Weekly Preview: Riders Cannot Pass On O-G's Balbaugh

St. Marys’ Trace Mabry (59) chases after Ottawa-Glandorf quarterback Jeremy Leopold (16) during last season’s Western Buckeye League football game at Skip Baughman Stadium. Mabry and the defensive line will be tasked with applying pressure to Titans’ quarterback Jacob Balbaugh on Friday.
By: 
JAKE DOWLING
Sports Editor

In a game that could be looked upon as a must-win for St. Marys, the Roughriders will definitely be tested this week.

Their week 3 opponent looks to be on the upside after not making the playoffs each of the last two seasons and the Roughriders will be making their longest trip to date at Ottawa.

The Titans finally have stability to the quarterback position, the heart of the Titans offensive operations that has dealt with injuries the last two seasons. The defense features speed and physicality and the offense has solid pass catchers.

“I think they are a much better football team,” Roughriders coach Doug Frye said. “They kind of run the course and every three or four years you have a great football team out of Ottawa-Glandorf. They return a lot of starters and I think everyone expects them to be better, so we are going to have our hands full.

“This is just a league where you just never know. For us, including the scrimmage [against Bellefontaine] this will be a month on the road and our longest trip so we are going to have to be ready to play.”

Frye said he believed O-G was back to the days of old just a few years ago when they played in a Division IV regional final. Following that season in 2017, the Titans finished 3-7 as injuries quickly took a toll on head coach Ken Schriner’s team. 

By the team the Roughriders came to town in week 2, the Titans were on their third quarterback — Upper Sandusky transfer Jaden Siebeneck — who threw two touchdowns by also threw three interceptions — the last one serving as a backbreaker when then-sophomore Ty Schlosser picked back Siebeneck and returned it for a touchdown.

Last season, the Titans opened the game with an interception in each of their first three possession with quarterback Jeremy Leopold en route to a 49-6 Western Buckeye League-opening win for the Roughriders. 

That eventually led to losses in three of its next four games for O-G before rallying for wins in three of the final four games of the season to finish 5-5. 

Leopold finished with 739 passing yards, but Balbaugh also saw action — especially in those final four contests — going 22-of-53 passing for 225 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. 

His best game was the season-finale win against Elida where he finished 9-of-17 passing for 107 yards and two scores.

Now as the full-time starter, Balbaugh burned the Bulldogs with six touchdowns in a 51-7 win last week on 10-of-11 passing and 228 yards. Balbaugh’s top receiver Brennan Blevins finished with just three catches, but racked up 110 yards and three touchdowns.

“He gets rid of the football very quickly and they catch the ball really well,” Frye said of Balbaugh. “They are about 50-50 run-pass so they provide a balance for you that is really tough to defend.

“Their quarterback situation has been an in-and-out sort of thing and now with him back in there, it makes them more dangerous.”

In last week’s win against Elida, the Titans ran 37 plays and 11 passing plays and recorded 12 first downs on the ground and nine through the air.

“I would say it is a similar team to Sidney, maybe not as big in the trenches on the o-line compared to what they have been in the past, I think that is the difference that I see,” Frye said. “They are very skilled in the skill areas and they have a few basketball-type kids.”

A concern for Schriner is the depth at both offensive and defensive lines and the fact that many players play both ways.

That was evident in their season-opener against Eastwood when the Titans led 14-0 at the half, but were outscored 21-0 in the second half — including 14 fourth-quarter points — to lead to a 21-14 defeat. 

In that game, the Eagles wore the Titans down on offense, beginning with a 12-play, 60-yard touchdown drive that ate up 7:19 and during that run by the Eagles that put them up 21-14, Eastwood racked up 254 yards on 35 plays and 18:48 compared to the Titans eight plays in 1:54 and 11 yards.

“I think that is a concern for him and they have been able to stay healthy so it hasn’t affected them any,” Frye said. “But there is a number of those kids who are playing on both sides of the ball so we certainly hope that is an advantage for us.”

