High school football: Van Wert starts off with win against Bryan

BRYAN — Bryan’s football team started off with a bang in the second half, with quarterback Jase Kepler running in a 22-yard touchdown just 1:45 into the half to cut Van Wert’s lead to 20-14.

But the Cougars responded in a gigantic way. Keldyn Bill returned the ensuing kickoff for a 90-yard score, his first of two kickoff return touchdowns on the night, and swung all the momentum to Van Wert for a 47-21 nonleague rivalry win on Friday at a newly-revamped Golden Bear Stadium in Bryan.

“I’ll just apologize to my community, my town, my parents, the families and my kids, because I failed,” Bryan coach Grant Redhead said. “We were good enough to compete and play, and obviously I didn’t do my job well enough to fight through the adversity and do it. We took two steps forward, three steps back every time, and it’s things we worked on, things we keep going over.

“Like I said, we have to keep working to get better.”

Bill’s first kickoff return touchdown was backed up by a Van Wert onside kick, which Conner Campbell recovered on Bryan’s 43.

The Cougars (1-0), who have now won seven of the last eight matchups against the Golden Bears (0-1), only needed three plays to get into the end zone thanks to a penalty on the first play of the drive. Bill ran it in a 10-yard score with 8:56 left in the third quarter to cap the drive and extend Van Wert’s lead to 33-14.

The Cougars quickly turned the ball over on Bryan’s next possession, with Van Wert’s Gage Stemen picking off his second pass against Kepler on the second play of the drive.

The Cougars then marched down the field, running the ball 11 times on a 14-play, 98-yard scoring drive. Van Wert quarterback Brylen Parker, an all-Ohio running back last year, found Campbell on a screen pass on the 14th play.

Campbell bolted it in for his second score of the evening, extending Van Wert’s edge to 40-14 with 1:15 left in the third quarter.

The Golden Bears answered with a long drive of their own in the fourth quarter. Bryan went 12 plays and 56 yards, ending in a 3-yard rushing touchdown from Kepler, his third of the contest.

But like Kepler’s second rushing touchdown, Bill answered by taking it to the house from 88 yards out to give the game its final score with 9:23 left in the contest.

“That flipped it (in our favor) big time,” Van Wert coach Keith Recker said of Bill’s first touchdown. “They scored, there was about 10 minutes left in the third quarter, and then I think we were up two scores with about 8:54 on the clock. That was just huge for our guys to respond, and I was anxious to see how they would do that because we’re old — we have a lot of seniors playing, but very inexperienced.

“So for them to come out on their first real Friday night and to be able to respond like that, I thought it was really good.”

The Cougars also put up 13 unanswered points in the first quarter via a 10-yard passing touchdown from Parker to Reese Krugh (9:54 left) and a 25-yard score from Parker to Haggerty (2:59).

The Golden Bears, who totaled 300 yards (190 rushing, 110 passing), got on the board via a 19-yard Kepler run with 10:30 left in the first half to cut Van Wert’s lead to 13-7.

But Parker connected with Colin Haggerty for a 13-yard touchdown to give the Cougars a 20-7 halftime advantage.

Parker went 17-of-28 passing with 216 yards and four passing touchdowns. The senior also rumbled 15 times for a game-high 105 yards.

Campbell reeled in eight catches for 107 yards and two scores, Bill totaled 13 rushes for 73 yards, Briston Wise ran 12 times for 40 yards and Stemen had three catches for 56 yards with his two interceptions. Van Wert also totaled 426 yards (210 rushing, 216 passing).

Kepler finished with 14 carries, 94 yards and three rushing touchdowns. In the air, the senior went 11 of 26 for 110 yards and also recovered a fumble.

Golden Bears running back Sam Herold added 50 yards on 11 carries and 52 yards on three catches. Dameon Wolfe also chipped in 39 yards on eight carries, while Drew Hahn had three receptions for 33 yards.

“Yeah, we competed in the first half. But when something goes wrong, we can’t hang our heads. We got to fight through the adversity,” Redhead said. “And you know, I told them that in the meeting afterwards. I said, ‘Boys, you’re going to get hit with adversity when you’re a father and husband, and you got to learn to fight through it instead of just stopping.’

“We need to do better.”

Bryan will look to bounce back against nonleague foe Maumee (1-0) next Friday at Maumee High School.

Game summary

Score by quarters:

Van Wert 13 7 20 7 – 47

Bryan 0 7 7 7 – 21


VW – Conner Campbell 10 pass from Brylen Parker (kick no good).

VW – Reese Krugh 25 pass from Parker (McCrackin kick).

Bryan – Kepler 19 run (Oberlin kick).

VW – Colin Haggerty 19 pass from Parker (McCrackin kick).

Bryan – Kepler 19 run (Oberlin kick).

VW – Keldyn Bill 90 kick return (McCrackin kick).

VW – Bill 9 run (PAT failed).

VW – Campbell 42 pass from Parker (McCrackin kick).

Bryan – Kepler 3 run (Oberlin kick).

VW – Bill 88 kick return (McCrackin kick).

VW Bryan

23 First downs 17

395 Total yardage 291

199 Rushing yardage 188

196 Passing yardage 103

17-25-0 Passing (Com-Att-Int) 11-26-3

1-1 Fumbles-Lost 1-1

3-25 Punts-Average 2-33

15-135 Penalties-Yards 1-9

Individual leaders:

Passing: Van Wert: Brylen Parker 17-25-196; Bryan: Jase Kepler 11-26-103.

Rushing: Van Wert: Brylen Parker 14-98; Bryan: Jase Kepler 14-102.

Receiving: Van Wert: Conner Campbell 6-80; Bryan: Sam Herold 3-40.

Records: Van Wert 1-0; Bryan 0-1.

Jonathan LeBlanc of Aim Media Midwest wrote this story for