Weekly Preview: Defense Has Another Large Test vs. Trotwood

The St. Marys defense limited Franklin to just 10 points and 254 total yards of offense for a team that averages north of 30 points per game and roughly 375 yards of offense per game.
By: 
JAKE DOWLING
Sports Editor

Another week, another rematch and this time it’s against a team that ended St. Marys’ Cinderella season.

Now the Roughriders have a chance to return the favor.

The No. 6-seeded Roughriders (9-2) will be the “home” team on Friday against No. 7-seeded Trotwood-Madison (8-3) — who are in its 11th straight postseason and ended the regular season No. 4 ranked in the Associated Press state poll.

“I think they are a gifted team, their numbers have not been as big as they have been in the past so they are playing more guys on both sides of the ball more than they have had to in the past,” Roughriders coach Doug Frye said. “So I think that is one thing that jumps out at you, but of the 40 kids that they have, about 30 of them are juniors and seniors so they are an older team for the bulk of the team.

“They have size, maybe not as much as they have been in the past, and they are big in the trenches.”

The Rams advanced after beating Wapakoneta 33-21 in last week’s Division III, Region 12 quarterfinal.

It is just the second time these two teams have played each, with the first matchup taking place in 2016 at Alexander Stadium in Piqua where the Roughriders lost 34-27 in a regional final.

Wapakoneta was able to contain the Rams offense for the first 14:19 of the game, but Trotwood scored 13 points in the next 8 seconds on a punt return for a touchdown following a three-and-out by the Redskins and a fumble recovery for a touchdown on Wapakoneta’s ensuing kickoff to take a lead the team never relinquished.

The Roughriders’ main goal defensively is stopping Rams quarterback Cooper Stewart — who was 13-of-18 for 142 yards and two touchdowns in the Rams’ win last week.

The 5-foot-10 junior has passed for 1,402 yards and 15 touchdowns to just four interceptions and has six scores on 277 yards as a rusher.

“He is a very good quarterback and he presents a challenge for us,” Frye added. “When you look at the previous Trotwood teams, you know that they are going to be very athletic, well-coached and their quarterback play has been good in the past but I think it is even better this year.”

Frye added that the game plan to play against someone like Stewart does not differ much than it would be against anyone else, but said that his team will have to do what they do, but better on defense. 

“We stress the fundamentals of the game and doing the little things with the variety of defenses,” he said. “We are spending even more time on film this week than in the past.”

Trotwood brings balance on offense, much like Franklin did a week ago, but the Rams are more athletic on that side of the ball than the Wildcats were. Frye added that in the past the Rams offense had been 80-20 toward the run, but now is 65-35 in terms of the run-pass ratio.

“The running game has been good and in the past they may have put more stock in the running, but that might be partially because they believe their quarterback is better now,” Frye said. “So they have been more balanced [this year] than it has been in the past.

“There is not a guy that gets all of the press, but they have a variety of running backs.”

A team that likes to work out of the I-formation, the Rams’ leading rusher is Hezekiah Hudson-Davis, who gained 1,005 yards on 150 carries and a team-high 10 rushing touchdowns. Keon Hamilton (225 yards, six touchdowns) and Keon’tae Huguely (272 yards, 4 touchdowns) are other threats out of the backfield.

Stewart’s weapons on the outside include leading receiver Carl Blanton Jr. with 27 catches for 551 yards and seven TDs and Sammy Anderson’s 304 yards on 14 receptions and six scores.

It will be another week where the onus will be on the defense to stop a highly-productive offense like it did a week ago against Franklin. Frye said it is hard to gauge how good Trotwood is just by looking at its schedule. 

In some ways, there is a belief that the Rams’ schedule has prepared them for the playoffs with the eight Division I schools they play, but Frye added that the teams Trotwood is seeing are more athletic-based, but not necessarily fundamentally-sound football teams.

“But it is a different schedule so it is harder for us coaches to judge,” Frye added. “They certainly have a tradition of winning. The thing that I have seen through the years is their consistence of coaching. They have always been athletic, they have always been big, but they are much more fundamentally sound in the last five to seven years than they used to be in the past.”

WHAT TO WATCH

• Containing Cooper Stewart

Stewart rushed 10 times for 44 yards with the longest run being 22 yards in last week’s win against Wapakoneta and although he has not run much this season, he is still a threat. Entering Friday, Stewart has 277 rushing yards on 88 carries but has scored six times. Frye said the Riders have faced a variety of quarterbacks this season, but none of them have the same running ability in the backfield than Stewart. Containment will be the key for St. Marys, something the defense has not had to worry too much about this year against any one opponent except for Wapakoneta quarterback Reed Merricle, who totaled 76 rushing yards on 23 carries.

• The Roughriders running game

The Roughriders have not run more than 200 yards in a game in three of the last four weeks. The team, which averages 244.9 yards per game, ran for just 167 yards in last week’s win against Franklin — marking it the team’s second-lowest output in terms of rushing yards in a game this season.

Since a season-ending injury to Ty Schlosser, the Roughriders have not had a workhorse in their backfield all season, but that situation had allowed the fullback position to progress into a three-back committee with Aiden Hinkle, Hunter Fraley and Ross Henschen. The coaching staff has also used Ethan Wedding in that fullback rolel, but since the Bath game, the running game has not been able to get going. Against a physical team like Trotwood, the staff will have to find a way to move the ball in order to not rely on the passing game.

Frye described his offense as “OK” as of late and added that he does not know if there is one reason for that “OK” designation, but said that the team will continue to plug away at what the team does best.

“We are playing a lot of kids by committee in the backfield and we are looking for that spark,” he said.

• Ross Henschen

Speaking of a spark, Henschen has given the team that spark, especially last week with his season-highs in rushing attempts (13) and yards (124) in a game against Franklin. Admitting he does not know who will be the cowbell for the team on a weekly basis, Frye added that he wasn’t keeping the cards close to the vest, per se, but choosing which back to go with is more about riding the hot hand.

“Which does give us the flexibility,” Frye said. “I do think there are different running styles back there, which will make it a little more interesting, but to beat a team like Trotwood you have to be consistent in everything you do, especially in the second round of the playoffs and on.”

The sophomore back has been a nice commodity for the Roughriders in the latter part of the season. Entering last week’s quarterfinal, Henschen had rushed just 16 times for 199 yards and two scores, but he saw his most extensive work against the Wildcats with a team-leading 13 carries and 124 yards — nearly eclipsing his season totals. He may have that same role this week.

• Time of possession

St. Marys has not played in a game where it won time of possession since week 8 against Bath and that was by 19 seconds. The largest lopsided time out possession came last week when the Roughriders defense was on the field for 31:19 compared to the offense being on the field for 16:18.