Weekly Preview: With Playoffs In Sight, Riders Looking To Fine Tune Their Play

St. Marys’ Dylan Trogdlon is one of a number of younger Roughriders who are beginning to settle in at their positions as the season has continued to progress.
Sports Editor

With the meat of their schedule out of the way, the St. Marys Roughriders can focus on finishing strong in the final four games as they look to qualify for their fourth straight postseason appearance. 

“Every single week, rather you are on the bottom, middle or top of the standings, each week is a battle to stay above water and continue to move toward the top of the league and obviously we are fighting for a playoff spot at this point,” Roughriders coach Doug Frye said. “We are also at home three of the next four weeks, we like being here so that is another added factor.”

After last week’s thrilling 39-34 win against Kenton, St. Marys (4-2, 3-2 WBL) returns home for the next two games against Elida (0-6, 0-5) and Bath (2-4, 2-3), two teams the Riders will not get many points from in terms of the computer rankings. 

That’s why finishing strong and earning as many points as possible is crucial. 

“It’s extremely important to get those kids in, but part of the thing this year is we’ve got a lot of young is who are getting in their reps so that is happening quicker than what we really would have liked,” Frye said when asked how important it was to finish the season strong. “But what we have done is we have taken some freshman in addition to the two young men we already have up and they have been one day a week in a substitute role on special teams so maybe as the season progresses, we will be giving them more Friday night time, which is very valuable for them.”

Going up against Elida, the Bulldogs have a winless record, but their record does not necessarily reflect their talents. 

KeShawn Spivey has taken over at quarterback after sophomore and two-year starter Evan Unruh transferred to Lima Central Catholic in September. What jumped out to Frye about the Bulldogs was the competitive game they have been in despite their 0-6 record. 

In their season opener against Delphos St. John’s, Elida lost by one 28-27 and lost a 6-0 gamer to Bath two weeks later, followed by a 42-38 defeat to Celina and a 28-20 loss to Defiance.

“Four of those six ball games they had lost have been down to the wire,” he said. “So what jumps at you when you watch them is their physical size, they have a 320-pound offensive and defensive tackle and a 270-pound tackle and their athleticism.

Spivey is a two-time track athlete and placed third in the prelims of the 110-meter hurdles at 14.74 as well as a number of other athletic players on the team. He leads the team with 545 rushing yards and three touchdowns and Devon Barnett has 320 receiving yards on 21 catches and two scores.

“They can make plays and they are a team you don’t want to let them stay in the game for a long period of time,” Frye said. 

Frye said the Bulldogs are more of a running team than in the past, but they will run out of the spread with 5-foot-8 senior running back Marcel Poe and Spivey. 

Barnett is Elida’s main pass catcher.

“They are a senior-dominated team too,” the coach added. “They have been right on the cusp of winning games, but they have to been able to get over the top.”

But look for younger players to have the ability to fine tune their play in the next two weeks with players such as Aiden Hinkle, Wyland McCollum and Austin Parks. Those three have seen more playing time in the last two or three weeks and may be looked upon during a playoff run. Frye added that a number of players on the Roughriders’ undefeated junior varsity team who are starting to challenge for more playing time at the next level.

“As a coach, you classify players in a certain way,” Frye said. “You have your Friday night lights guys who have been under the gun and under the pressure and you want those kids to be your leaders and your playmakers. Then you want other kids to follow them and at this point of the season as you approach game 7 as a coach what you are looking at are what young kids are going to have an impact on the team in the remainder of the season.

“You could have known about a year ago what you who going to get from six to eight kids and we gotten to where the line you have to walk as a coach with the younger coach is you have expand what you are doing scheme-wise enough to challenge the opponent, but you have to keep it simple enough for the kids that you have to continue to let them progress as football players. The one thing that we do have that jumps at me is that we have competition for playing time in a lot of different areas and that is very exciting each day you come to practice.”


• A bounce back for the defense

The St. Marys defense surrendered 650 passing yards and five TD passes in last week’s key 39-34 win against then-No. 16 ranked Kenton. The 650 passing yards allowed in a game is a St. Marys record, once set by Ben Muak with 564 yards in 2003 as well as quarterback Blaine Huston’s 53 competitions and 87 pass attempts are also records against a St. Marys defense. 

But the Roughriders also made plays against Huston on Friday, including picking the junior off three times, batting down a number of passes and sacking Huston six times. 

“That was a tremendous offensive game by Kenton, but the bottom line is who has the most points at the end of the game and that is the key in any ball game,” Frye said. “You can go back in any game and go over the stats and talk about the different little things that had gone on … but we have a saying and that is ‘find a way to win.’

“I think we are heading in the right direction. Do we have a ways to go? Yes we do. But as a team, we have weathered a lot of adversity throughout this season — and we have probably had a little more than our share with injuries, changes and younger guys stepping into roles.

• Turning the corner

Through the first four games, St. Marys had a -2 turnover margin, but have boasted a +5 figure in the last two games combined. As players begin to gel at their positions and the coaching staff continues to bring up younger players hungry for varsity playing time, St. Marys can be the turnover machine fans are accustomed to seeing in previous years. With the turnaround, St. Marys enters play Friday fourth in turnover margin the WBL. Against lesser opponents, expect that trend to continue. 

“It helped a lot and that is what a lot of people were taking not account, but like I said, this has been a daily battle for us this year and more so than any other year,” Frye said. “Coaches are always trying to keep things in the moment and this is definitely in the moment as we continue to try to get better fundamentally.”

• Numbers game

Despite the winless record, Elida comes in sixth in the league in rushing offense (172.3 yards per game) and sixth in passing offense (115 ypg) and have lost four of its six games by a combined 19 points. The Bulldogs, however, are last in the league in almost every defensive category, such as rush defense (199.8 ypg) and scoring defense (36.3). St. Marys, on the other hand, is averaging 243.7 rushing yards and is scoring an average of 26 points per game.