don’t lie, but in this instance, they did.

Sean Perry alone destroyed those great statistical numbers of the Cougars all by himself with 233 of St. Marys’ 390 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns for the senior, while the Roughriders limited the WBL’s top rusher in Nate Place to 50 yards, en route to a 55-20 postseason victory at Lima’s Spartan Stadium.

"The way we were coming off the ball early definitely opened the game the right way," Roughriders coach Doug Frye said. "I thought we came out with a fire to us, we played with spirit and our kids came out strong."

The win advances the Riders’ (11-1) to their second regional final in three years where they will face Clear Fork (12-0) at 7 p.m. next Saturday at Bellefontaine High School.

"St. Marys kids are great kids," the coach said. "It is a great community with great people and football is in our blood. Our kids love playing the game."

Perry scored two of St. Marys’ first three touchdowns, but Carter Ballweg’s school-record 10th interception where he returned the ball 35 yards to hand the Roughriders a 28-6 lead. From there, the Roughriders scored four of the game’s next six touchdowns to win a rematch of week three’s 38-6 St. Marys’ victory over the Cougars (9-3).

The Roughriders opened the game with a 10-play, 66-yard drive that concluded with a 15-yard TD run by Perry. After trading punts, Braden Wietholter’s forced fumble on Place on the Cougars’ second drive led to a 2-yard quarterback sneak to put St. Marys up 14-0.

Van Wert responded with an 8-play drive that ended with the first of two Place’s rushing touchdowns to pull the game to within one possession despite a blocked extra point, 14-6.

The Cougars kept the game close by forcing a punt on the Roughriders’ ensuing possession, but Van Wert’s 79-yard drive stalled on fourth down. Eight plays later, Perry scored his second touchdown on the night on a 5-yard TD rush that was set up by his 29-yard run on that same drive to help push St. Marys’ lead back to two scores, 21-6, with 4:11 remaining in the first half.

But the Ballweg’s interception opened the flood gates for St. Marys as the senior cut in front of Blake Henry’s curl route and returned it 35 yards for this third pick-six on the season and a school record 10th interception, breaking Craig Huwer’s 1971 record of nine interceptions.
That pick-six led to a 34-14 outscoring the rest of the game.

"That was a big play," Frye said. "They had some momentum there at that point in the game and his interception turned that momentum back."

The Cougars’ third straight non-scoring drive — which ended in a punt — opened the door for another Roughriders’ score on a Dunlap QB sneak that made the score 35-6 with :12 seconds left. That drive, however, included a 46-yard screen pass from Dunlap to Perry to setup Dunlap’s score.

Van Wert opened the second half by snapping the Roughriders’ 21 straight points with a 32-yard pass from Place to Owen Trece to cut into St. Marys’ lead, 35-14. But St. Marys scored three of the game’s final four scoring drives beginning with back-to-back Perry TD scores — the first on a 16-yard misdirection run and the second on a 34-yard cutback run to the left side. Perry’s 16-yard TD run broke the school record in points in a season by a St. Marys team with 547 — breaking the program’s 1993 record of 540 points.

St. Marys’ then added to that record thanks to its final touchdown on Ty Howell’s 30-yard rush to the left side after Place scored his second TD in the drive before.
The win marks the first postseason win for the Roughriders at Spartan Stadium and snaps Van Wert’s eight-game win streak.

"I give the credit to our defensive coaches because they adjusted well as the game wore on," Frye said.

The Riders will now play the Colts, who defeated Lorain Clearview 26-8 on Saturday. The top-ranked Colts in the region will travel 99 miles south to play at Bellefontaine High School. Both teams have never played each other before and the last time St. Marys has been to Bellefontaine — a 43-mile drive east — was a scrimmage last season against the Chieftains.