Van Wert’s Caleb Lloyd carries the ball during a game against Defiance at Eggerss Stadium Friday night. Lloyd had 61 yards on 13 carries, but the Cougars lost 20-14. (Times Bulletin/Brian Bassett)
BY BRIAN BASSETT
Times Bulletin Sports Editor
VAN WERT - The Van Wert Cougar football team battled the Defiance Bulldogs and a cold and windy downpour Friday night on Van Wert's Homecoming, and played their best game of the season - tying the game at 14 with 1:25 to play in the fourth quarter.
A Bulldogs touchdown with under a minute to play, however, sealed the 20-14 win for Defiance.
"(I'm) proud that we didn't give up. I told the team that last week, two weeks ago or last year, when we got down 14-0, we probably would have buried our heads and given up. We didn't do that tonight, we gave ourselves a great chance to win," said Van Wert coach Keith Recker.
The Cougars put themselves in a 14-0 hole to start the game. Senior running back Dom Romero put the visitors up with a one-yard touchdown run at the 1:35 mark of the first quarter, when Defiance got the ball off of an interception. Junior Austin Hancock added the PAT to give Defiance a 7-0 lead.
After a scoreless drought spanning the second quarter and most of the third, partially because of the downpour, Defiance added another touchdown with 38 seconds to go in the third. Senior quarterback Joe Keween hooked up with junior receiver Trey Guilliam for a 34-yard touchdown pass. The touchdown and a Hanckock PAT made the score 14-0 Defiance.
Van Wert got good field position on the ensuing drive, as junior running back Terrence Branson returned the kickoff to the Van Wert 44-yard line. On the next play from scrimmage, junior receiver Chris Miller took a jet sweep around the left end for a 56-yard touchdown.
"We needed to evaluate ourselves as coaches, and get the ball to guys who can make plays. We've got some guys like that and Chris is one of them. We wanted to get him the ball with the jet sweep, we thought we could seal the ends pretty well. Jordan Danielas did a good job of sealing the edge with our tackle Andrew Todd," Recker explained.
The Van Wert PAT didn't come close, so the score reamined 14-6 with 19 seconds to play in the third quarter.
The Bulldogs took the ball to open the fourth, and put together a drive that took almost half of the fourth quarter. The Cougar defense held, however, and forced a turnover on downs at their own 22-yard line with 6:42 to play in the game.
The Cougar offense had new life when returning to the field, putting together a methodical drive on the ground, which included a one-yard fourth down conversion from junior quarterback Tyler Williams.
The Cougars drove the ball all the way down to the Bulldog 21-yard line, and forced Defiance to take a timeout with 1:37 to play in the game. On the next play, Williams threw a pass for senior Logan Ray in the endzone which was not complete, a pass interference penalty, however, gave Van Wert a first and ten from the 11-yard line.
Again, the Cougars went with a jet sweep to Miller and again he delivered, this time with an 11-yard touchdown run. The score brough Van Wert within two with 1:25 to play, and they were forced to try a two-point conversion. Williams found Miller on a pass to convert and tie the game at 14.
"Under the pressure we were under, we got a couple conversions with the conditions - obviously they had to play with the conditions also - but for us to be able to put a drive together, we haven't done that all year. I told (the team) that we did things tonight that we haven't done all year, so that's a good thing," Recker said.
The offensive line, which has struggled at times this year, executed flawlessly on the Cougar drive. "I think they just let loose. Didn't worry about what was going on, just played football. There was nothing else to worry about. They knew they had to go get a score. They kind of had that sense of urgency that we've been trying to get through to them. They did a nice job," Recker described.
Unfortunately, the Cougars left Definace some time to work with in the game. Defiance got a few big gains, but senior safety Colten Royer sacked Keween with under a minute to play. On the following play the Bulldogs offense answered when Keween found Hancock for a 41-yard touchdown pass with 46 seconds to play.
The extra point was blocked, and Defiance led 20-14.
Van Wert fumbled the kickoff, but recovered. Two plays later, Williams was intercepted which sealed the Bulldog win.
Despite the loss, Recker was happy with the direction the team is headed in at this point in the season. "There's a lot of tears out there tonight, that's a good thing because it means a lot to them. I told (the kids) before the game to let tonight be a turning point for the program. I didn't talk about win or lose, let it be a turning point. If we can take this game and move from here, this could be that turning point that we've been looking for," Recker added.
The loss drops Van Wert to 0-7 on the season. Miller led the team with 4 carries for 72 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Van Wert had 107 yards of total offense, 102 rushing and five passing.
With the win, Defiance improves to 3-4, 3-3 in WBL play. Keween completed 11 of 22 passes for 194 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Romero had 22 rushes for 59 yards and a touchdown.