Faced with a 4th-and-32, the Wapakoneta Redskins needed a miracle to keep their drive and Homecoming victory hopes alive, and they got one.
On the long fourth down conversion, Wapak senior running back Zach Schmerge made a 42-yard catch and run on a screen pass from quarterback Kodi Morgan, weaving his way through Celina defenders behind a wall of Wapak offensive linemen.
The conversion led to a go-ahead touchdown late in the fourth quarter Friday in their 29-26 win over the previously unbeaten Celina Bulldogs.
The improbable first down on Schmerge’s catch set up the Redskins at the Celina 3-yard line with 1:54 left in the game.
Schmerge plowed in from the 1-yard line three plays later with 44 seconds on the clock.
Celina failed to cross midfield on its final drive to seal the Wapak win, sending the Redskins’ student body adorned in black out onto the field in celebration.
Celina scored its final touchdown with 3:06 left in the fourth quarter.
The Redskins received a favorable kick return by Keaton Metz to put them at the Celina 49-yard line. A 26-yard completion to Schmerge on second down pushed Wapak to the Celina 23-yard line before two sacks totaling 22 yards by Celina’s Adam Green on first and second down pushed the Redskins to the brink.
Morgan’s third-down pass was incomplete, setting up the miraculous Schmerge reception.
“I just thought run as fast as I could and get to the end zone,” Schmerge said. “I just saw three big red linemen in front of me and was hoping they’d pick up a block for me.”
Wapak varsity coach Doug Frye described what was on his mind, preparing to call the 4th-and-32 play.
“You think situations in ball games and you think about Jacks and Joes a little bit more than X’s and O’s,” Frye said. “Our best chance was to get the ball in the hands of your player who’s going to make a play.”
A fake PAT by the Redskins and blocked kick by Wapak sophomore Cameron Lauck allowed the hosts to hold a two-score lead at halftime.
The Redskins scored on their first and final drives of the first half, as Metz recorded a 12-yard TD catch and Schmerge notched a 1-yard TD run.
The game’s furious finish followed a second half in which Celina slowly but surely seized the momentum after Wapak controlled the first half and led 15-6 at halftime.
The Bulldogs owned 13-0 advantage in the third quarter to undo Wapak’s progress in the first half.
After a touchdown on their first possession of the second half, the Bulldogs took their first lead of the game with a touchdown on the final play of the third quarter.
Wapak retook the lead on the next play from scrimmage as Morgan connected with Metz on a 74-yard touchdown pass down the Redskins’ sideline.
The Redskins gained just five first downs in the second half and punted three times.
“I want to give (Celina coach) Trent Temple and the Celina Bulldogs a lot of credit,” Frye said. “Their kids came out and played in the third quarter.
“I also want to compliment our kids on their resiliency and their no-quit attitude,” he said. “That’s something that wasn’t here when I came. Our kids have developed that.”
For the game, Celina running back Louden Limon tallied 103 yards rushing and had a receiving touchdown, receiver Mason Ross had 119 yards on five catches and quarterback Caleb Hoyng threw for 254 yards, had one passing touchdown and scored two rushing touchdowns.
Frye described the nature of Celina’s spread offense which distributed the ball to its skill players all over the field Friday.
“There’s not one skill guy, They have a lot of skill guys on their team,” Frye said. “The problem is how to match up with all of them.
“They presented problems to us,” he said. “We didn’t have a great defensive game, but we played when we needed to play.”
For Wapakoneta, Morgan finished with 173 yards passing and two TDs.
Schmerge finished with 90 yards on 23 carries and rushing TDs and had three catches for 87 yards.
Metz nabbed two touchdown catches totaling 86 yards.
Frye commented on how the biggest offensive plays for his team came in the passing game Friday, despite the Redskins entering the contest as the leading rushing attack in the WBL.
“It was nice,” Frye said. “We’re capable of doing that, and we need to do more of it, probably. Kodi Morgan is a nice quarterback, and we protect well and have kids who can catch. We need to start expanding our offense.”
The two teams left Friday’s game with identical records, at 4-1 overall and 3-1 in the WBL, with Celina taking its first loss of the season. Wapakoneta has now won three straight games after losing to Kenton in Week 2.
The Redskins will resume their season next Friday with another WBL game against the Defiance Bulldogs, who won 20-0 over Ottawa-Glandorf on Friday.
Celina: Louden Limon 22-103; Braelen Bader 7-31; Caleb Hoyng 10-(-18). Wapakoneta: Zach Schmerge 23-90; Adam Henderson 5-35; Keaton Metz 10-26; Logan Martin 3-8; Kodi Morgan 8-(-24).
Celina: Hoyng 18-29-252. Wapakoneta: Morgan 5-10 173; Metz 0-1 0.
Celina: Mason Ross 5-119; Limon 6-71; Sean Kirk 3-35; Bader 2-17; Stefan Chittum 2-10. Wapakoneta: Schmerge 3-87; Keaton Metz 2-86.