Connor Pickens shook his head.
“Wow,” he said. “Wow. This is unbelievable.”
Yeah, that pretty much summed it up.
Pickens rushed for a career-high 267 yards, narrowly missing a Wapakoneta single-game record, to lead the Redskins to a commanding 29-18 win over the Elida Bulldogs on Friday night at Harmon Field.
After a tight first half, Wapak’s offensive line took over, creating gaping holes in the Elida defense in the Western Buckeye League opener for both teams.
With left tackle Trey Smith, left guard Mason Sidey, center Nick Warner, right guard Chris Schwartz and right tackle Lance Vetter leading the way, Pickens battered anyone who tried to fill said holes.
“At halftime we started playing the kind of football I’m accustomed to playing,” Wapak coach Doug Frye said. “We got physical on both sides of the ball on the lines. ...
“What I said at halftime, in a very animated way, is we’re going to play to win and either go down that way or win that way. But we’re not going to sit back on our heels anymore.”
Wapakoneta took advantage of Elida miscues to rally from a 6-0 deficit with 21 unanswered points in the second and third quarters.
By the end of the third quarter, the Bulldogs defense had had enough of Pickens.
“Right around the end of our first drive (in the second half) you could tell they weren’t quite up to the challenge,” Schwartz said. “They were tired.”
Said Pickens, “Our line did great. I can’t thank those guys enough. They were awesome. They might be the best line in the league right now.”
The bruising 6-foot, 205-pound senior carried the ball 10 times for 95 yards in the third quarter.
He ran through, around and over the Elida defense. With 7:25 left in the third quarter, Pickens ran through the right side of the line untouched for a 25-yard touchdown as Wapak took a 14-6 lead.
“We went down in the end zone and they were all keeled over, panting, out of breath,” Pickens said.
Elida’s highly touted quarterback Reggie McAdams had a solid game statistically. He completed 20 of 29 passes for 246 yards and a pair of TDs.
Wide receiver Brandon Stinson, who transferred to Elida from Lima Senior in the offseason, led Elida with seven catches for 92 yards and two TDs.
But the Bulldogs’ mistakes were too much to overcome.
With a 6-0 lead in the second quarter, Elida had a 38-yard touchdown pass to Stinson called back on a holding penalty. That drive ended with an incomplete pass on fourth-and-9 at the Wapak 37.
Wapak scored on a 26-yard touchdown pass from Kyle Gibson to Kevin Kraft to take a 7-6 lead at the half.
Elida again turned the ball over on downs to start the second half. After a Johnny Crawford punt pinned the Bulldogs at their own 20, McAdams hit Keaton Greeley for a 20-yard gain.
But Wapak’s Josh Carder stripped the ball from Greeley and the Redskins recovered.
Three plays later, Pickens rolled in from 25 yards out to make it 14-6.
“I saw the outside linebacker just sitting there,” Pickens said. “I think he froze up when he saw it was just me and him. I just ran straight.”
On the ensuing drive, McAdams drove Elida into Redskins territory until Carder came up big again, picking off his former teammate at the Wapak 15.
Carder’s interception set up a punishing 13-play, 85-yard scoring drive, capped by a 2-yard touchdown run by Jensen Merricle as Wapak took a 21-6 lead with 16 second left in the third.
“We played a very good team. And we also played ourselves,” Elida coach Jason Carpenter said. “When you have two opponents that you have to go up against, that makes it real tough.”
McAdams and the Bulldogs responded with an 11-play, 65-yard scoring drive. Aided by a 19-yard gain on a fake punt to keep the drive alive, McAdams hit Quentin Poling for a 4-yard touchdown pass.
To make up for a blocked PAT on its first scored, Elida went for two. But Carder forced Bulldogs receiver Austin Etzler out of bounds as he caught the ball and Wapak held a 21-12 lead with 7:44 to play.
What little momentum Elida had gained didn’t last long.
Back came Pickens and Co. with another will-sapping 11-play, 77-yard scoring drive. Pickens went up the gut from 8 yards out with 2:47 to play. Then he ran in the two-point conversion that made it a three-score deficit, 29-12, for McAdams and the Bulldogs.
“The whole first half was a mistake,” Pickens said. “The second half was how we play football. We need to start playing it for four quarters.”
Elida added a 23-yard touchdown pass to Stinson with 56 second left. But it was too little, too late.
It was a bittersweet win for Kraft and Carder, who transferred to Wapak from Elida.
“It was really not an issue for us in the game,” Frye said. “I told both of them before the game that we were planning on winning this game if they wouldn’t have come to Wapakoneta anyway.
“So whether they were playing for Elida or us, it made no difference because we were planning on winning it since last year. So I just laughed and shook their hands and said, ‘I’m glad you’re on our team.’”
Wapak improved to 2-0 overall and stands 1-0 in the WBL.
Elida fell to 1-1 and 0-1 in the WBL.