Preview: Wyoming In Riders’ Way To State Final

By: 
JAKE DOWLING
Sports Editor

For a fourth consecutive week, the St. Marys Roughriders will be facing a spread offense as they prepare for Wyoming with a trip to Canton on the line come Saturday.

In the three postseason games, the Roughriders have fared well against spread offenses with seven forced turnovers, allowing a combined 40 points (an average of 13.3 points per game) and is allowing a combined 315.3 yards on average.

St. Marys (12-1) will face a Wyoming (13-0) offense that is averaged 381.2 yards per game in the regular season and 45.9 points per game and 32 points per game in the postseason. 

“They are a mix between Van Wert and Orange because of Orange’s skill set and the quarterback is a very, very good athlete,” Roughriders coach Doug Frye said. “He is definitely a difference maker.”

Junior quarterback Evan Prater (6-foot-5, 190 pounds) is 26-of-48 passing (54.2 completion percentage) for 362 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions in the playoffs, but as a rusher, Prater has amassed a team-high 346 yards on 52 carries and six touchdowns. In the regular season, he passed for 1,482 yards and 19 touchdowns to just two interceptions and rushed for 1,049 yards and 21 scores. 

“This is a senior-dominated Wyoming team that has been through the playoffs a lot now,” Frye said. “Their quarterback is a junior, but there are a lot of seniors on this team.”

Similar to Van Wert in stopping quarterback Nate Place, the challenge for St. Marys will be to stop Prater — the 2018 All-Southwest Ohio District Offensive Player of the Year — as he accounts for 68 percent of the team’s total yards of offense in both regular season playoffs and 29.5 percent of the team’s point total (164 of the team’s 555 points scored).

Other than Prater, Pierson Rogers is the Cowboys’ main back with 253 rushing yards this postseason and three touchdowns. Prater’s main receivers have been Rogers (six receptions, 47 yards, 1 TD) and Joey Edmonds (seven catches, 108 yards and 2 TDs.)

There are eight seniors on either side of the ball, but just like Clear Fork, there are a number of linemen who play on both sides of the lines.

“It happened that way last week,” Frye said when asked if playing against a team with two-way players is an advantage. “If the game was close late in the third quarter, there is a freshness on the line that I would hope would be an advantage.”

The Cowboys employ a 4-3 defense — similar to what St. Marys runs — led by linebacker Hasan Black with his team-high 8.5 sacks and 95 tackles alongside fellow linebacker in junior Camden O’Gara with his team-high 106 tackles. Anchoring the defensive line is James Smith (6-foot-5, 235 pounds) with his 74 tackles and four sacks.

Wyoming has forced 11 turnovers and have outscored opponents 96-24 this postseason.

“Very fundamentally sound,” Frye said of Wyoming’s defense. “They had to replace a number of d-line from last year, that is why they have a few kids playing on both side now, but they return a linebacker crew and it is very solid.”

The Cowboys have also enjoyed regular-season dominance, not having lost a regular season game since Oct. 28, 2015 — a streak of 31 straight regular season wins — and have won 38 of their last 41 games, which includes the postseason. The regular season win streak is tops in the state.

“They have been dominate in their league (Cincinnati Hills League) for awhile now,” Frye said. “They have a number of kids who are three-year starters on a senior-dominated team.”

Wyoming is making it to the final four for the first time since 2009  — fifth overall in school history  — and overcame back-to-back trips to a regional final in 2016 and 2017 — just to fall short in each of those games.

Wyoming, which earned its 701st win Saturday night against London in a Region 16 final, was also in the state semifinals in 2009, 1998, 1977 and 1975. Wyoming won the Class AA state championship in 1977.

The Cowboys are 37-2 since the start of the 2016 season.

Frye said in order for his team to make it back to state final for the first time since his sixth season with St. Marys during his first stint in 2004 is to continue to do what St. Marys has done best. 

“They are a very athletic, gifted and experienced team,” he said. “The first thing we have to do, and I have said this all season, is win the turnover ratio and second thing is we have to win the special teams battle. Aside from that, we still have to be able to do what we do best, which in St. Marys is play great team defense and be a physical ball-control offense.”

In an interesting note, St. Marys has had the 10th toughest schedule in all of Division IV teams in the state with an average winning percentage of .669. Another interesting note was what Frye said about this year’s team compared to previous seasons and adding to what center Mitchell Seewer said after Saturday’s win against Clear Fork about the players wanting to make its own mark as a team in the St. Marys football program. 

“They (the seniors) have lived in the shadows of other teams and probably the biggest shadow is the ‘16 team and I felt that way with last year’s seniors,” the coach said. “A lot of guys were first-time players in the lineup (in 2017) and they wanted to have an identity by winning a league championship and I think this team wanted to take it a bit further than any team has taken it — at least in the last five years since we have been back.

“Really the team who wins this game will be the team with the most urgency and the most desire to play on in the next level.”

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