The Van Wert County Courthouse

Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022

Preview: 8-3 Wauseon at 10-1 Van Wert

SCOTT TRUXELL/independent editor

Pay no attention to the fact that Van Wert’s next playoff opponent, Wauseon, has lost three games this season and is the No. 11 seed in Division IV, Region 14.

The three losses by the Indians have come to teams (Tinora, Liberty Center, Division VI No. 1 Archbold) with a combined record of 30-3. What’s more notable is the fact that Wauseon has held six of its last seven opponents to seven points or less, including a 41-7 victory at No. 6 seed last Friday.

Ty Jackson (22) and the rest of the Cougar defense will have their hands full against Wauseon on Friday night. Bob Barnes/Van Wert independent

In addition to that, Wauseon (8-3) plays in the ultra-competitive Northwest Ohio Athletic League, which helps prepare the Indians for the postseason.

“We have seen a variety of different offenses and defenses and that has prepared us for pretty much everything that we will see in the playoffs,” Wauseon head coach Shawn Moore said. “The teams we have played are all extremely well-coached and prepared. That is going to be the case in the playoffs as well, so seeing those same qualities week in and week out makes you play at a high level consistently. That is what is needed to win in the playoffs.”

To get to the regional quarterfinals against No. 3 seed Van Wert (10-1), the Indians have utilized an explosive passing game led by sophomore quarterback Elijah McLeod, who’s completed 191-of-287 passes for 2,578 yards, 27 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. His three favorite receivers are Jude Armstrong (69-753, six touchdowns), Jonas Tester (63-753, eight touchdowns) and Sam Smith (31-657, eight touchdowns). Against Triway, McLeod completed 16-of-24 passes for 351 yards and six touchdowns, with six going to Smith for 220 yards and three scores.

“Wauseon has one of the most athletic wide receiver and defensive back groups we have seen thus far,” Van Wert head coach Keith Recker said. “They get it to their receivers multiple ways and their receivers do a great job of running with the ball after the catch. They run some plays where their quarterback has the option to throw or hand off, which means we must be very disciplined with our reads on defense.”

“They also have a couple punt returns for touchdowns this season, so those athletes are dangerous on special teams as well,” he added.

The running game is led by Bryson Stump (83-424, seven touchdowns), but the Indians average just 57 yards rushing yards per outing.

Offensively, we just try to take what the defense is giving us,” Moore said. “We do not try to force anything. Defensively, we try to show multiple looks, play with speed and confidence, and keep the other team out of the end zone.”

Wauseon’s defense will be tested by an offense that averages 467 yards per game, including 266 through the air and 201 on the ground.

Adian Pratt has completed 202-of-278 passes for 2,765 yards, 29 touchdowns and just three interceptions. He’s connected with Maddix Crutchfield 67 times for 681 yards and five touchdowns, Connor Pratt (56-882, seven touchdowns) and Garett Gunter (31-625, seven touchdowns).

Pratt leads the ground game with 138 carries for 1013 yards and 16 touchdowns, while Nate Jackson has 105 carries for 658 yards and 13 scores.

“They are an extremely athletic team that knows what it takes to win in the playoffs,” Moore said of the Cougars. “They make big plays consistently and do a nice job of throwing and running the football.”

While Van Wert’s offense gets the headlines, the defense has rounded into form and has allowed just 14 points since Week No. 9, and that unit will need to be in top form on Friday.

“Right now all three position groups are doing a good job of playing their responsibility,” Recker explained. “Our defensive line sets the tone for our defense with their ability to get off blocks and stop the run. Our linebackers are all healthy now and are doing a good job defending the run and pass. Our defensive backs have continually improved at defending against big plays while also helping stop the run.”

“Overall we are playing with great effort and relentless pursuit to the ball, which are the most important things on defense.”

The winner of Friday night’s game will face the winner of Clyde/Shelby at a neutral site next Friday.

The Van Wert-Wauseon game will air live on WERT 1220AM/104.3FM.

POSTED: 11/02/21 at 10:50 pm. FILED UNDER: Sports