The Van Wert County Courthouse

Wednesday, Mar. 29, 2023

Midseason report: Van Wert Cougars

SCOTT TRUXELL/independent sports editor

There’s no doubt about it, the Van Wert Cougars have been fun to watch this season.

At the halfway point of the regular season, Van Wert sits at 3-2 (2-2 Western Buckeye League). The Cougars opened the season with a pair of victories – 27-7 over Bryan and 26-20 over Wapakoneta – before losing to the St. Marys Roughriders 50-34. A 19-17 win over Ottawa-Glandorf came after that, followed by last Friday’s 35-27 loss at Shawnee.

“I have been very pleased with our effort and our will to compete,” head coach Keith Recker said. “There have been games where we have been up (Wapakoneta and Ottawa-Glandorf) and they’ve come back. Our guys refocused and fought their way to win. There have been games where we were down (St. Marys and Shawnee) and fought back to within a score during those games.”

Nate Place has accounted for over 1,300 yards and 13 touchdowns. Jerry Mason photo

After making some off-season changes, the Cougars are averaging 366 yards and 26.6 points per game. Those changes included moving Nate Place from wide receiver to quarterback, quarterback Storm Pierce to wide receiver, and running back Jacoby Kelly from running back to slot receiver.

“Those three have accepted their roles and have done exactly as we’ve asked,” Recker said. “Nate and Jacoby have shown their ability to make big plays and keep us moving on offense while also showing toughness with how much they are on the field and the amount of times they have the ball. Storm has done a great job accepting his role and making big catches at different points this season.”

Place has completed 82-of-127 passes for 975 yards, eight touchdowns and four interceptions. He’s also the team’s leading rusher, with 97 carries for 367 yards and five touchdowns.

As the starting running back ,James Acquaviva has 46 carries for 217 yards and five scores.

Kelly is the team’s leading receiver with 25 catches for 403 yards and four touchdowns. Drew Bagley has 22 receptions for 216 yards and a score, Pierce has 16 receptions for 133 yards and a touchdown, while Tanner Barnhart has pulled in 14 passes for 198 yards and two touchdowns.

Some new faces have stepped up defensively, especially in the secondary. That unit has given up just 462 yards, or 92.4 yards per game. Overall, the Cougars are giving up 323 yards per contest.

“We have adjusted so much with our secondary this summer as far as scheme and technique, but that group has continually improved and have shown a good ability to not give up big plays, minus the Shawnee game,” Recker explained. “Aden Stripe, Jalen McCracken, Parker Conrad, Jacoby Kelly, and Nate Place are the guys in our secondary.”

McCracken is the team’s leading tackler with 49, followed by linebacker Kobe Palmer (44), Joey Schaufelberger (35), and Jake Hilleary (30).

Bagley leads the team in sacks (five), and Kelly and Place have each intercepted two passes.

The Cougars suffered a big loss during last week’s loss to Shawnee, when OL/LB Jordon Danylchuk sustained a knee injury.

“Right now, we are not planning on having him available for a while,” Recker stated.

Van Wert has five games left during the regular season – home games against Kenton, Bath and Celina, and road games against Elida and Defiance.

Friday’s Kenton game will serve as homecoming for the Cougars, and despite a 1-4 record, Recker believes the Wildcats will pose a challenge.

“Kenton is difficult because they are so good at what they do,” Recker said. “They are very efficient with their passing game on offense, and on defense they are basic but can cause you problems with some movement on the defensive line.”

“If we bring our best then we will have a great opportunity to get another win,” Recker added.

Van Wert and Kenton will air live on WERT 1220AM and 104.3FM, and will stream live at

POSTED: 09/28/17 at 6:39 am. FILED UNDER: Sports