The Van Wert County Courthouse

Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023

VW Cougars enjoyed successful season

SCOTT TRUXELL/independent editor

Not bad. Not bad at all.

To recap the 2022 high school football season for the Van Wert Cougars: a 9-1 (8-1 WBL) regular season, a No. 6 ranking in the final Associated Press poll, a home playoff victory, two exciting road playoff wins over No. 4 Perkins and No. 3 West Holmes, a spot in the regional finals for a third consecutive year and trading blows with the No. 1 team in Division IV in the regional championship game and a 12-2 finish.

With all of those accomplishments in mind, head coach Keith Recker believes it’s fair to say his team exceeded expectations.

“I give our guys one expectation when we start the season, which is to change their best every day,” Recker stated. “I then give our guys one expectation when the playoffs start, which is to have no regrets when our season ends. For example, usually we scale back practice once we get to the playoffs. We did not do that this year as we wanted to really push to keep improving.”

Van Wert head football coach Keith Recker addresses his team after the regional finals against Glenville. Bob Barnes/Van Wert independent

“Looking back, our players exceeded those expectations and should be very proud of how they represented our city, our school, their families, their team and themselves.”

The only regular season loss came in Week No. 4, 20-19, to Wapakoneta. The Redskins blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown with just seconds left for the winning score. While the loss hurt, Recker was pleased with how the Cougars responded the very next week.

“That was a very tough loss and they responded very maturely by coming out the next Monday having the best practice of the season, then proceeded to score 70 on St. Marys,” Recker said.

With 18 seniors on the roster, it’s safe to say it was a senior-laden team this season and Recker had nothing but praise for the group – Carson Smith, Luke Wessell, Nate Phillips, Garett Gunter, Maddix Crutchfield, Rylan Burnett, Ashton Baer, Ian Place, Aidan Pratt, Damon McCracken, Zander Thompson, Gage Springer, Caleb Shobe, Jacob Fuerst, Logan Dotson, Jackson Jones, Jacob Geething and Hunter Lowe.

“The seniors finish their career having gone 41-9 in varsity contests, which is remarkable,” Recker said. “This group of seniors raised the standard by which we do everything in our program. They pushed each other in practice, in the weight room, in meetings, in school, and on the game field. The seniors in this class are a very talented group who give great effort, not only on the football field, but in the classroom and in our community.”

Pratt and three leading receivers are among those who will be lost to graduation. Pratt completed 273-of-391 passes for 3,757 yards, 41 touchdowns and only five interceptions, while rushing for a team high 874 yards and 18 touchdowns on 180 carries. Crutchfield caught 76 passes for exactly 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns, while Gunter snagged 66 passes for 888 yards and five touchdowns. Phillips, who hadn’t played since junior high school came on strong during the second half of the season and caught 51 passes for 827 yards and eight touchdowns, including the game winner against West Holmes in the regional semifinals.

“As coaches we need to, as we do every year, evaluate our roster for next year and decide how we can best utilize the talent that we have,” Recker explained. “For example, when you look at going from Owen Treece to Aidan Pratt at quarterback, our schemes did not change much but the things we emphasized with each quarterback were different. With a new quarterback in 2023, again our schemes won’t change a lot but what we emphasize will be based on the skill set of the quarterback.”

“That is one example of something we look at with every position group as we look to put guys into the best possible position to succeed,” he added.

In addition to those losses, the top four tacklers will be lost to graduation – McCracken (111), Smith (92), Baer (69) and Wessell (67), along with sack leader Jacob Fuerst (5). Wessell and Reese Krugh each had five interceptions. McCracken also served as the team’s kicker for three seasons and 65-of-78 PATs and 2-of-3 field goals this fall. Jones, Dotson and Geething will be key losses up front.

The cupboard won’t be bare though as some talented starters will return next year, including RB-LB Brylen Parker (158-834, 17 touchdowns, 26 receptions, 166 yards, 60 tackles, four special teams touchdowns), wide receiver Conner Campbell (42-667, 11 touchdowns) and Krugh at defensive back (65 tackles).

While new faces will be seen at several different positions, Eggerss Stadium will have a new look as well, including artificial turf, which is scheduled to go down in the spring.

“We are very excited about the renovation, and so thankful to the people in the community for supporting it,” Recker said. “We are very excited about having the possibility of utilizing the stadium more often, specifically with summer and fall practices. Eggerss is already one of the best places to watch and play a football game and this renovation will greatly enhance that experience.”

“Our staff and players are looking forward to putting in great effort this off season so we can continue to raise the standard as we welcome in the renovated stadium,” he added.

POSTED: 11/23/22 at 4:54 am. FILED UNDER: Sports