The Van Wert County Courthouse

Monday, Aug. 8, 2022

Week No. 5 preview: Cougars vs. St. Marys

SCOTT TRUXELL/independent sports editor

It’s quite an honor but it’s also another motivator for opposing teams.

Defending Division IV state champion Van Wert is ranked No. 1 in this week’s Associated Press Ohio High School football poll and now the Cougars are set to take that top ranking into this week’s game at St. Marys Memorial.

“I’d much rather be ranked first than last,” Van Wert head coach Keith Recker said with a smile. “The ranking shows much respect for our players and what they have done on the field. At the same time, all of our coaches and players understand that we don’t want this to be the highlight of our season. We need to continue to be better each day.”

Van Wert’s Trey Laudick is a triple threat on offense, defense and special teams. Against Wapakoenta, Laudick returned the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown. Photo courtesy of Jerry Mason

Van Wert (4-0, 3-0 WBL) is coming off a wild 55-45 win over Wapakoneta. Trey Laudick and Garett Gunter were two key contributors in that game, with Laudick taking the opening kickoff back 97 yards for a touchdown, then providing a key tackle on first and goal in the fourth quarter while Gunter caught a pair of touchdown passes, including a 73-yarder that gave the Cougars a 49-42 lead.

“Trey is such a big part of our team and doesn’t always get the recognition he deserves,” Recker said. “He is on offense, defense, and special teams and does a great job of making plays. He can cover the run or pass on defense, make tackles and big returns on special teams, and he is a great blocker for us on the perimeter on offense.”

“Garett is having a very nice start to the season. He has shown a willingness to make blocks on the perimeter while also showing the athleticism to make big plays in the pass game. We thrive off making big plays and we have to have guys with the ability to do so, and Garett has shown he has big play capability.”

The Cougars enter Week No. 5 averaging 50.5 points and 527 yards per game, including 317 passing and 210 rushing. Aidan Pratt has completed 81 of 98 passes (82.6 percent) for 1,233 yards, 15 touchdowns and no interceptions, with Connor Pratt (19-354, three touchdowns), Maddix Crutchfield (28-342, two touchdowns) and Garett Gunter (11-273, five touchdowns) serving as the top three receivers.

Pratt is the team’s leading rusher with 41 carries for 377 yards and six touchdowns, while Nate Jackson has 38 carries for 230 yards and two scores. Brylen Parker has emerged as a reliable back as well with 18 carries for 123 yards and six touchdowns.

“I am pleased with the focus our team has each week,” Recker said. “These guys have continually pushed to improve themselves and to take coaching because they know it will make them better. On the field our offense continues to impress. Led by Aidan, everyone that has played offense for us is doing their job to the best of their ability and it is showing on the scoreboard.

Defensively, the Cougars allow 22 points and 295 total yards per game.

“Van Wert is very talented, well coached, and confident,” St. Marys Memorial head coach Bo Frye said. “They are dynamic in all three phases of the game. They are the defending champions for a reason. They have little to no weaknesses, so everything about Van Wert is a concern. We hope to be able to compete with them.” 

After a 2-0 start, the Roughriders (2-2, 1-2 WBL) have lost back-to-back games, falling 10-7 to Wapakoneta and 35-16 to Ottawa-Glandorf. In keeping with tradition, St. Marys Memorial is a run-first team that averages 207 yards rushing and 58 yards passing per game.

Colton Mabry leads a balanced rushing attack with 27 carries for 187 yards and a touchdown, followed by Tanner Howell (52-179) and Ross Henschen 43-174, three touchdowns). Quarterback Gavin Reinke has completed 12-of-32 passes for 198 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions, and Howell is the leading receiver with four receptions for 128 yards and a touchdown.

Defensively, St. Marys allows 145 rushing yards per game and 89 yards per game passing, with a scoring differential of 89-52.

“For the most part, we’ve continued to play hard and for each other. We’ve been very close in a lot of areas, but close does not win football games,” Frye said. “We have a group of seniors that are hungry to improve and be better. Coaches and players need to be better for them.”

While scouting the Roughriders, Recker noted some similarities between St. Marys and Wapakoneta.

“The thing about Wapak and St. Marys that is most similar is how they want to establish the run on offense,” Recker explained. “While Wapak will run a multitude of formations to do it, St. Marys will typically try to establish the run out of traditional wing-t formations although they have been mixing in different formations this year to cause problems for defenses. St. Marys is well coached and will be on the attack both offensively and defensively.”

Van Wert won last year’s game 34-28.

Friday’s game will air live on WERT 1220AM/104.3FM.

POSTED: 09/14/21 at 9:05 pm. FILED UNDER: Sports