Though they never trailed, the Wapakoneta Redskins were resilient when they needed to be Friday as they had to execute in several key situations to hold off a pesky Bellefontaine Chieftains squad.
Wapak’s two-touchdown halftime lead, 21-7, was threatened immediately in the third quarter, but the Redskins made enough plays to hold on in a 35-17 victory over Bellefontaine in the 2013 regular season opener for varsity football.
“Credit to Bellefontaine and Coach (Toby) Smith,” Wapak varsity coach Doug Frye said. “They’re going to win some games.”
The Chieftains were 1-8 last season and lost the 2012 opener, 49-13, to Wapak.
Bellefontaine responded to the halftime deficit with scores on its first two second-half possessions.
Needing just two plays in the quarter, the Chieftains trimmed Wapak’s lead in half, as a 27-yard run by quarterback Jake Kennedy and a 34-yard run by running back Jordan Baughman gave Bellefontaine its second touchdown of the game. Zach Schmid’s kick was good, leaving the score 21-14, Wapak, just 1:34 into the third quarter.
After a Wapak punt, Bellefontaine engineered a long drive contrasting the previous one to tally another score.
A 33-yard completion from Kennedy to receiver A.J. Gorham put the Chieftains in a first-and-goal situation. The Bellefontaine offense stalled, however, after two short runs and an incompletion, forcing a 23-yard field goal by Schmid to make the score 21-17, Wapak.
The Redskins responded on their next drive.
Junior quarterback Kodi Morgan found senior fullback Zach Schmerge on a screen pass to gain a needed first down on a 3rd-and-13. Three plays later, on the final play of the third quarter, Morgan threw to junior fullback Jon Eaton for a 40-yard catch and run for a touchdown. Already downfield, Quinn Lotridge provided a key block for Eaton to secure necessary running room into the end zone. A successful PAT by senior kicker Bailey Hinegardner put Wapak ahead 28-17.
“It was an exceptional block,” Frye said of Lotridge. “That’s the kind of effort we’re looking for and we had it in spots, but we need a lot more consistency.”
Bellefontaine put its final hopes of winning Friday’s game into its next drive, which lasted 15 plays before Kennedy lost a fumble inside the Wapak 10-yard line with 5:59 to play.
The Redskins turned the miscue into the exclamation point on their victory.
An 11-yard run by junior running back Adam Henderson started the drive. Schmerge followed with a 29-yard run. Henderson added a 27-yard jaunt down the sideline.
Four plays later, on a 4th-and-4 from the Bellefontaine 18-yard line, Henderson found the end zone for his third total touchdown of the game. Hinegardner tallied the PAT to put the Redskins up 35-17 with 3:08 to play.
Kennedy was intercepted by Henderson on Bellefontaine’s final possession.
“We were resilient,” Frye said. “We’re a young team. We don’t have many seniors. We’re young in the skill areas. We have a long ways to go to be a good football team.”
The Redskins committed their first turnover of the season on their opening drive, Schmerge fumbled on the fifth play.
Bellefontaine went three-and-out following the turnover, setting up Wapak’s first scoring drive of the game.
Eaton rumbled in from 14 yards out for the touchdown. Hinegardner’s successful PAT kick made the score 7-0, Wapak, with 6:07 left to play in the first quarter.
A 31-yard completion from Kennedy to Gorham set Bellefontaine up in the red zone.
A sack on second down followed by an incompletion on third down made it 4th-and-20 from the Wapak 22-yard line. Another incompletion ensued but a defensive pass interference penalty on Wapak kept the drive alive, but Kennedy was intercepted by Lotridge.
Like Bellefontaine after Wapak’s turnover, the Redskins did not take advantage of the turnover, as Wapak went three-and-out and punted, setting up Bellefontaine for its first score.
Baughman scored from 7 yards out after seven plays. Schmid’s PAT kick was good, tying the game at 7-7 with 10:26 left on the clock in the second quarter.
Wapak answered to retake the lead, as Morgan connected with Henderson on a 30-yard pass play, on Wapak’s first pass attempt of the game. Hinegardner’s kick put Wapak up 14-7 with 7:28 left in the second quarter.
The Redskins defense forced another Bellefontaine punt, giving Wapak’s offense enough time to manufacture another scoring drive before halftime.
Wapak maneuvered down the field with the help of three completions for first downs from Morgan to junior tight end Jared Smith, with the third Smith reception putting Wapak at the opposing 3-yard line.
Three straight 1-yard runs put the Redskins on the scoreboard again, with Henderson getting the touchdown with 20 seconds left before halftime.
“That was a very resilient, headsy drive,” Frye said. “We made a lot of headsy plays on that drive. Jared Smith is a brand new starter for us. He did a lot of smart things on that drive, and so did Jon Eaton.”
Morgan was 7-of-9 passing for 134 yards and two touchdowns Friday. Schmerge led Wapak with 108 yards on 19 carries. Henderson had 70 yards on eight carries, while Eaton posted 34 yards on 10 attempts. With 40 yards, Eaton led Wapak in receiving. Smith recorded three catches for 38 yards.
Kennedy rushed for 125 yards on 18 attempts. Baughman added 91 yards on 18 carries. All seven of Kennedy’s completions went to Gorham for 118 yards.
Frye said though it forced three turnovers, his defense needs to improve.
“They were resilient, but I wasn’t happy with our tackling,” Frye said. “I thought our tackling was bad tonight. We have to become a better tackling football team.”
Wapak’s win Friday, combined with a 22-2 win Friday by Kenton over Coldwater, sets up a huge clash at Harmon Field next Friday. It will be the second consecutive meeting between the two teams in WBL play.
“We’re going to enjoy this one tonight,” Frye said Friday. “We’re going to improve on a lot things. The good news is we were 35-17 winners tonight on a night we didn’t nearly play to our potential, on a hot night. If we continue to get better, we can be a decent football team.
“But, on that hand, we have our hands full this week, so we need to get better quick.
Follow high school football coverage from the Wapakoneta Daily News on Twitter using the hashtag #wdnFB