ELIDA — In a hard-fought battle where offense was in the spotlight in the first half, and defense in the second, the Wapakoneta Redskins had one shot to overcome a 14-point deficit against the Elida Bulldogs.
Senior quarterback Kyle Gibson looked at the clock. It read 36 seconds. The score was 21-14. No time outs and the Redskins had the ball at the Elida 28-yard line.
Dropping back, Gibson threw to his right, a lateral pass backward to senior receiver Johnny Crawford. Crawford collected the ball and tried to heave it deep to a streaking sophomore in Kodi Morgan.
“Well, he was open,” said Elida varsity head coach Jason Carpenter.
The play call was there, the receiver was open, but unfortunately for the Redskins, the pass wasn’t quite long enough as Elida defender Quinton Poling turned and made the game sealing interception.
Elida, after a kneel down, left the game the victor, 21-14.
“Give all the credit in the world to Jason Carpenter and the Elida team, their kids played well. We need to step it up because we’re fading back to the old Wapakoneta ways, and it’s going to be my job to make sure we don’t fade back to those ways,” varsity head coach Doug Frye said.
A potent Elida offense found success in the first half, but due to injuries and execution errors, did not score in the second half. Going into the locker room with a 14-point lead was enough of a margin to get the win.
The lone score in the second half came off of the opening kickoff, Crawford collected a bouncing ball at the 20-yard line and weaved his way through an army of defenders to find the end zone. And that would be the last score of the game, 15 seconds into the second half.
In the first half though, offense was on display.
On Wapakoneta’s first play, Gibson dropped back and completed a 12-yard pass to Morgan for a first down. On Wapakoneta’s second play, Gibson again dropped back and completed a 57-yard pass to Crawford, who took a route over the middle all the way to the Elida one-yard line. Gibson finished the day with 148 yards through the air and one interception. Crawford had 94 yards of receiving on the evening.
Zach Schmerge, who finished the day with 38 yards, took it into the end zone on the next play for a one-yard score. The Redskins led early, 7-0.
Elida however, did not lie down. The Bulldogs drove down the field for a score on the next possession – one that was assisted by two penalties in the secondary. Desmond White, who ran for 14 yards Friday, capped off the drive as he took it in the end zone from one-yard out to notch the score, 7-7.
Wapakoneta came out flat on the next possession which resulted in a three-and-out, and the Bulldogs took over on their own 48 yard line. Sophomore quarterback Clark Etzler, who finished the evening with 150 yards through the air and two touchdowns, showed off his arm strength and accuracy as he found senior wide receiver Nick Pauff for a 54 yard touchdown pass. Elida then led, 14-7, on back-to-back scores.
Etzler showed off his mobility on the next drive with a 40-yard run all the way to the Wapakoneta seven-yard line. Etzler ran for 85 yards on the night to lead all rusher. At the end of the first quarter, the Bulldogs led the Redskins, 14-7.
After a five-yard formation penalty, Elida had first and goal from the 12-yard line when Etzler found Brandon Stinson streaking across the goal line from the left side for the touchdown. Elida then led 21-7 early in the second quarter.
Wapakoneta, trailing 14 and the offense doing nothing since the opening drive, needed to construct a drive to eat time and put points on the board. Going back to the conventional run-based offense, the Redskins drove all the way to the Elida 11-yard line, when Gibson was picked off by Trent Long, who ran it back to the end zone. A block in the back penalty on the return brought the ball back to midfield.
Feeling like a bullet had been dodged, Wapakoneta’s defense came out and the senior Alex Greve forced a fumble on the very first play of the Elida drive. Logan Ferenbaugh was at the bottom of the pile with the prized possession: the football.
Gibson then constructed a drive heading into the second half that was brought all the way to the Elida two-yard line. Penalties and negative plays backed the Redskins to the 13-yard line. A fade pass to the back right corner of the end zone intended for Morgan fell incomplete. After a kneel down from Elida, the two teams went into halftime with a 14-point differential. Elida led, 21-7.
Crawford’s second half kickoff return excited the crowd to start the second half, and set up some seriously entertaining and hard-fought football.
The second half featured a key injury, failed fake punt, several fourth down attempts and a big interception from Crawford.
After the first drive of the second half for Elida, Etzler was helped to the sideline nursing what appeared to be a leg cramp, and Carpenter said he was also suffering from back spasms. With Etzler out, freshman Logan Alexander took over with a 7-point lead.
“We had a lot of guys, cramping, getting hurt, and we had some replacement guys in there, we were moving the ball a bit, but a couple three and outs and a turnover,” Carpenter said. “In the second half we just battled, we had a battle.”
Alexander, played well coming off the bench, going 3-for-7 passing for 48 yards. He converted a big fourth down on a bobbled catch by senior receiver Brandon Stinson. His one miscue was an interception thrown to Crawford that very same drive.
“I thought Logan (Alexander) did a great job, just the one miscommunication out there,” Carpenter said. “Other than that I thought he played wonderful.”
Crawford, again weaved through defenders and returned the interception into Elida territory. On the 12-yard line going in, the Redskins were faced with a fourth down, and Gibson looked to his senior tight end Brandon Christler, but the ball fell incomplete.
Elida was stopped on three straight plays, and a short punt gave Wapakoneta good field position with about three minutes left in the game. Following two sacks and an ineffective third play, the Redskins faced fourth and a mile, and were forced to punt to Elida with about two minutes to go in the game.
Hoping to run as much clock down as possible, Elida kept the ball on the ground and ran the clock down to 40 seconds.
Frye sent his boys on a mission, breaking through the line a group of Wapakoneta defenders came up with a crucial punt block. This gave Wapakoneta one last chance to tie things up in its WBL opener. The double pass play was the first play called on that final drive, and after the interception by Poling, the game was over.
“I thought our defense played unbelievable tonight,” Carpenter said. “It was a complete team effort for the win.”