ST. MARYS – In its eight decades Skip Baughman Stadium has seen its fair share of Western Buckeye League big games and when Wapakoneta faces the Roughriders it will have one last chance to add another exciting closing chapter in the final game at the storied edifice Friday night.
St. Marys comes into the game undefeated at 9-0 overall and 8-0 in the league. Wapakoneta, who suffered an early season loss, has put together a five-game winning streak, are 8-1 on the year and 7-1 in WBL action.
St. Marys is looking for its third straight WBL title and 25th in school history. Wapakoneta wants to dampen some of that enthusiasm by snaring a share of the title. The Redskins garnered a piece of the title in 2016 and these two teams have either shared one won the title since 2013.
St. Marys head coach Doug Frye said it is hard nowadays with social media for his players to stay away from the hype but they are preparing the same they have all season.
“In today’s society there is so many easy access points where kids can talk to each other,” Frye said. “It is tough but we try each week to go to work and worry about the practice routine and the little things that need corrected daily. We have great respect for our opponent every Friday night but we need to worry about what we are doing in our own house.”
Frye added that on a daily basis he reminds these current seniors on the staff that when they were in eighth grade and where the program was at and how much work has been put in those five years to build the Rider machine back to one of the elite in the league.
“I don’t if they directly relate to that or not but I want to make sure they know the work that was put in to make sure you savor every minute of these opportunities.”
Wapakoneta head coach Travis Moyer said his players’ focus since the off season is to be in this position and play for a league title.
“When you look at this week it is a rivalry game. It is somebody in our backyard. It is for a league championship and guys play on our football team for games like this,” Moyer said. “We have a great opportunity this week. We are facing the No. 1 team in Division IV and have the opportunity to win a league championship. We understand what is at stake.”
Like Frye, Moyer said focusing on preparation Monday through Thursday and then executing on Friday night and all the hype means nothing between the white lines.
“We understand that we have to get better and pay attention to details,” Moyer said. “It is going to be a big challenge for us this week and we have to prepare in all three phases.”
Moyer added that the ultimate goal for this team is to get better each week and he thinks that has occurred since the Kenton loss.
“Credit our kids for coming out and working hard each and every day and hopefully we continue to improve,” Moyer said.
Both teams have used the run and a stingy defense to get to this point.
“We are excited about the opportunity as I’m sure Wapakoneta is at this point,” Frye said. “It is too similar football teams and almost mirror like football teams. Great kids in both programs and good coaching staffs that have been together and good solid people across the board.”
Both teams are similar in that the two squads rely on the run offensively.
St. Marys is first in the WBL in rushing averaging 308.7 yards a game and Wapakoneta is second averaging 303.8 yards a game. The two are at the bottom in team passing offense. St. Marys is averaging 56 yards a game and Wapakoneta is averaging 41.
St. Marys, which has dabbled in throwing the ball a little and trotting out their version of the wildcat offense, are a running team that has steamrolled the opposition this year.
Frye said he still sees the offense growing and hinted changes can be made even though the Roughriders’ offense has been highly successful.
“I don’t think a season is a stagnant season. I think it is an ever changing season,” Frye said. “Each week you are thinking two or three weeks down the road still where what can I do to make my offense more diverse, more effective and more efficient and we continue to do those things.”
Frye pointed out in 2016 after losing to Ottawa-Glandorf in the season closer, the Roughriders put in two sophomores into the lineup in their first postseason contest and he added that the coaches are constantly watching the underclassmen.
“We think our kids have a lot of football time at this point and we want to keep an open mind to what is best for our program,” Frye said.
Rider running back Sean Perry is third in the league in rushing with 958 yards and eight touchdowns
Likewise Wapakoneta sees room for improvement and constant change but has relied heavily on the run, thrown the ball a little more than St. Marys.
Senior Evan Kaeck has led the way for Wapakoneta and is second in the league with 1,004 yards and 16 touchdowns. Not to be overshadowed, Riley Gibson has amassed 845 yards and seven touchdowns.
“I think at this point you know the guys who are going to make plays for you,” Moyer said. “We been fortunate and had a number of guys step up for our football team this year and we continue to evolve as an offense. We have to continue to get better and put our players in a position to be successful.”
The similarities are evident on the defensive side of the ball. St. Marys is tops in team rushing defense giving up 108.4 yards a game on the ground and Wapakoneta is giving up 109 yards a game on the ground. Wapakonetais the WBL leader in total defense giving up 1,653 yards and St. Marys is second yielding 2,159 yards on the year.
With a gang tackle aggressive approach, the two squads are physical and have been effective shutting team’s down.
Frye said one of the reasons for the Roughriders’ success defensively is the number of players who have contributed.
Like St. Marys, Wapakoneta has seen its fair share of players stepping up and making plays.
“I think from a defensive standpoint we have been really good coming out each week with our coaching putting out a game plan and our players executing the game plan at a high level.” Moyer said. “We have always said if we are going to compete for a championship we need to play well defensively and we have played well.”
While both squads seemed to be evenly matched, the two coaches agree that it could come down to the special teams.
“This game has always been a back and forth ballgame with field position being a huge factor in the ball game … and I think special teams are a huge key in this ball game because field position has impacted the game tremendously especially last year in the rain.”
Moyer echoed his coaching counterpart’s sentiment and said because possessions might be limited due to the Roughriders’ ability to sustain long drives, that field position could play a major role in determining who wins.
“We have to do a good with our special teams in creating field position and when we get an opportunity to pen them deep we have to get a stop and hopefully get a short field,” Moyer said. in terms of field position I think it is all three phases helping each other out.”