Wauseon experienced some first-game rust in the opening half but an offensive explosion after halftime enabled them to battle back for a 30-16 win over defending co-league champion Liberty Center Friday in the season opener at Harmon Field.
The Indians outscored the Tigers 23-3 after the break — which is shortened to 10 minutes this season because of the pandemic.
“We knew that we could make some plays, we just had to get the opportunity,” said Wauseon coach Shawn Moore of the second half resurgence. “I think in the first half we had bad snap after bad snap. Connar (Penrod) didn’t really have the opportunity to make the correct read. So we fixed the snap (issue) and we were able to allow Connar to see the defense and make some of those throws. Allow our guys in some one-on-one matchups to make some plays.”
Yes, you heard that right, Connar Penrod, the Indians’ 1,200 yard receiver from last year has been moved back to quarterback. Prior to last season, he had served as a quarterback in the program.
“Being under center is nothing new to me. I’ve done it since seventh and eighth grade. I did it my freshman year as a back-up. Sophomore year I started. Junior year I went to receiver for the betterment of the team. So I came back this year to go to quarterback — help the team out. That’s the best position for me on this team,” Penrod said.
“Mostly ran the ball with the quarterback tonight as you saw. Then just throwing the ball, like I said that’s nothing new. I’m a baseball guy; I can throw a ball. I’m ready to go. I got receivers that are gonna go up and get it.”
Penrod was 21 of 30 for 277 yards and four touchdowns through the air, also adding 67 yards rushing on 15 carries.
“It was a key decision for us to decide,” said Moore on picking his starting quarterback. “Did we want to leave Connar at wide receiver or do we want to move him to quarterback? It wasn’t an easy one. I think Brady Thomas can be a good quarterback for us in the future. And so, we thought Connar gave us the best chance this week against a solid Liberty Center team in the first week to make some plays. Having the ball in his hand every single play.”
Down 13-0 late in the first half after scoring runs of 24 and 20 yards from Liberty Center’s Max Phillips, Wauseon was able to strike gold on the final play of the half.
They received the ball in Tiger territory at the 33-yard line, following a fumble recovery with 1:07 on the clock. An incomplete pass on second-and-8 from the 14 with six seconds left set them up with one final chance at the end zone.
Penrod found an open Jude Armstrong over the middle for the 14-yard score and Samuel Blanco’s extra point got them within 13-7 at the half.
The Tigers went three-and-out quickly in the third quarter and again the Indians would capitalize.
They did so on Penrod’s deep bomb to Sam Smith along the left sideline, who hauled it in off a tip by an LC defender and raced the rest of the way to paydirt for a 58-yard score. A mishandled snap on the point after led to Penrod finding Logan Carroll in the left-corner of the end zone, putting Wauseon in front 15-13 with just under nine minutes left in the third quarter.
All four of Penrod’s scoring strikes went to Smith and Armstrong.
“I got two sophomores in there that varsity experience is little to none,” said Penrod of the duo. “And those two guys can play football. That’s one of the reasons we’re underdogs. People don’t know those two sophomores; those two sophomores can play. Jude Armstrong and Sam Smith.
“Then you got Tester and DeGroff, who are not new in this offense. You saw what they could do last year. I’ve got four good receivers and it doesn’t end there. We got guys that we can bring in off the bench. We’re gonna be just fine all year long.”
Wauseon advanced into LC territory on their next possession that extended into the final quarter.
A fumbled snap on a second down play set them with third-and-9 at the 16. However, Penrod hooked up with Smith on a fade in the end zone for the second straight score by the pair, extending the lead to 22-13 with 10:48 remaining.
“We knew that Sam could do it,” said Moore. “We see it in practice all the time. It’s just allowing Connar to get some chemistry with some of those guys. Connar and Sam had a lot of chemistry out there tonight.”
The Tigers got back to their punishing ground attack on the ensuing possession, but were forced to settle for a 42-yard field goal try. Nevertheless, Asa Killam buried it through the uprights to get his team within six, 22-16, with still half the quarter left.
The Indians were able to milk much of the remaining time with Penrod’s arm, as the senior leader picked up multiple third down conversions to keep the drive alive.
He then completed a short pass to Armstrong who got free and scampered 42 yards for his second TD of the game. Penrod hit Smith for the two-point conversion and the 30-16 advantage.
Although Smith and Armstrong led the Indians in scoring, Jonas Tester was the leading receiver with eight catches for 79 yards. Both of Smith’s grabs went for TDs, equalling a total of 74 yards. Armstrong had five catches for 70 yards.
Phillips ran for 164 yards on 27 carries and had both Tiger scores. The Indians outgained the Tigers 388-313.
Wauseon (1-0, 1-0 NWOAL) next travels to Swanton (0-1, 0-1) this Friday.