The Van Wert County Courthouse

Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021

Season in Review: 2021 Van Wert Cougars

SCOTT TRUXELL/independent editor

It may not have ended as hoped but it’s more than fair to say the 2021 season was a very successful one for Van Wert.

Coming off a 2020 state championship season, the Cougars finished 12-2 (8-1) and earned a share of the Western Buckeye League championship for the first time since 1987, earned the No. 3 seed in Division IV Region 14, hosted a pair of playoff games, defeated the 2019 state champions (Clyde) and played in the regional championship game for the second consecutive season.

Behind the likes of Logan Dotson (54), junior quarterback Aidan Pratt (15) rushed for 1,291 yards and 19 touchdowns in 2021. Bob Barnes/Van Wert independent

Unfortunately for Van Wert, Port Clinton posted a 49-21 victory in the regional title game, but that doesn’t dampen the accomplishments of a memorable season, one that head coach Keith Recker could see before the opener at Bryan.

“We felt confident heading into this season that we had the chance to be very good because of all the talent that was coming back but even more than that, we had talented guys that did things right on and off the field,” Recker said. “When you combine great players with great character guys, we knew we had the pieces to be a good team.”

The big question entering the season was who would replace record setting quarterback Owen Treece, who led the 2020 Cougars to the state title? Junior Aidan Pratt stepped into that role and delivered in a big way by amassing over 4,600 yards and accounting for over 50 touchdowns.

Pratt completed 275-of-380 passes for 3,384 yards, 34 touchdowns and just five interceptions. Older brother Connor Pratt led the team in receiving yards (73-1,057, nine touchdowns) while Maddix Crutchfield was the team leader in receptions (87-814, seven touchdowns). Garett Gunter emerged as a deep threat (40-725, seven touchdowns).

Pratt also led the team in rushing (185-1,291, 19 touchdowns) and Nate Jackson added 152 carries for 861 yards and 20 touchdowns behind a starting offensive line of Jackson Jones, Turner Witten, Cooper Adams, Cullen Dunn and Logan Dotson.

Carter Miller finished as the team’s leading tackler with 104, followed by Jackson (84) and Trey Laudick (79). Laudick also had key interceptions in playoff wins over Wauseon and Clyde. Aidan Pratt and Ty Jackson tied for the team lead in sacks with five each.

Due to injuries, a number of players saw action at linebacker and the position became an area of strength with Jacob Fuerst, Kaiden Bates, Xavier Okuly and Damon McCracken all becoming valuable contributors.

Brylen Parker became a starter in the secondary and accounted for 13 touchdowns as a utility player on offense. While not called on often, Gage Stemen took over punting duties, McCracken finished 48-of-57 on PATs and Luke Wessell and Spencer Clay led the coverage units.

Van Wert’s Connor Pratt went over 1,000 yards receiving this season, finishing with 1,057 on 73 receptions. Bob Barnes photo

The only blemish on the regular season schedule was a 21-14 Week No. 5 loss to traditional league power St. Marys Memorial, a defeat that helped the Cougars refocus and win a share of the league title.

“We knew we were talented but not enough that we didn’t have to bring energy and focus to each game,” Recker explained. When we lost to Ottawa-Glandorf in 2020 there were a lot of things to fix that allowed us to make a run. The only thing we needed to fix was make sure we were mentally ready for each game and our seniors did a good job of leading our team in that category.”

After winning a share of the title, Recker heard from former player and his message turned out to be a memorable one.

“I received a message from Drew Bagley, Class of 2018 who is now playing football at Taylor University, congratulating us on our WBL championship and he mentioned that it is every player’s dream that put on the Cougar uniform to win a WBL championship,” Recker said. “That is when it hit me how special winning the league championship is and how proud I was for our team and each player that they had the opportunity to win the championship for our community, our school, our team, and for themselves.”

14 seniors were a big part of this year’s team – Connor Pratt, Ethan Brown, Bates, Laudick, Miller, Nate Jackson, Ty Jackson, Xavier Oukly, Dunn, Adams, Andrew Gallagher, Eli Kline, Kody Kline and Witten.

“This senior class very possibly has had the most decorated four-year stretch of any class that has played football at Van Wert,” Recker said. “We had a four-year unbeaten stretch in the mid-to-late 1950s and that is very impressive as well. However, this senior class made the playoffs three out of the four years they were in high school, had a four-year record of 38-10 while also never having a .500 or below record.”

“They have a Division IV state championship, a WBL championship, a regional championship, and a regional runner-up finish,” Recker continued. “All of this pales in comparison to the first class manner in which they represent their family, school, and team. This senior group truly showed that you can be great on the field and great off the field in all you do.”

Van Wert Cougar fans had plenty to cheer about in 2021. Bob Barnes photo

POSTED: 11/24/21 at 4:15 am. FILED UNDER: Sports