Rod Cooper/Times Bulletin Delphos St. John's Blake Williams is tackled by a Leipsic defender after a 30-yard rumble in their game on Saturday night. The Jays beat the Vikings, 34-7, to move on in the playoffs.
Rod Cooper/Times Bulletin Delphos St. John's Blake Williams is tackled by a Leipsic defender after a 30-yard rumble in their game on Saturday night. The Jays beat the Vikings, 34-7, to move on in the playoffs.
BY KIRK DOUGAL

Times Bulletin Editor

kdougal@timesbulletin.com

LIMA - Delphos St. John's struggled with early turnovers but righted their ship and sank the Leipsic Vikings, 34-7, in a Regional Semifinal playoff football game on Saturday night at Lima Stadium.

Leipsic received the opening kickoff and in two plays managed something that both of Delphos' previous opponents had trouble doing - got a first down. But the Jays held on the next set of downs when on third and one Viking quarterback Liam Nadler tried a quick slant to WR Jay Maag that was broken up by the St. John's defense.

The Delphos fans had barely had a chance to stop cheering for the defensive stand when St. John's dropped the ensuing punt and it was recovered by Leipsic at the Jays 42-yard line. The Vikings immediately tried to go for the kill with Nadler throwing deep to the goal line. But the Jays had triple coverage on Maag and Justin Backus ripped it out of the receiver's hands for an interception at the five-yard line.

Delphos went back to work on the offensive side of the ball with a five-yard pick up by Jordan Leininger on the power pitch. Then quarterback Wes Ulm dropped back to pass only to be forced out of the pocket. He eluded the pressure and scrambled for 19 yards and some breathing room. Going back to the pass again, Ulm found Backus for a 13-yard pickup and all seemed right with the Jays.

Leipsic had been getting very good push up the middle from their defensive front so the offense tried to slow them by going to a middle screen. The pass from Ulm was complete to Leininger but as he tucked the ball away and started upfield, a Viking reached in from behind and tipped the ball out of his grasp. The fumble was recovered by Leipsic on their own 43-yard line and the Jays had stopped themselves on their first two possessions.

"Pretty uncharacteristic of us that we had the slow start," said Delphos coach Todd Schulte after the game. "That really hasn't happened all year. But our defense was able to come in there and get a couple of turnovers of our own and get us on a short field and get moving in the right direction."

The Jays defense held the Vikings after the second turnover. Leipsic tried to get some offense moving the ball but after a holding call left them at third and 11, defensive end Nate Webb came off the backside corner and leveled Nadler, hitting the quarterback's arm in the process and forcing a fumble. Delphos recovered at the Leipsic 35 and the momentum turned for the final time.

Back-to-back power pitches to Leininger led to consecutive eight-yard gains. They continued to batter at the Vikings defensive front until Ulm finally turned the corner on the option left at the 15, kept the ball and cut back into the Viking secondary, dragging the safety and a cornerback into the endzone for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead.

The Vikings still had not figured out their own turnover mess and on the next series A.J. Klausing intercepted a pass intended for Derrick Schroeder that was too high at the Leipsic 40-yard line. Ulm escaped pass-rush pressure again but this time did not run, finding Backus over the middle for an 18-yard gain. The Jays went back into the middle of the line and Mitchell MacLennan powered the fullback trap for 17 yards down to the one. From there Leininger walked it into the endzone for a 14-0 lead.

A sack by the Jays' Derek Klaus led to another Viking punt and now St. John's was rolling. Ulm capped a seven-play, 46-yard drive with an 11-yard pass to Steven Metcalfe for a 21-0 gap.

Another sack on Nadler, another punt and the Jays had just enough time for one last scoring drive before half. Again it was Ulm through the air with a 26-yard skinny post to TE Jay Clark followed by a perfect pitch-and-catch between Ulm and Clark on an out route on the sideline for 12 more yards. Ulm then went for the home run. Junior Tyler Bergfeld broke open on a post-corner move and Ulm delivered a 38-yard bomb on the money. Bergfeld caught the ball over his shoulder and went down as the Viking defensive back tried to knock it loose. He held on, however, and the Jays went into the half with an insurmountable 28-0 lead.

The third quarter saw the Jays take the kickoff and march down the field on large chunks of rushing yardage. Fourteen yards by Leininger was followed by 23 from Ulm on the option and then nine more yards from MacLennan. Threatening to bog down with a third-and-goal from the six, Ulm kept the option and waltzed into the endzone.

There was one last gasp in the game for Leipsic early in the fourth quarter. Nadler found Maag down the left side on a double move and the wide receiver laid out perfectly to catch a 37-yard pass. A minute later Nadler threw a 15-yard pass to Schroeder in the back right corner of the endzone and the scoring was done for the night. The score was still an emotional pick-up for the Vikings, however, as they were a very young team with only four senior starters.

"I think that as much as anything to get out here with the next level of the elite teams, which we see early with Patrick Henry but when you play somebody in week one, nobody is at that level," said Leipsic coach Joe Kirkendall. "These kids are coming back. The speed of the game and the physicalness of the game - but more importantly, the importance of not missing opportunities. Taking advantage of other team's mistakes and then being good enough to force some of your own. That's what we need to take away from tonight."

After the game, Coach Schulte talked about the slow offensive start but also how well they executed after the first two series.

"Better execution as far as that went," he said. "I thought we executed the option game pretty well and probably could have run a little more of that but we didn't. But we threw the ball well tonight. I guess that's another added dimension that's coming along for us. We keep getting better with that each week as well. I don't know if we've seen the whole potential out of (Ulm) yet. He made some great reads and was pressured a couple of times tonight, got out of the pocket and set back up and made the throw."

Schulte kept the big picture in mind, though, as he thought about what the game meant overall.

"The important part right now is to keep playing well and building on the momentum and hopefully that every week we are getting better. That's still the goal, to continue to get better and not have one of those ugly wins where you have to go back and say 'We have to get better at this and this.'"

The Jays defense continued to shine as it held the Vikings to only four first downs for the game. Nadler completed eight of 15 passes for 89 yards and two interceptions and the one scoring strike. Sonny Hernandez led the Leipsic ground game with 56 yards on 13 carries.

Ulm was perfect in the passing game for Delphos on the night going 10 for 10 for 129 yards and two touchdowns. He also carried the ball eight times for 69 yards and two scores. Leininger had 95 yards on 20 carries and one touchdown while MacLennan helped to soften up the middle with 33 yards on three rushes. In total the Jays racked up 284 yards on the ground.

St. John's will face the Ada Bulldogs at Findlay's Donnell Stadium at 7 p.m. next Saturday. The Bulldogs beat Carey on Saturday afternoon, 14-7.