The Van Wert County Courthouse

Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020

VW Cougars ready to hit the road again

SCOTT TRUXELL/independent sports editor

Something will have to give when Van Wert and Bellevue meet in the Division IV Region 14 semifinals on Saturday night.

The fifth-seeded Cougars (7-1) enter the game averaging 40.7 points and and 445.7 yards per game, while No. 1 seed Bellevue (8-0) yields only 9.8 points and 186.7 total yards per game. The Redmen haven’t given up more than 15 points in any game this season.

Van Wert advanced to Saturday’s game by defeating Keystone 38-27. The Cougars trailed 21-19 at halftime but enjoyed a 19-6 scoring advantage in the second half.

Nate Jackson has scored 13 touchdowns for the Cougars. Photo courtesy of Jerry Mason

“We talked a lot about when the ‘bullets start to fly,’ that is when it is time to go to work,” Van Wert head coach Keith Recker said. “Keystone made some plays, the field conditions weren’t great, it was a long trip, and through all of that our guys continued to push forward and that attitude to persevere through it all paid off for them on Saturday.”

Now, the toughest challenge of the season awaits.

Bellevue is ranked No. 4 in Division IV in the final Associated Press poll of the season and while longtime head coach Ed Nasonti (30th season) is pleased with his defense, which has held opponents to seven or less points in four games, he noted that unit has received a big boost from the offense.

“On top of the fact that our defense has been playing outstanding, we’ve had three or four games this year where our offense has had 34 minutes of time of possession, so when the other team is getting 13 or 14 minutes, the defense isn’t on the field much,” Nasonti explained.

During Saturday’s 56-15 win over Kenton, the Redmen rolled up 501 yards of offense, including 406 on the ground. Bellevue led 22-15 at halftime, then simply wore down the Wildcats in the second half. Along with 95 yards and a passing touchdown, quarterback Keegan Ray finished with 31 carries for 201 yards and three touchdowns, and Max Ray ran for 142 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries.

For the season, Keegan Ray has 248 carries for 1,167 yards and 15 touchdowns, while completing 65-of-126 passes for 1,129 yards, nine touchdowns and five interceptions. His favorite target in the passing game is Nathan Davis, who has 16 receptions for 364 yards and four touchdowns.

“They are a very well coached and physical football team,” Recker said of the Redmen. “They will throw a lot of formations at our defense. Through all of those formations, though, they want the ball in the hands of their quarterback and while they have other capable runners, they do the majority of their run game through him.”

“We need to stop their quarterback and limit their big plays,” the coach continued. “Teams have had some success stopping their run this year, but it is at the expense of giving up big plays. We need to be able to control the line of scrimmage while also remaining sound in our secondary.”

Bellevue’s leading tacklers are defensive lineman Nick Missler (56) and linebackers Mason Bova (51) and Grant Nichols (47), and defensive back Max Ray (46).

“Defensively they will mix in a four- man front and a three-man front,” Recker said. “They put a lot of athleticism and speed on the field defensively.”

Van Wert will counter with an offense led by Owen Treece, who has completed 156-of-232 passes for 2,183 yards, 26 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He’s also rushed for 719 yards and 14 touchdowns on 124 carries.

“They have a running quarterback and that’s always tough a test for your defense because they’ll get in a lot of spread formations and make some plays,” Nasonti said. “I think he does a good job running the show and on top of that they have some nice skill guys that they can get the ball to on the perimeter. They’ll stretch you vertically and horizontally on offense.”

Dru Johnson is Van Wert’s leading receiver with 37 receptions for 859 yards and 12 touchdowns, while Connor Pratt has 36 catches for 579 yards and a score. Nate Jackson has 33 receptions for 232 yards and six touchdowns, and he’s rushed for 414 yards on 54 carries and seven touchdowns, including a 76-yard scoring run against Keystone.

“Offensively we need to move the ball consistently, which keeps their offense off the field,” Recker said. “We must have a great night blocking by all of our positions on offense to help us move the ball.”

Bellevue has played three playoff games at home this postseason and the Redmen are 5-1 all-time in playoff games on the artificial turf at First National Bank Field. Even so, Recker said he’s looking forward to playing there.

“If we are not playing at Eggerss Stadium then we want to be on turf,” Recker said. “We have good speed and athleticism and I believe our guys enjoy running around on the turf. I think it’s better this time of year so field conditions do not become a factor in games.”

Whichever team wins will advance to next Saturday’s regional final and will face either No. 2 seed Shelby or No. 11 seed Clyde, the defending Division IV state champion.

Saturday’s Van Wert at Bellevue game will air live on WERT 1220AM/104.3FM.

POSTED: 10/27/20 at 9:14 pm. FILED UNDER: Sports