BATH TOWNSHIP — Forty times Bath’s Aaron Smith carried the ball.
And 40 times he blasted his way through the Wapakoneta defense like a bowling ball with legs through a host of pins.
But not the last time.
The Redskins stuffed Smith behind the line on a two-point conversion attempt in the waning moments of the fourth quarter to preserve a 14-13 win over the Wildcats in a Western Buckeye League football game Friday night at Bath Stadium.
As Smith took the handoff on the play, he was greeted by a wall of white jerseys led by senior nose guard Jim Knippen.
“The whole defensive line, the linebackers, even the DB’s, we all stepped up and filled in,” Knippen said. “We knew it was coming. Coach preaches on finishing. And we finished there.”
Said Wapak coach Doug Frye, “Good football teams that are growing up and becoming an upper-tier team in the league make plays when they have to make plays. ... And we made a play down there.”
Wapak weathered the Smith storm — the 5-foot-10, 230-pound senior rushed for 284 yards — and overcame adversity in the form of four turnovers to claim the win.
Junior quarterback Kyle Gibson threw a second-quarter interception. And senior running back Connor Pickens, who rushed for a school-record 274 yards a week ago, fumbled the ball four times, losing three.
“You can’t be putting the ball on the ground an expect to win football games,” Frye said. “That’s something we’ll work on.”
Pickens’ third lost fumble set up the Wildcats’ final scoring drive. After picking up a first down at the Bath 21, Pickens was stripped and the Wildcats recovered.
Trailing 14-7 with 6:47 to play, Bath rode Smith’s shoulders and drove 79 yards in nine plays, with Smith carrying the ball on seven of those.
With 2:49 remaining, Smith burst around the left side of the line and raced 23 yards for the score to make it 14-13.
“What a running back,” Frye said.
Gibson’s interception set up Bath’s first touchdown. Quarterback Brad Davis found Matt Wise for a 16-yard scoring strike to cap a seven-play, 40-yard drive and tie the game at 7-7 with 3:36 left in the half.
Pickens featured less prominently in the Redskins’ offense than he did in the 29-18 win over Elida in Week 2.
He did carry the ball 28 times for 140 yards (5.0 per carry).
But Wapak sent the message on its first series that the Wildcats were going to have to at least acknowledge the pass, lining up in the shotgun on first down.
When Bath’s safety started cheating up to help on the run, the Redskins pounced.
On the first play of their third series, Gibson hit senior wide receiver Kevin Kraft over the middle for a 66-yard touchdown. The ball was slightly underthrown. But Kraft adjusted to make the catch and outraced the safety to the end zone.
“We haven’t run that play this year. But last year it was money for us,” Gibson said.
The score gave Wapak a 7-0 lead in the first quarter.
Bath squandered opportunities of its own.
“Credit their defense for answering the bell and keeping us out,” Bath coach Chris Miller said. “That was a great, physical high school football game. I think it was everything it was billed to be.”
The Wildcats were called for a 15-yard chop-block penalty to stall the drive that set up Kraft’s touchdown.
And junior running back Keanu James fumbled on the Wapak 30-yard line in the third quarter to set up Wapak’s second touchdown, a 13-yard touchdown run by Josh Windle with 5:27 left in the third quarter.
“I extremely proud of our defense,” Frye said. “There are some things we need to clean up as a football team. But we didn’t back down.”
Wapak improved to 3-0 overall on the season and 2-0 in the WBL.
Bath suffered its first loss to fall to 2-1 and 1-1.