VAN WERT — Wauseon hung tough for as long as they could against the defending Division IV state champions, but ultimately Van Wert proved to be too talented, the Cougars earning a 53-20 victory over the Indians Friday night in a Region 14 quarterfinal.
The Indians finish the football season at 8-4.
“I thought our kids played well and I thought we made some plays, and at other times we just cost ourselves with some dumb plays here and there. With some turnovers and things like that,” said Wauseon Coach Shawn Moore after the game. “But our guys kept fighting and battling, they (Van Wert) were just the better team tonight. They are a really good team. You see why they are the defending state champs.”
Utilizing the hurry-up offense, Van Wert was able to score two touchdowns in a little over half of the first quarter.
The first Cougar score was a two-yard run by Nate Jackson and Damon McCracken’s extra point gave them a 7-0 lead 1:48 into the game. Key plays on the drive were two 13-yard receptions from quarterback Aidan Pratt to Garett Gunter and Maddix Crutchfield, plus a 23-yard scamper by the QB.
Wauseon’s first drive began in Van Wert territory after a nice kickoff return. However, they lost a yard on first down and could gain no more, turning the ball over on downs to the Cougars at their own 38-yard line.
The Cougars went three-and-out on that possession, but forced a fumble against Wauseon running back Bryson Stump on the Indians’ next drive, recovering it at the Wauseon 26. It took Van Wert five plays to reach the end zone as Jackson found his way in from three yards out, bumping up their lead at 14-0 with 5:08 left in the first.
Wauseon dug deep and got a score its next time with the ball.
A Cougar pass interference penalty and 16-yard completion from Elijah McLeod to Jonas Tester helped set them up at the Van Wert 36. Later in the drive, Tester would record his first of two scores on the night, getting the direct snap on a fourth-and-2 at the 19 and going around right end for the TD. Tyson Rodriguez converted the point after to trim the deficit in half at 14-7 with 1:57 left in the opening quarter.
Nevertheless, early in the second quarter, the Cougars got that score back by way of a shovel pass to Crutchfield who maneuvered his way into the end zone from eight yards out for a 21-7 lead at the 9:55 mark.
After a Wauseon drive stalled near midfield, Van Wert scored again. And again it was Crutchfield, catching one from Aidan Pratt and galloping 34 yards to paydirt to make it 28-7.
In response, the Indians looked to turn fortunes in their favor before halftime.
Running back Logan Carroll would reach the end zone from five yards away with 3:12 before half, but a missed extra point kept Van Wert ahead 28-13. Also on the drive, he had a 12-yard run that put them in Cougar territory.
Other big plays were Rodriguez catching a jump ball for 29 yards and Tester catching a swing pass that went for 18.
But the Indians were not done. Tester intercepted a tipped ball on the ensuing Van Wert possession, giving it back to Wauseon at the Cougar 37 as they looked to make it a one-score game.
They did manage one first down, but on third-and-11 at the 25, some miscommunication between quarterback and receiver led to an interception in the end zone by Van Wert’s Spencer Clay.
“It was definitely a big play. I don’t think it was the backbreaker,” said Moore of the play which essentially ended the first half. “We just didn’t connect right. The interception, we didn’t want to turn it over there for sure. We had one more shot after that. But that would have been a huge play (if we scored).”
After a sack helped end Wauseon’s first drive of the third quarter, Van Wert went 65 yards for a TD on its opening possession. It was Jackson going in from 32 yards out — his third score of the game — that made the difference 34-13 with 8:28 left in the period.
“Coming out in the second half I think we really needed to score,” noted Coach Moore. “Again, fluttered a little bit on that first possession. But like you say, we came back after that. We had some shots in the first half and again, I think, their guys played hard. We just didn’t tackle well in the second half and they got some of those big plays. They’re a good team.”
The Indians did not go away after the Van Wert score to open the half.
Carroll put them in scoring position with a 72 yard run down to the Van Wert six yard line. Four plays after that on fourth down and goal at the three, they went to Tester again for a three yard rushing score that cut the margin back to 14, 34-20.
For the game, Tester caught seven passes for 62 yards, plus he had four rushes for 33 yards and two TDs.
“Jonas is a great athlete. And so, put the ball in his hands and just let him find a hole and a crease and get it in the end zone. He was able to do it for us twice,” Moore said of Tester and his night rushing the ball. “It was unfortunate there the last time that he was in there, he kind of hurt his shoulder a little bit — nothing serious. I’m sure he’ll be OK.
“We are gonna miss him. He’s been a great leader for four years. Just a kid that works hard every single play, every single time he steps on a field, a court, a track, it doesn’t matter what it is he’s giving his all.”
But the Cougars would get the game’s final three scores, leading to the 33-point win. Jackson collected his fourth rushing TD while Brylen Parker also scored on the ground, then Aidan Pratt hit Connor Pratt for a 22-yard TD.
Jackson tallied 132 yards rushing on 24 attempts. Aidan Pratt completed 22 of 30 passes for 230 yards and three TDs, plus added 61 yards on the ground.
Carroll racked up 78 yards rushing and a score on just three carries, while Stump totaled 40 yards on 11 totes. Through the air, Sam Smith caught five passes for 70 yards.
Reach Max Householder at 419-335-2010.