Times Bulletin photo
Van Wert’s Evan Hammons (9) catches a touchdown pass past Bath’s Brad Davis (5) during the Cougars’ game against the Wildcats on Friday, Sept. 18, at Eggress Stadium in Van Wert.
Times Bulletin photo Van Wert’s Evan Hammons (9) catches a touchdown pass past Bath’s Brad Davis (5) during the Cougars’ game against the Wildcats on Friday, Sept. 18, at Eggress Stadium in Van Wert.
BY DREW BITTNER

Times Bulletin Sports Editor

sports@timesbulletin.com

VAN WERT - Bath marched into Eggress Stadium on Friday night for their matchup with Van Wert boasting the better overall record.

It was the Cougars, however, who proved to be the best team on the field, pounding the Wildcats by a score of 34-14 to win their second straight Western Buckeye League contest.

Van Wert didn't waste any time putting up the first points of the game, as the opening play from scrimmage saw quarterback Cory Clifton fake a handoff to fullback Connor Massillo and take a quarterback keeper 74 yards around the left side of the offensive line for a touchdown. Gyer Blackmore drilled the point after kick and in what seemed a blink of the eye, Van Wert led 7-0 with 11:42 still on the clock in the first quarter.

On Bath's opening drive, the Cougars defense bottled up star running back Aaron Smith for negative yardage on two carries, and after an incomplete pass, forced a Wildcats punt.

On Van Wert's second play from scrimmage on the night, Clifton hit a wide-open Evan Hammons down the right sideline for a 69-yard pass play down to the Wildcats' 8-yard line.

But Clifton then fumbled on the next play, on a play the officials initially called an incomplete pass and promptly overturned, and Bath recovered to prevent another quick score by the Cougars.

The Wildcats made the most of the opportunity, as quarterback Cameron Garver connected with wideout Matt Hefner on third-and-four, and the speedy receiver took the pass 70 yards to paydirt. Davey Briggs' PAT kick was good and the Wildcats tied the game at 7-7 with 7:09 left in the first.

Much to the enjoyment of the Van Wert faithful, that would be Bath's only score until the fourth quarter.

The Cougars, though, were just getting started.

After the teams traded fumbles and Bath punted, Van Wert's offense went to work. Clifton hit Massillo and Austin Fleming for passes of 12 and 16 yards, respectively to get deep into Wildcats' territory. After a apparent completion to Hammons was ruled incomplete - a play that would have put Van Wert inside the five-yard line - Massillo came right back with an 18-yard run on third-and-14 and the Cougars were inside the Wildcat's 10-yard line when the first quarter end.

Van Wert again wasted no time, as the opening play of the second quarter saw Clifton hit Hammons with an 8-yard fade into the endzone for a touchdown. Blackmore again made the extra point and Van Wert led 14-7 only five seconds into the second quarter.

Bath's offense showed signs of life on their ensuing possession, only to sputter around the Van Wert 20-yard line and their field goal attempt was blocked.

Van Wert took over control of the football and only minutes later, on a third-and-eight, Clifton fired a pass to running back Sam Tindall over the middle, and Tindall did the rest, blazing down the sidelines for 46 yards and the score. Van Wert's two-point attempt was no good, but the Cougars still extended their lead to 20-7 with just under five minutes remaining in the half.

Still, the Cougars weren't finished in the first half. After Ryan Beck intercepted a Garver pass and returned it down to the Bath 18-yard line, Massillo added more points for Van Wert, scoring on a 7-yard run up the middle. Clifton hit Massillo on a short pass for the two-point conversion, and Van Wert was up 28-7 with 2:58 remaining in the second quarter - a score the teams would take into halftime.

After a relatively quiet third quarter - a period that included the teams each trading a fumble and several punts throughout - Van Wert initiated the scoring once more in the opening seconds of the fourth quarter.

Bath had been forced to punt at the end of the third, but a low snap caused Garver, the punter, to drop to a knee. The official ruled him down and Van Wert took over at the Bath 13-yard line. A few plays later, Clifton would again score on a keeper from seven yards out. Blackmore's PAT kick was no good, but Van Wert extended their lead to 34-7 only four seconds into the last quarter.

Bath added another touchdown, at the 5:06 mark, on a controversial fumble recovery returned for a score, but it was too little too late, as Van Wert took the game by a final of 34-14.

Van Wert head coach Bob Priest was pleased with his team's effort.

"I thought our kids played well," commented Priest. "In the second half, our defense played great. I mean, they played really well. I was really pleased with them. And offensively, we threw the ball well and that was the gameplan. I thought that gameplan worked out really well....It was a good win."

Priest also gave insight on the Cougars' coming WBL games and the outlook for the rest of the season.

"We have a lot of things to work on," Priest noted. "There's a lot of room to improve. Right now, though, it's one game. We got Celina. So we're going to enjoy this win, but then it's on to Celina. We're going to look to take care of business there. And then after that, it's on to the next opponent."

Clifton was 10 of 20 passing on the night for the Cougars with 234 yards and two touchdowns. He also added 76 yards on the ground with two more scores. Massillo was the Cougars' leading rusher, carrying the ball 16 times for 85 yards and a touchdown. Tindall also added 44 yards on nine carries.

The leading receivers for Van Wert were Hammons (3 catches/94 yards, one touchdown), Massillo (3/39), Fleming (2/46), and Tindall (1/46, TD).

For the Wildcats, Garver was 7 of 21 for 156 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Aaron Smith gained 96 yards on 23 carries, while Hefner caught four passes for 135 yards and a score.

Van Wert improves to 2-2 on the season and 2-1 in conference play. Bath falls to 2-2 and 1-2 in the WBL.

Team 1 2 3 4 F

Van Wert 7 21 0 6 34

Bath 7 0 0 7 14