Does any of this sound familiar? The 2015 Wauseon Indians are the football champions of the NWOAL. They are going to compete in the OHSAA playoffs and will host a first round game. And, for good measure, they did not lose a game on their home field. Ofcourse it sounds familiar. This just happened last year. The 2015 season was, outside of a road loss to league opponent and playoff bound Delta, was a duplicate of 2014.
On Friday night, Wauseon coach Travis Cooper and his young men broke open a close game with a strong fourth quarter to beat the visiting Patrick Henry Patriots, 27-0, winning the league title for the second consecutive year, returning to the playoffs for the third year in a row and extending a home winning streak that began in 2013.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game. They are a very good football team that has really gotten better from early in the season,” commented Cooper on the tight battle in the first half. “So I was really concerned when outside people were talking about playoffs a lot this week and I tried to focus our guys on the big task at hand if we wanted to win the title.”
It was an extremely tight opening half that saw both defenses completely dominate play. There was very little yardage gained by either team and very few first downs as neither offense was able to get even close to the red zone much less the end zone. And just to make the situation even shakier for the Indians, starting quarterback J.J. Kauffman left the game early in the second quarter with a shoulder injury and did not return.
With their QB out of the game and the offense still floundering, Wauseon needed someone to step up and put some points on the board. On this Friday night, with so much on the line, that someone was Brendan Wilson.
The junior running back, who had taken some snaps at the position earlier this year, took over behind center and eventually began to move the ball. Late in the second quarter he drove the Indians down to the Patriot 32 yard line for a first and ten.
With not much more than 15 seconds left in the half Wilson rolled to his left, then spun around and threw a dump off screen pass the other way to Jacob Flory. Flory grabbed the pass and, with a wall of blockers in front of him, headed down the right side eluding several tacklers along the way until he found the end zone to break the zero all tie with seven seconds on the clock. Josh Whitcomb kicked the extra point and the Indians finished the half with a 7-0 lead.
The outcome of the game remained very much in doubt for a large part of the third quarter. Both offenses had more success but it was still the defenses that played the biggest factor.
After holding the Indians to a three and out to start the second half the Patriots began a drive that moved them deep into Wauseon territory. They marched down to the eight yard line and were faced with a major decision on fourth and one, go for the first down or get on the board with a field goal. They opted to continue the drive with a run up the middle and were stuffed for no gain by the Indians’ front line.
“Our defense took care of business,” said Cooper. “That was a big play down there not letting them into the end zone.” The play proved to be a pivotal moment in the game as Wauseon took over on downs and the offense, with Wilson still at the helm, began to assert its strength.
“When I came in the coach told me ‘We need you to step up and make plays.’ And I just relied on the other guys to get me going,” said Wilson very modestly. “It was all them. They gave me the opportunities that I had. I just tried to give them a chance and they did the rest.”
Mixing in passes with quarterback keepers, the Indians drove down to the PH one yard line and started the fourth quarter with a plunge into the end zone by Wilson giving Wauseon a 14-0 lead.
That second touchdown was a back breaker for Patrick Henry. Their offense turned to the passing game to get back in the contest with disastrous results. Quarterback Jarrett Maas threw several interceptions, including one to Whitcomb who tied the school record with his seventh of the year.
The turnovers provided Wilson and the Indian offense with short fields and they took complete advantage. Mason Creager hauled in a 23 yard pass for a score and Wilson ran in his second of the game to finish the night with the 27-0 title clinching victory.
Statistically speaking it was the Wauseon defense that stole the show holding the Patriots to 120 yards of offense and keeping them off the scoreboard. “Our defense has been phenomenal all year,” said Cooper. “That was our first shutout of the year and we picked a great game to pitch it.”
Offensively, the Indians were led by Wilson who ran for 122 yards on 23 carries and completed eight of 13 passes for 110 yards. Luke Rychener and Ty Leininger caught four and three passes respectively.
Now it’s on to the playoffs as Wauseon will host Bellevue in a first round game on Saturday night with a scheduled 7:30 p.m. kickoff.
Bill O’Connell can be reached at [email protected]