The Van Wert County Courthouse

Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022

Preview: Cougars prepping for Bulldogs

SCOTT TRUXELL/independent sports editor

Defending Division IV state champion Van Wert survived the first test of the season and now the Cougars are ready to open Western Buckeye League play at the friendly confines of Eggerss Stadium against upset-minded Celina.

Van Wert bolted out to a 27-0 lead against Bryan in last Friday’s season opener and went on to win 47-28. In his first varsity start at quarterback, Aidan Pratt officially completed 21-of-25 passes for 340 yards and four touchdowns, while rushing for 94 yards and three more scores on 12 carries, including a game clinching touchdown late in the fourth quarter. Nine of Pratt’s completions went to Maddix Crutchfield for 160 yards.

Van Wert running back Nate Jackson (20) will face a Celina defense that struggled against the run against Versailles. Bob Barnes/Van Wert independent

While happy with those impressive numbers, head coach Keith Recker also praised the guys up front.

“I was very pleased with our offensive and defensive lines,” Recker said. “We were shuffling a lot of guys in and out at all lineman positions and each guy that went it got the job done. Specifically, when Bryan had the lead cut to 12 points, we mustered up the strength to get a stop with about four minutes to go, then we put together a three minute drive to score and put the game out of reach.”

“We know they return many players from last years state team, and they are very talented,” Celina head coach Brennan Bader said of the Cougars. “Their quarterback is certainly a concern as he is a dual threat of both running and passing the ball. He appears to be extremely accurate and he has many weapons on the outside to get the ball to. They are extremely well coached and they have a very aggressive defense.” 

A staple of last season was Van Wert’s ability to force turnovers then capitalize on them, but the roles were reversed against Bryan.

“We have got to do a better job with turnovers,” Recker said. “We created no turnovers last week on defense and gave up two fumbles on offense. We have to be better than that with ball security.”

The Bulldogs opened the season with a 42-0 loss to Versailles. In his first varsity start, Celina junior quarterback Nick Adams completed 14-of-24 passes for 114 yards, while Jaden King had 36 yards on the ground. However, Celina finished with just 47 yards rushing while giving up over 322 yards to Versailles. The Tigers had two backs go over 100 yards and a third ran for over 80 yards.

“We have a great group of kids that work extremely hard,” Bader said. “They understand the process of striving to get better each and every day. We are youthful in some areas specifically up front offensively, but we are getting better. We have great senior leadership and our young guys are bought in.”

Despite having younger players and new faces at certain positions, Recker believes the Bulldogs can pose some challenges.

“You have to be prepared to stop the run and pass against Celina’s offense,” Recker explained. “They put the ball in the air quite a bit but also have the ability to run the ball. We didn’t defend the run very well last week so we need to do a better job against Celina.”

“I was also very impressed with Celina’s tackling in the open field,” the coach continued. “There were many times it looked like Versailles would get a big play of 20-plus yards, and Celina’s defensive backs did a nice job of keeping guys in front of them and getting them down. We will need to do a great job of blocking those guys in order to get some big plays ourselves.”

The two teams didn’t play in 2020, but Van Wert won the 2019 game 45-14.

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

POSTED: 08/25/21 at 3:56 am. FILED UNDER: Sports