Weekly Preview: Kenton’s Air Attack Looms Large

In order to help the St. Marys secondary, the Roughriders’ front seven will have to generate pressure on Kenton quarterback Blaine Huston. Senior Blake Kanorr leads the team with 66 tackles and five sacks this season.
By: 
JAKE DOWLING
Sports Editor

In what is the biggest game of the season for St. Marys, much is on the line on Friday, but the biggest issue is the playoffs with St. Marys sitting in eighth place in Division III, Region 12 computer rankings. 

A win Friday against Kenton could boost the Roughriders (3-2, 2-2 WBL) to as high as fifth in the computer rankings with a softer schedule ahead, that is, however, if the Roughriders can take down the Western Buckeye League-leading Wildcats (4-1, 4-0).

The No. 16-ranked Wildcats are fresh off an upset of Wapakoneta last week and were recognized by their efforts with an appearance in this week’s Ohio High School Associated Press’ Football Poll for the first time this season. 

“I thought last year was a building year for them and talking to Coach Fackler his opinion was that this would be the year that they would be good,” Roughriders coach Doug Frye said. “Even a year ago when they were really good, he felt that they were a year away from being really good and I believe that is true now.”

Winners of four straight since a season-opening 42-7 loss to top-ranked Coldwater in Division VI, the Wildcats have benefitted from the arrival of junior quarterback Blaine Huston, who comes to Kenton from Springfield, Missouri.

The Wildcats enter Friday’s matchup with the top passing game in the league at 343 yards per game and the best offense in terms of total yards at 372.8 yards per game. Kenton also has the second-best scoring offense at 30.4 ppg.

And Huston is at the forefront of that offensive prowess.

The 6-foot-0, 170-pound signal-caller leads the WBL with 1,715 passing yards on 107-of-167 (64.1%) passing, 15 touchdowns and eight interceptions. His 2018 all-league receivers have also benefitted as Landon Rush and Jayden Cornell are the league’s best pass-catchers in terms of yards. Rush leads the league with 645 receiving yards on 38 receptions and two scores and Cornell follows with 29 catches, 573 yards and a league-best eight TDs. Jacob Eversole, the heir apparent to last season’s All-Ohio QB in Jaron Sharp but suffered an injury in the offseason, has found his niche as a receiver with 18 catches, 183 yards and two touchdowns.

“I think he [Houston] is a very athletic quarterback and I think Eversole is too,” Frye said. “They have a lot of weapons with Cornell, Rush and a number of other receivers, it is just a unique offense. They have finally found, under Coach [Brent] Fackler since his first year, their Kenton magic again with some lineman, a stern defense and a wide-open passing game.”

Kenton’s defense did not have many holes to fill coming into the season for a unit who struggled to stop teams last season — such as the 70-29 rout to the hands of the Roughriders — but in 2019, nine returners are back on the defensive side of the ball.

The Wildcats are led by senior defensive linemen Luke Fackler, who is the league’s leading tackler heading into week 6 with 76 stops. Three-year starter Noah Eikenbary (46 tackles) and last year’s second-team all-league selection Austin Moore also lead the Wildcats.

Frye said that Kenton’s defense is a physical stunt 4-3 group, which has been a different style than everyone else in the league.

“They are physical, they run to the ball and they like to create havoc with a lot of movement up front,” the coach said. 

Frye pointed to the lack of experience his offense has against an exotic defense that the Wildcats run as a concern. Last week, the Roughriders gave the ball to freshman Aiden Hinkle, but that was Hinkle’s first varsity action. Ethan Wedding, Ross Henschen and Hunter Fraley are still learning the ropes in the backfield, behind an offensive line that has seen some shuffling this season.

“We have to continue to stick to our fundamentals,” Frye said. “We have two key losses on the offensive side with Jase Norton and Ty Schlosser so we are continuing to work to replace those guys — which I don’t know if we will ever be able to replace them, but we can fill in for them this year.”

Frye added his weekly preaching of continuing to improve and strive for consistency.

“I thought last week us closer to the reflection to what St. Marys football is all about, but there are still areas that we are not very consistent in that is somewhat a byproduct of youth,” he said. “In key areas what you are looking for in a coach is continuity amongst players and schemes. By week 5, that was about the third week where we had a quarterback in place, we had a right tackle in place and we are still revolving in the fullback position a little bit.

“But we are getting some consistency now in the third, working on the fourth week where we have had people in the same place so fundamentally, they are beginning to get better now.”

Devin Shannon has now settled in at right tackle after playing in four different positions before settling him at right tackle.

“A trademark of our program has been that if we need to replace a tackle or replace a quarterback or fullback, we take a kid that has been there at the JV level and learn the fundamentals of that position and move him into a starting position,” Frye said. “Unfortunately, in some areas, we have not been able to do that this year.”

Shannon played guard earlier this year before being beaten out by Stash Patterson, then was moved to backup center before becoming a rotating tight end to spill Blake Kanorr at times and was in there when Ethan Freewalt was dealing with an injury.

“He is a first-year starter coming up from the JV and it is really a testament to the young man with his perseverance, his attitude and his work ethic,” Frye said. 

While Frye said he was not sure how much varsity time Hinkle was going to see as the season wore on, he reiterated how important the fullback position is and how much his role played a part in last week’s win. Frye categorized Fraley as a downhill runner and Henschen as a combination of the two, while Hinkle gives the offense both a physical and a speed presence.

“From the fullback position, which is the center of our offense, we are looking for kids that — rather that be one or two or three young men — to give us a changeup in the middle,” Frye said. “In the past, we used a Schlosser or a [Sean] Perry or a Fraley to change up the looks of our fullbacks that can give you speed guy or a big-play guy or someone who can give you an inside presence.”

“With Aiden’s God-given ability, he gives you a couple of those things in one. What he doesn’t give us is experience, which is what we are working on.”

WHAT TO WATCH

• St. Marys pass defense vs. Kenton’s pass offense

The Wildcats have the best passing offense in terms of yards per game heading into Friday’s Western Buckeye League showdown with St. Marys. And despite allowing the fourth-most passing yards at 141.8 yards per game, the Roughriders have been battle-tested against the pass for three straight weeks and four out of the first five games of the season. In the season-opening win against Sidney, the Roughriders allowed just 103 passing yards and in the last two games, the defense is allowing an average of 185 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions as the secondary continues to gel and the defensive line continues to pressure the quarterback.

• St. Marys run game vs. Kenton’s run defense

Kenton’s defense as a whole has improved from last season. The Wildcats are allowing just 17.8 points per game, but they still struggle against the rush, allowing 180 yards and six rushing TDs. That is where St. Marys comes in. The Roughriders are second in the league with 237.6 yards per game and have scored 11 rushing touchdowns -- tied for the third-most in the WBL. If ever there was a chance of playing keep away from St. Marys, this would be the week. In games against Van Wert and Shawnee, the Roughriders had at least one drive in each of those games where they took a significant amount of time off the clock although they did not score -— but in essence, they did because it gave less time for the opponent to consider mounting a comeback. It could be the same case come Friday to keep top passer Blaine Huston and the Wildcats’ explosive passing game on the sidelines.