SHAWNEE TOWNSHIP — Another hurdle cleared.
And now the big one.
The Wapakoneta Redskins came up with a pair of big third-quarter stops and pulled away to a 41-14 win over the Shawnee Indians on Friday night at Shawnee.
Wapak remained unbeaten at 9-0 overall and 8-0 in the Western Buckeye League.
The win sets up what looks to be an epic Week 10 matchup against the also undefeated Kenton Wildcats for all the proverbial marbles.
“I couldn’t ask for a better season,” Wapak center Nick Warner said. “It’s been great. I never expected something like this out of my senior year.”
Nursing a narrow 21-14 lead midway through the third quarter, the Redskins defense made fourth-down stops in the red zone on back-to-back possessions, then scored touchdowns on its final three series to put the game away.
“It was a tough environment,” Wapak coach Doug Frye said. “Everybody’s been talking about next week’s ballgame and we’ve been trying to keep out focus in the right regard.
“I just thought that our kids didn’t panic and just kept playing. That’s a good sign of a very good football team.”
Shawnee opened the second half with an extended drive that began on its own 18 yard line. Twelve plays into the drive, the Indians had the ball on third-and-three at the Wapak 16.
The Indians had converted seven of nine third-down attempts up to that point — including two on that drive — and were moving the ball at will on the Wapak defense.
But the Redskins swarmed Shawnee running back Sam Altenbach at the line on third down — and again on fourth — to stall the drive and take possession.
The Indians forced Wapak into a three-and-out when potential disaster struck.
Redskins punter Zach Holtzapple’s knee touched the ground when he had to field a low snap, giving Shawnee a first-and-goal at the Wapak 10.
But the defense held and Shawnee kicker Connor Bianco missed a 30-yard field goal wide right.
“The thing that stood out to me about our kids tonight was that they handled adversity extremely well and bounced back,” Frye said.
Wapak took over at the 20 and Connor Pickens went to work. The senior running back carried the ball seven times in a nine-play drive, capping it with a five-yard touchdown run set up by Kyle Gibson’s 44-yard pass to Kevin Kraft.
Bailey Hinegardner’s PAT made it a 28-14 game with 9:51 to play.
The Redskins defense produced another three-and-out to set up an eight-play, 70-yard scoring drive. Pickens scored his fourth touchdown of the night and sealed the win with a two-yard score that made it a three-touchdown game with 4:44 remaining.
After yet another three-and-out, Kraft took the handoff on the second play from scrimmage and raced 45 yards untouched down the left sideline for the touchdown.
“We missed that field goal and that gave them some momentum there,” Shawnee coach Dick West said.
Wapak failed to take advantage of its own short-field opportunity right before the half.
With less than two minutes left in the half, Shawnee running back Tyler Lundy mishandled a handoff from Rosenbauer and Wapak’s Nate Bracy recovered at the Indians’ 10.
But Shawnee sacked Gibson on two plays in a row, forcing Wapak to attempt a 26-yard field goal. Hinegardner missed and Wapak took a 21-14 lead into the lockerroom.
“It was a pretty calm lockerroom at halftime from the standpoint that we knew that really, not taking anything away from Shawnee, but it was us not doing some little things in the first half that made the difference in the ballgame.
“We had some bad situations tonight but we reacted to them. You’d like to play a perfect game but it just doesn’t work that way.”
Early on it looked as though Wapak might run away with the contest.
Kraft’s 45-yard punt return set up a Jensen Merricle 24-yard touchdown run as Wapak took a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter.
Then Gibson and Merricle hooked up for a 25-yard pass play to set up a 16-yard touchdown run by Pickens and the Redskins led 14-0.
Shawnee failed to get a first down on its first two possessions. But once quarterback Seth Rosenbauer got rolling, he was hard to stop.
The Indians took advantage of a pair of personal foul penalties on Wapak to set up their first touchdown. On a 13-yard Rosenbauer-to-Altenbach pass play, the Redskins were flagged for a face mask on the initial hit at the line of scrimmage and then for a dead-ball late hit out of bounds at the end of the play.
After marching off 25 yards, the Indians had a first down at the Wapak 10. Three plays later, Altenbach ran it in from three yards out.
Wapak answered with Pickens’ second score of the night on an eight-yard run to go up 21-7.
Despite its success moving the ball through the middle portion of the game, Shawnee failed to get a first down on six of its 10 possessions.
Pickens finished the night with 117 rushing yards on 20 carries (5.9 per carry) with four touchdowns.
Kraft rushed for 71 yards on seven carries (10.1 per carry) with a TD and had one catch for 44 yards.
Merricle ran the ball four times for 56 yards and a touchdown and had a 25-yard catch.
Gibson was 3-of-3 passing for 73 yards but was sacked twice and forced to scramble on several occasions.
“We had some mistakes on the line, guys missing their blocks,” Warner said. “We’ve got to execute our job.”
Said Frye, “We have two parts to the offense and we’re not going to be bull-headed about it. We’re going to take what they’re giving us and learn from it.”