CELINA — Prior to the season, Celina head coach Brennan Bader said he felt his team could compete for the Western Buckeye League title this year. That was a bold statement from a first-year coach in one of the area’s toughest leagues.
Many might have thought Bader’s optimistic outlook might have been a tad overstated when Celina opened the season by getting thoroughly thrashed by Versailles 36-7.
Bader said that initial setback served as a wake-up call for Celina and since that loss the Bulldogs have bounced back, going 5-1 and putting themselves in position to vie for the league title when they face longtime rival and current WBL leader St. Marys (6-1, 6-0 WBL) on Friday night.
The Bulldogs lone loss in the last six games was 45-43 to Elida on a last-second field goal Sept. 8. Since losing to Elida, Celina has won four straight. capping it off with an exciting 34-28 overtime win over Wapakoneta last week.
“We are right where we want to be,” Bader said. “We are in a position for a league title and that is all you can ask for.”
Bader said his early confidence in the Bulldogs stemmed from having a senior class buying in to what the coaching staff was preaching and a team that showed a lot of potential and positives.
“We kind of saw the culture going in the right direction at a very early stage so that was one thing that stuck out for us and noticing that some of the athletes that we do have on both sides of the ball, some being two-way players, were good that if we could stay healthy we could match up with anybody.”
Bader admits that in the Versailles debacle, the team was going through the motions too much and might have come into the game a little too confident.
“We made some minor adjustments from week one to week two and I think our players stepped on the gas from that point on,” Bader said. “We started to take it one day at a time and the energy in practice was much better, and I think that has contributed to where we are right now with three weeks to go.”
Celina’s offense has been at the forefront of the Bulldogs’ success and Bader said even though it sounds cliché that a team is only as good as its offensive line, it is true with Celina.
“I think we have a unit that has just gelled together,” Bader said. “They are healthy and they have a good feel for what they are doing.”
Bader adds another reason for the line’s success is the coaching staff has simplified what the players are doing and they have responded.
In their last six games, Celina has scored 34 or more points. As a team, Celina is third in the WBL in rushing with 1,791 yards and fifth in team passing with 874 total yards
Celina quarterback Brett Schwieterman, who was asked to do a little more passing than he had in the past, has rushed for 549 yards and passed for more than 858 yards. The junior field general has accounted for 10 touchdowns.
“Our quarterback is an extremely intelligent player and a very good leader,” Bader said. “He gets people in the right position as any good quarterback can do.”
The Bulldog signal caller has several targets to throw to with Dillon Hoying and Cole Murlin leading the way. Hoying leads the club in receptions with 25 for 446 yards and six touchdowns.
In the backfield, running back Kyle Zizleman leads the team in rushing with 615 yards and seven touchdowns.
In addition to these offensive weapons, Bader said other players making contributions are Sam Smith, Branson Miller and Chad Stephens.
“Coming in this year we knew we wanted to put the ball in the air more,” Bader said. “Our quarterback is not the tallest guy so we had to find ways to make him comfortable throwing the ball. He certainly has the arm to throw the ball. He just needed more practice at it.”
Bader said Schwieterman’s growth is an ongoing process and added that his ability to scramble makes him even more dangerous.
Celina’s defense has been solid throughout the year. The Bulldogs are third overall in team rushing defense, giving up 159.9 yards per game and third in team passing defense, allowing an average of 130.3 yards a contest.
Bader said they have seen a variety of offenses that has made the defense stronger but he adds that everyone knows what St. Marys is going to do on offense. The Roughriders vaunted running game is averaging more than 350 yards on the ground.
An experienced defensive line helps against St. Marys, but it will test the Celina linebackers and secondary. Senior linebacker Murlin provides stability in the middle linebacker spot and Hoying, who has four interceptions this year as a safety, is the anchor in the defensive backfield.
“Cole is the quarterback on the defense and he gets people in the right position and he goes sideline to sideline,” Bader said. “Our secondary has only improved throughout the year. I think we have one of the best corners in Sam Smith. I don’t think he gets the recognition because they don’t throw his way.”
Bader said the top priority to prepare for a game against a longtime rival during homecoming week is keeping the players focused and avoiding the outside distractions.
“There is a lot of extra curriculars going on this week,” Bader said. “Our biggest challenge to our players is just keeping there focus. Enjoy the moment. Enjoy the week. You have earned that but when it comes to practice time you need to have that focus.”
In other Western Buckeye League action, Wapakoneta will try to get back in the win column when the Redskins travel to Defiance (1-6, 1-5). Bath (1-6, 0-6) travels to Van Wert (3-5, 2-4) and the Elida (5-2, 4-2) and Shawnee (2-4) rivalry is renewed. Ottawa-Glandorf (3-4, 3-3) heads to Kenton (3-4, 3-3).
Spencerville (5-2, 4-0), remains atop the conference and will square off against Bluffton (3-4, 2-2). Delphos Jefferson (5-2, 3-1) looks to keep its winning ways going when they play host to Columbus Grove (1-6, 1-3) on Saturday and Paulding (1-6, 0-4) heads to Ada (4-3, 2-2). Delphos Jefferson downed Bluffton 20-14 last week and Ada fell to Crestview 49-21. Crestview (6-1, 3-1), will face off with Allen East (2-5, 1-3). The Mustangs pulled out a 7-6 win against Paulding.
Northwest Central Conference
Perry (4-3, 4-0) remained in the NWCC title hunt after a strong 56-6 win over Ridgemont, and will be tested against Riverside (5-2, 4-0). Riverside is coming off a 32-0 shutout of Upper Scioto Valley (3-4, 2-2).
Lehman Catholic (6-1, 4-0) will host USV this week. Elgin (5-2, 2-2) travels to Waynesfield-Goshen (1-6, 0-4) and Hardin Northern (1-6, 0-4) travels to Ridgemont (0-7, 0-4).
Lima Central Catholic (6-1) continues its push towards the playoffs after defeating Wynford last week. The Thunderbirds go out of state when they head to the Hoosier state to play Bluffton. The Tigers, winners of three straight, are 4-4 this year and are coming off a 34-32 win over Heritage.
Bluffton quarterback Gavin King has passed for 748 yards and seven touchdowns. Running back Brandon Lockwood has rushed for 1,259 yards and 11 touchdowns.
In the Blanchard Valley Conference, Pandora-Gilboa (6-1, 4-1) suffered its first setback of the season after losing to state-ranked Liberty-Benton 32-20 last week. The Rockets look to get back on track when they travel to face Hopewell-Loudon (2-5, 1-4).
Leipsic (5-2, 3-2) defeated Vanlue 46-6 and will play host to North Baltimore (4-3, 3-2).
Reach Jose Nogueras at 567-242-0468 or on twitter at @JoseNogueras1