Colin Smith carries the ball for Van Wert on Friday night. (Times Bulletin/Tina Eley)
The Van Wert Cougars took to the road Friday night to face the Defiance Bulldogs on their homecoming night. After a strong first half, the Cougars could not keep up late in the game and fell to Defiance, 49-35.
The Van Wert offense got off to a good start to begin the game. The offense used a barrage of screen passes and read options to move down the field, highlighted by a 20-yard screen pass from sophomore Colin Smith to Justice Tussing and a 19-yard quarterback keeper by Smith.
The Cougars took advantage of a pass interference call on third down that kept the drive alive and punched in a seven yard touchdown run by junior Nicholas Krugh. Gavin Gardner kicked the point after, giving Van Wert the 7-0 lead.
However, the lead only lasted for 13 seconds as Defiance senior Austin Hancock took the ensuing kickoff back 92-yards to tie the game at seven.
Van Wert responded with a quick score themselves, with only a four play drive. A 38-yard completion from Smith to Terrence Branson took the Cougars down to the Bulldogs 31-yard line. After a holding call and an incompletion, Branson took an inside shovel pass from Smith 43 yards to the end zone. The extra point was again good, making the score 14-7 in favor of Van Wert with 6:09 left in the first quarter.
Defiance scored 13 unanswered to take a 19-14 lead with 11 minutes to play in the first half, but Van Wert fought back before the end of the half. Starting from their own 34-yard line, it only took the Cougars three plays to get another score. The touchdown came on a 49-yard touchdown pass from Smith to Branson. The point after gave Van Wert the 21-19 lead, which is where the score stood at halftime.Defiance came out of the locker room and outscored Van Wert 16-0 in the third quarter, which proved the be the difference in the game. The Bulldogs put up a touchdown on their first drive of the half on a 57-yard pass from Will Batt to Jake Meyer. Defiance went for two and got it, making the score 27-21.
The Bulldogs pushed the score to 42-21 before Van Wert scored twice late in the game. The first score came on an eight-yard run by Tussing, and the second score on a pass from Smith to Branson for a nine-yard touchdown reception.
Defiance also put up a late score, making the final score 49-35 in favor of the Bulldogs.
Smith was 18 of 32 on the night with 261 yards passing. His leading receiver was Branson who caught 8 balls for 121 yards. Smith was also the leading rusher for the Cougars with 11 rushes for 56 yards.
After the game, Cougar coach Keith Recker addresses his teams second half struggles.
"It's been the story of the year. Shawnee, Bath, Elida. We've been in a bunch of games at halftime, but after that for whatever reason we start slowing down. We come out excited, we're ready, we've made adjustments but we just couldn't get those stops. We miss a play or two here and there and we just can't overcome that."
Even though the second half didn't go the way the Cougars had hoped, Recker was proud of the effort his kids gave throughout the game.
"I told the kids they did a good job of continuing to fight and hopefully this pays of next week or the week after. Things were bleak for a while but we kept fighting and put up a couple of scores late. They kept fighting and I'm proud of them for that."
The loss dropped the Cougars to 0-8 on the season and 0-7 in the Western Buckeye League.