WHS defense

Wapakoneta’s defense swarms to tackle St. Marys Memorial’s Braeden Hammelgarn during a Western Buckeye League game Friday at Harmon Stadium.

VAN WERT — All-Ohio quarterback Owen Treece led 11-1 Van Wert to its first OHSAA Division IV football state championship in 2020.

Treece, the Division IV Offensive Player of the Year last season, graduated but the Cougars have found a more than capable successor. Aidan Pratt, a junior, has stepped under center and Van Wert has not missed a beat this season.

“(Owen) Treece was a very good football player for Van Wert but (Aidan Pratt) has stepped in and filled Treece’s shoes,” Wapakoneta coach Travis Moyer said. “(Pratt) presents us with a physical problem because he’s 6-foot-4, 200 pounds and he’s a dual threat quarterback.”

The Redskins (2-1 overall, 2-0 Western Buckeye League) are facing this huge test at 7 p.m. Friday, when they travel to play the Cougars (3-0, 2-0) in a conference game at Van Wert.

This Season

Van Wert: The Cougars, who are averaging 49.0 points on offense and 17.7 points on defense this season, defeated Defiance 55-18 in a WBL road game Friday. Van Wert, which has scored early and often in 2021, enters Friday’s game against WHS averaging 22.7 first-quarter points and 17.3 second-quarter points on offense. The Cougars also own victories against Celina (45-7) and Bryan (54-28) this season.

Wapakoneta: The Redskins, who are averaging 14.7 points on offense and 17.0 points on defense this season, defeated WBL rival St. Marys Memorial 10-7 on Friday at Harmon Stadium. Wapakoneta allowed the Roughriders to score a season-low seven points after Memorial rolled to a 56-0 WBL win against Defiance in Week 2. The Redskins won 28-13 at Ottawa-Glandorf in Week 2 after opening the 2021 season with a 31-6 home loss to Marion Local.

“Our defense took a step forward (against Memorial) last week,” Moyer said. “The thing that I liked is that we’re starting to get all 11 players on the same page. Each position has a responsibility they have to accomplish for us to be successful. We’re seeing those results.”

Last Season

Treece and Van Wert hung a 34-0 loss on Wapakoneta at Harmon Stadium. The Redskins played without starting quarterback Braeden Goulet, who was sidelined with an injury, and several other key WHS players missed the game due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meet the Cougars

Pratt is Van Wert’s passing and rushing leader who has been responsible for 389.7 yards per game — his combined average of yards through the air and on the ground — this season.

With a passer rating of 163.8, Pratt has completed 58 of 69 passes (84.1%) for 913 yards, 11 touchdowns and no interceptions. His 23 rushing attempts have gained 256 yards and five touchdowns. The Cougars have scored 23 total TDs this season, of which Pratt have been involved in 16 of them.

Pratt’s primary receivers are Maddix Crutchfield (20 receptions, 269 yards, one touchdown), Connor Pratt (14 receptions, 263 yards, three touchdowns) and Garrett Gunter (eight receptions, 187 yards, three touchdowns). Six different Van Wert receivers have caught at least one touchdown in 2021.

“The thing about their offense is that they really try to spread out a defense,” Moyer said of Van Wert. “It will be a big challenge for our defense to tackle well in space, get guys down to the ground and match athlete-for-athlete.”

The Cougars’ offensive line, which features its top seven players from 2020, has allowed Van Wert to average 505.7 total yards per game this season. VWHS allows an average of 247.3 yards per game on defense.

Meet the Redskins

Goulet and running back Jace Mullen have emerged as Wapakoneta’s top offensive threats this season.

Goulet (43 carries, 337 yards, two touchdowns) is the rushing and passing leader for the Redskins thus far. After gaining a season high 181 yards of 17 carries at Ottawa-Glandorf on Aug. 27, Goulet ran for 98 yards on 16 carries against Roughriders last Friday.

Mullen (45 carries, 283 yards, three touchdowns) has run for 100-or-more yards in back-to-back weeks. His 21-carry, 166-yard effort Friday against Memorial was a season high. Against the Titans in Week 2, Mullen ran 14 times for 115 yards.

Moyer credited improvement within the WHS offensive line in recent weeks, as well as the blocking ability of other Redskins, for the success of Mullen and Goulet.

“Our offensive line has done a good job of blocking, which also includes our wide receivers and fullbacks downfield,” Moyer said. “Jace and Braeden have given us some great individual efforts running downhill and picking up some tough yards. As we move forward, it’s going to become more important in finding balance with our offense.”

Through the air, Goulet has completed 14 of 32 (43.8%) for 202 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

Kaden Siefring is the leading receiver for Wapakoneta, making five catches for 121 yards. Kaleb Walter adds four receptions for 58 yards and one touchdown.

The Redskins’ offensive line has allowed Wapakoneta to average 292.0 total yards per game this season. WHS allows an average of 310.0 yards per game on defense.

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