Frye also added that his secondary will be put to the test against Balbaugh and company, but that group seemed to handle Sidney’s passing game in week 1 and were not tested much against Wapakoneta in week 2. The Yellow Jackets had just 103 passing yards, 11.4 yards per pass play and their top receiver was limited to just 30 yards.

“I think we have to play disciplined defense because if you try to attack in any certain way, he is going to take advantage of you,” Frye said. “This team is a team that catches the ball the best and throws the ball the best. I thought Findlay’s quarterback was pretty good throwing the ball so I would say it will be a similar challenge so I would say they are a similar team to Findlay.

“So from a team defensive standpoint, we have to be a lot better and our secondary will be tested more so far than we have this season.”

Friday’s game is not necessarily a must-win, the Roughriders can still afford to lose and make the playoffs — especially with a much more manageable schedule coming after this week, but a loss would almost guarantee that the Roughriders will not claim a fourth straight league title and it would put a hit on their playoff chances either way.

“I think we are getting better, I don’t know how good yet,” the coach said. 

WHAT TO WATCH 

• Fast Start

In each of the first two games, both teams have started the game fast. St. Marys led 11-0 halfway through the first half in its season opener against Sidney and controlled the game last week against Wapakoneta up 7-0 at halftime. The same has been true for Ottawa-Glandorf, who raced out to a 14-0 lead at halftime and 44-7 advantage against Elida last week. The Titans ran away from the Bulldogs, but Eastwood came back to beat the Titans. Wapakoneta overcame a 13-7 deficit against St. Marys in the fourth quarter to force overtime and win 19-13 with a dominating performance in those final 24 minutes and overtime. In addition, a fast start helped the Roughriders blow out the Titans last season and on the road, the Riders will need another fast start to stay ahead of Jacob Balbaugh and the Titans offense.

• Turnovers

Beating a drum on those again, but the defense really needs turnovers and that was no more evident than last week. With the defense gassed late in the fourth quarter, a turnover would have most likely secured a win, but that didn’t happen. Instead, quarterback Gavin Reineke was intercepted just outside the end zone, giving Wapakoneta the ball in overtime and eventually the win.

 “We continue to preach that and hopefully we can change that,” Roughriders coach Doug Frye said.

Sidney played much cleaner football against the Roughriders than in years past and Wapakoneta is a fundamentally-sound football team who does not make mistakes. In some ways, Frye said, it has been a combination of teams playing cleaner football and the defense not being opportunistic enough.

“There have been opportunities, even in the scrimmages, to get those turnovers and we just haven’t gotten them and the other teams have played a lot cleaner football than they have in the past too,” Frye said. “But when you get those opportunities, you have to take advantage of them too.”

• Third Down Stops

On that crucial drive that Wapakoneta tied the game on in the fourth quarter, the St. Marys defense had the Redskins in third-down situations four times, but the WBL foe converted each time. Frye said that is something his team needed on defense was a big third-down stop coming into last week’s game. That may also be the case against Ottawa-Glandorf. If the game becomes a shootout of sorts and the defense is on the field for a long time like they were against Wapakoneta, the defense is going to have to find a way to make a big third-down stop.

• How(ell) Do You Do

Frye does not have a No. 1 running back like an Eric Spicer or a Sean Perry. He does have Ty Schlosser, who unofficially has been designated the top back for his team, but Frye is also looking for someone else to step up and be that playmaker with sophomore Gavin Reineke under center. 

Senior Ty Howell is that guy.

“Schlosser has been our main guy at this point, but we haven’t quite had that guy who has stepped up and made those plays for us yet,” Frye said. “We just try to develop the guys that we have and get better. I think Ty Howell is a guy we would love to see step into that role.”

Frye said Howell nursed some injuries earlier in the season, but the senior is getting healthy.

“I think we have some depth in the backfield, we just haven’t had that guy to make those Perry-, Spicer-type plays at this point, that is the difference I have seen,” he added. “We have progressed at the o-line, of course we are breaking in a new quarterback so we need that playmaker to come on for us back there. “Hopefully he will step up and give us that dynamic.”