The 2015 OHSAA football playoffs kick off this weekend as teams from all seven divisions set their sights toward a state title. In Fulton County, three teams have qualified, including co-NWOAL champs Wauseon and Swanton.
Delta, who handed Wauseon its only loss of the season, also qualified.
Wauseon is back in the playoffs for a third straight year in Division IV, Region 12. The Indians open with a familiar foe, Bellevue, who they defeated in the regional semifinal last season, 34-12.
“Both teams can look at last year’s film and get a little more info than you normally can get on a playoff opponent,” said Wauseon coach Travis Cooper on facing Bellevue again. “Each team is unique though, so there are limitations to what you can apply from the previous game.”
However, they go into the game not knowing for sure who will line up under center. Senior quarterback J.J. Kauffman re-injured his shoulder which forced him out of last Friday’s win over Patrick Henry.
He will be a game time decision, similar to a situation the Indians faced prior to their match-up with Bryan in week six. If unable to play, Kauffman will be replaced with junior Brendan Wilson who is the team’s leading rusher at 956 yards on the season.
Wilson filled in nicely against the Patriots last week, completing 8 of 13 passes for 110 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Cooper insists that the offense won’t change if Wilson is at the helm, which likely means that they will continue to use the quarterback heavily in the run game.
“The key for us offensively will be to establish the line of scrimmage and (to) mix the run and pass,” explained Cooper. “We had zero penalties last week. That allowed us to stay on schedule, sustain drives, and chew clock. We need a similar effort this week.”
Bellevue is a talented and youthful team, especially on offense. Junior quarterback Alec Foos is the commander of the offense, throwing for 1,135 yards, 15 TDs to only two interceptions, while also rushing for 1,510 yards and 23 TDs.
The second leading rusher for the Redmen is sophomore running back Bryce Ray who has 120 carries on the season for 1,062 yards and nine TDs. Ray also has a pair of receiving scores.
“Once you get to the postseason, teams are all going to be very dangerous. Bellevue is no different. They have a massive line and some really good targets at receiver,” said Cooper of the Redmen offense. “They have some speed at receiver, and their top guy (Seth Linder) is 6’4” 210 pounds who will go up and get jump balls. It is going to be a tough task yet again. It is going to take a team effort at all three levels of our defense to try to contain them.”
Linder has 544 yards and five TDs on the season. He was a two-way player with three sacks from his defensive end position, but a shoulder injury that will require surgery after the season will keep him off the field on defense Saturday night.
Wauseon will counter with a defense that has allowed under 11 points per game to its opponents.
Leading the charge are senior linebackers Jac Flory, Tyler Wilson and Luke Rychener. Also, Brendan Wilson leads the team in total tackles with 82 on the year.
Wauseon hosts Bellevue (8-2) Saturday at 7 p.m.
Bulldogs host Waynedale; Delta travels to Wynford
In Division V, Region 16, Swanton makes the playoffs for the second time in school history and the first since 1995. The Bulldogs will host fifth-seeded Apple Creek Waynedale on Friday at 7:30 p.m.
“Waynedale is a lot like us. They have been down for a few years and this is a group that is led by some talented seniors,” said Swanton coach Mike Vicars. “As (a) team they have been up and down a little, and have had injuries like us. But they seem to be on a roll now.”
Vicars is impressed by the uptempo Golden Bear offense that is led by senior quarterback Brevin Riebe who has thrown for 2,135 yards on the season with 17 TDs but also has 10 interceptions.
“They have a good passing game with an excellent throwing QB that has over 2,000 yards passing,” said Vicars. “They throw to multiple guys but really like two guys in particular, Nick Strausbaugh, their best player, and Ant Juan Lewis who was third at the state track meet last year in the 400.”
Strausbaugh is the Golden Bears leading receiver on the season with 39 receptions for 675 yards and 10 TDs. He will also take some snaps from the wildcat position.
The Bears feature a balanced attack as running back Reid Stanley averages 6.4 yards per carry and has 745 yards with eight TDs on the year.
Working in Swanton’s favor is their home crowd, which should be electric with it being the first home playoff game in school history.
“We hope that after a 20-year absence from the playoffs that the town is very excited to be back in the playoffs,” said Vicars. “Having a home game is really special for the community.”
The Bulldogs are also coming off back-to-back wins at home in which they defeated Liberty Center 31-21 and Delta 23-14. They look to keep that momentum going this week.
“It is always great to win, but this team is very different than the last two teams we played,” noted Vicars. “It is great to be at home.”
Delta ended the regular season with that loss to Swanton, however, they began the NWOAL season with a 20-14 win over Wauseon back on Sept. 18. The Panthers narrowly lost to Tinora, 24-14, in week two. The Rams are the second seed in Division VI, Region 20, trailing only Delta’s opponent this Saturday, Bucyrus Wynford.
The Royals come into their matchup with Delta sporting a 9-1 record that includes wins over Colonel Crawford, the third seed in Region 20, and Seneca East, which is the seventh seed. Their only blemish was a 17-14 season-opening loss at Liberty-Benton.
The Royals have a dual-threat quarterback in Zach Hoffman who has thrown for 1,116 yards while also rushing for 1,153. Hoffman has tossed 16 TDs to only three interceptions. He has also rushed for 20 scores.
The number two rusher for Wynford is Nick Looker who has 1,027 yards and 14 TDs on the season. Hoffman’s primary target through the air is Tony Watson with seven TDs on the season.
Pacing the Royal defense is Josh Gregory who has 61 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss and six sacks. Looker posted 56 tackles for the Royals.
However, the Panthers will look to attack Wynford with a strong rushing attack that features two runners with at least 900 yards on the season.
Junior Jesse Beverly is one of two that carry the load for Delta, rushing for 1,141 yards and 11 TDs during the regular season. Senior Bailey Storeholder has 903 yards and 12 TDs on the year. Storeholder also has three receiving TDs to go with 261 yards.
Sophomore Dylan Rogers has carried the ball only 45 times on the season, but has 305 yards and four scores.
Delta is at Bucyrus Wynford on Saturday beginning at 7 p.m.
Max Householder can be reached at 419-335-2010