Weekly Preview: Rivalry Renewed

Wapakoneta running back Evan Kaeck (5) returns for his senior season after having shoulder surgery last season. Kaeck will be the Roughriders’ biggest challenge on the defensive side of the ball.
Sports Editor

After Friday’s 25-22 win against Sidney, St. Marys coach Doug Frye said his team has a lot of work to do and on Tuesday he added that some of that work is the typical cleanup for any team playing in its first game of the season.

But improvement from week 1 to week 2 cannot be any more important for St. Marys than this week against Wapakoneta.

The cross-county rivalry is renewed in 2019 in week 2 of the season. It is the first time these two teams will play in the second week of the season since 2002. In the Western Buckeye League, the final game of each team’s schedule is moved up to the first league game once every two seasons.

“It is your best opportunity to improve between week 1 and week 2,” Frye said. “It is really the first time your key kids really played all four quarters of football so there is always a laundry list of things that need to be cleaned up in all areas.

“Not to take anything away from Sidney — they played hard and they made it a game — but we had an opportunity to put the game away and there are obviously some things that we are not doing that are not typical of St. Marys teams that I have coached. We are making some mistakes on offense that we shouldn’t be and we have not really hit that third down stop or turnover on defense and we have been sporadic on special team. So what we are looking for is a consistent level of clean play.”

In last week’s season opener, the Roughriders turned the ball over once on an interception and fumbled on two other occasions. Including the two scrimmages earlier in the summer, the defense has yet to force a turnover this year. The defense allowed just 103 yards through the air, but surrendered 177 rushing yards including a 72-yard TD run by EJ Davis.

Frye had mentioned that his team had a chance to put the game away early with a short field at the Yellow Jackets’ 31 yard line, but turned the ball over on downs on fourth and 12 in an 8-0 game. The Roughriders were also in the redzone in the second quarter still up 8-0, but a miscommunication between Dylan Trogdlon and one of his offensive lineman led to the two colliding on what ended up being a false start. St. Marys ended up connecting on a 24-yard field goal to go up 11-0, but Davis made it a one-score game again with his 72-yard scamper on Sidney’s ensuing possession.

Frye added that senior leadership is needed and that they should be the leaders of the team because they have been through the program where a lot of the juniors on the team are still making that transition from junior varsity to the varsity squad.

“Every year, there is a stamp on the program for each senior class to leave their legacy,” the coach said. “We are hoping our senior leadership and stamp on the program continues to be like it has been the last three years.”

Those seniors will be looked upon on Friday in a game that could determine who wins the WBL this season. Two of the last three matchups have determine who wins the league crown and 2015 and 2017 included playoff implications.

“We can control what we control,” Wapakoneta coach Travis Moyer said. “It’s step No. 1 toward goal No. 1 of a WBL championship. It [Friday’s game] doesn’t define the season, but the team that wins is going to able to control its destiny.”

The Redskins were 11-2 last season, clinching a share of the WBL title with St. Marys and eventually falling to Archbishop Alter in a Division III regional final.

In last season’s matchup, the Redskins’ veteran offensive line led to Wapakoneta racking up 171 yards on the ground and help give quarterback Brady Erb time in the pocket to throw for 149 yards on 7-of-16 passing with just one interception.

Leading with 5:10 remaining in the game, Wapakoneta — aided by a pair of defensive interference calls on its drive — scored when Erb found Aaron Chambers in the end zone for a pinpoint pass to close the game to 24-23. Wapakoneta’s 2-point try failed, prompting the Redskins to go for an onside kick, which they recovered.

Seven plays, a St. Marys’ timeout and an offsides call on the Roughriders later, Luke Beach connected on a 23-yard field goal for what was the game-winning score.

Frye described Wapakoneta as multi-dimensional offense in 2019 because of running back Evan Kaeck’s presence in the backfield and first-year quarterback Reed Merricle’s talents as a skill player before he switched to quarterback this year.

The Redskins racked up 393 rushing yards in their 28-0 season-opening win against Bellefontaine last week. Merricle finished with 131 yards on 14 carries, a 9.4 average, and Kaeck mustered a modest 109 yards and three scores.

“They are able to open it up and use their zone reads stuff or they are able to close it down and run the ball at you more,” Frye said. “They had to replace some offensive linemen so for them, their replacements are a little bit different than ours this season.”

Frye said the offensive line is Wapakoneta’s biggest project heading into the season, but added that the program has also turned a number of defensive linemen with varsity experience into the offensive side.

The strength, Frye thought, is the team’s defense despite the loss of its top defensive lineman from last season in Brenan Knueve. The Redskins return six players on that side of the ball.

“They are a similar team to us it is just that their replacements are in different areas, but I would say that we are two very similar teams,” Frye added.

In terms of replacements, some of the younger players in last week’s game against Sidney made plays that led to the Roughriders’ season-opening victory.

Aside from Gavin Reineke coming in the second half to lead the offense, sophomore Tanner Howell’s play before the 30-yard field goal attempt by Hallie Truesdale was what Frye thought was a turning point in the game.

“He has a savvy about him,” Frye said as he described the youngest of four in the Howell family. “He has a work ethic and he has a toughness about him. All of those have added up and all of that was on a very good skill kid on a fantastic football play.”

Frye also talked about freshman Austin Parks, who partially blocked Truesdale kick that won the game for St. Marys.

“Those are two young guys, a freshman and a sophomore, that made huge plays in the ball game,” he added. “We talk a lot about our seniors and we should because it is their last year of football, but those are two young guys who made an impact on our football team.

In regard to the block kick, Frye said that the interior linemen, which included sophomore Hunter Fraley, collapsed the inside while freshman Aiden Hinkle attacked from the outside.

“There are some kids contributing that are playing with a level of toughness and work ethic,” he added.