WAPAKONETA – Wapakoneta’s football team has grown a lot during the course of a 10-week season.
Now, the team will charge into the postseason with a healthy head of steam when it plays host to Springfield Shawnee (9-1) at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Harmon Field in a Division III regional quarterfinal game. The winner will face either second-seeded Franklin (9-1) or seventh-seeded Trotwood-Madison (7-2) on Nov. 15.
Friday night will mark Wapakoneta’s first postseason home game as the program goes for its third playoff victory.
Wapakoneta finished its regular season 9-1 overall and 8-1 in the Western Buckeye League for second place. The team’s lone loss was a second-week shellacking by Kenton, 52-16. From that point on, Wapakoneta outscored opponents 43.5-11.6. The only close contest in that run was a 29-26 victory over Celina.
“This has been, quite frankly, one of the most satisfying years and teams I’ve ever been around in my career,” Wapakoneta coach Doug Frye said. “We are a young team, not a senior-laden team by any means. We had a lot of holes to fill, we lost 21 seniors a year ago.
“To go through a defeat like we did in Week 2 and to bounce back the way we have, shows so much about the kids’ character. It really has been just a fun team to be around.”
It’s also a much healthier team. Quarterback Kodi Morgan and tight end Jared Smith both got hurt in Week 7 against Ottawa-Glandorf and sat out in the following weeks against St. Marys and Van Wert. Also, workhorse fullback Zach Schmerge played with a bad back in both of those games.
Last week, in a 49-13 win over Shawnee, all three returned but only needed to play for about a quarter-and-a-half because the game became quickly lopsided.
“The good thing is we got healthy in games nine and 10,” Frye said. “That’s a big part of the postseason, not only continuing to improve and play well, but getting healthy because it’s a longer football season.”
Wapakoneta’s brutal running game led the WBL in rushing with 2,998 yards, led by Schmerge’s 1,294 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns. Keaton Metz added 648 rushing yards and 10 TDs with 15 receptions for 492 yards and eight touchdowns. Morgan passed for 682 yards with six TDs and one interception.
Defensively, Wapakoneta was second in the league in both scoring defense (16.2 ppg) and total team defense (273.6 yards per game). The team led the league in turnover margin at plus-25, giving up eight turnovers (seven fumbles, one interception) while getting 33 (18 fumbles recovered, 15 interceptions).
That defense will face a spread offense that loves to run the ball and averages more than 43 points per game.
“They’re a spread offense, just like everyone else it seems anymore,” Frye said. “They have good speed and good skill players on offense. They run a lot out of the spread, a lot of zone-read, a lot of option, more of a run-team, probably 60-40 run-to-pass.”
Senior running back Jalen Nelson is a two-way standout for the Braves. He rushed for 1,400 yards this season, at nearly a 10-yard average per run, and had 21 touchdowns. Sophomore quarterback Saalih Muhammad passed for more than 1,200 yards, completing almost 70 percent of his passes. He also ran for more than 1,000 yards for 14 touchdowns.
On defense, Shawnee boasts a blitzing, 50 defense that gave up 15.5 points per game. It’s a group led by Nelson, a linebacker who had 72 tackles this season.
Shawnee — the 2011 Div. III state runner-up — finished second in the Central Buckeye Conference Kenton Division. The Braves lost their season-finale to Tippecanoe 21-7 in a game that determined the league championship.
Region 10 overall is brutal. Trotwood-Madison was the 2012 state runner-up in Division III, Tippecanoe is the top seed at 10-0, while fifth-seeded Thurgood Marshall (6-3), Franklin and eighth-seeded Kenton Ridge (7-3) are perennial playoff faces.
“The region is very tough,” Frye said. “It helped us a little bit when they went to seven divisions because we were Division II. But it’s still a very, very good region.”