Cindy Wood/Times Bulletin
Van Wert’s Nate Williams (7) fights his way through Kenton defenders during the Cougars game against the Kenton Wildcats on Friday, September 4, in Van Wert.
Cindy Wood/Times Bulletin Van Wert’s Nate Williams (7) fights his way through Kenton defenders during the Cougars game against the Kenton Wildcats on Friday, September 4, in Van Wert.

Times Bulletin Correspondent

A few more plays and another minute on the clock, and the outcome at Eggerss Stadium Friday evening could have been different.

But time ran out on Van Wert, and the Kenton Wildcats escaped Van Wert with a 28-22 Western Buckeye League victory.

Kenton Head Coach Mike Mauk felt fortunate to come out of the game with a win. "This was just an excellent high school football game," Mauk said. "It's obvious Van Wert came out tonight ready to play, and their coaching staff did a terrific job here tonight."

Mauk wasn't so pleased with Kenton's efforts in the red zone. The Bulldogs missed several opportunities to finish scoring drives, something the Bulldogs will need to re-examine, he said. "We have to do a lot better there. When we get down there to score, we have to finish it off and score. When a team is inside the 20-year line, you have to put the ball into the end zone. Overall, it was just a well-played game on both sides, and we feel very fortunate to get out of here with a win."

Kenton, which came into the game boasting one of the WBL's premiere quarterbacks in sophomore Maty Mauk, utilized its bread-and-butter aerial offensive attack in putting together its scoring drives. Mauk, who at times appeared to have nine lives in the back field, was elusive as ever when under pressure. For the game, Mauk completed 32 of 51 passes for a total of 341 yards. That stat isn't at all surprising to fans who have followed the impressive young signal caller.

"Everyone talks about Maty Mauk and rightfully so," Van Wert Head Coach Bob Priest said. "And he's the real deal, and he showed that here tonight. But honestly, we had no answer for Brice Fackler. Quite honestly, he single-handedly took away our running game. He set the tempo of this game."

That tempo moved much quicker in the fourth quarter as Van Wert ran off 14 unanswered points in the final quarter. With 11:30 to go in the game, Van Wert's Connor Massillo scampered for 12 yards into the end zone on one of his touchdown runs of the evening. His first break-away touchdown run started Van Wert's scoring as time ran out in the first. On the option pitch from Van Wert quarterback Corey Clifton, Massillo turned on the speed and sprinted 75 yards into the end zone. Clifton's conversion pass to Nathan Williams was complete, evening things up 8-8.

That was it for Van Wert's offense for the next two quarters, though, and Kenton took advantage, racking up another three touchdowns and by the end of the third quarter, Kenton had taken a commanding 28-8 lead over Van Wert.

And that's when things got a little more interesting. Kenton's first possession after Massillo's score resulted in a lost fumble for Mauk when he was hammered by Van Wert's defense in the backfield. Van Wert took possession, and swiped the momentum as well, as Clifton put together a 14-play, 92-yard scoring drive capped off with a 20-yard touchdown pass to Evan Hammons at the 5:14 mark.

Van Wert's defense succeeded in reigning in Mauk on Kenton's next drive. Starting at their own 35-yard line, Kenton had completed two first downs and was marching down the field when Van Wert's Tony Black broke up a couple offensive plays. Jason Osenbaugh was critical in the defensive stance as well, sacking Mauk after he mishandled the snap.

With 3:05 left in the game, Van Wert took possession of the ball and the Cougar fans came to their feet. As quickly as momentum shifted to Van Wert, though, it shifted back to Kenton when on the first play from scrimmage, Clifton's pass was intercepted by Fackler. "That interception was huge," Priest said after the loss. "He's a playmaker, and you like to play against those guys, but we didn't have an answer for him tonight. He is one of the best linebackers I've ever seen."

Despite the loss, Priest was pleased with Van Wert's efforts in containing what could arguably be the WBL's most explosive offense. "Break it down, and we gave up 28 points to Kenton, which obviously just has an explosive offense. But I think across the board, we just stepped up our level of play. We're playing a lot of kids both ways and I think our conditioning held up well. But we want to convert that to wins. But I seem a tremendous amount of improvement here tonight."

For the game, Clifton completed 20 of 36 passes for 215 yards and 3 interceptions. Mauk went 32 of 51 for 341 yards with 2 interceptions. In receiving yards, Van Wert's Nathan Williams pulled in 14 catches for 147 yards. Leading the Bulldogs in receptions was Max Morrison with 6 catches for 85 y ards and Dan Lombardo with 7 catches for 79 yards.

On the ground, Massillo ran the ball 14 times for 109 total rushing yards. Mauk led his team in rushing as well, and ran the ball 19 times for 108 yards.

With the win, Kenton moves to 1-1 overall and 1-0 in the league, and Van Wert falls to 0-2 overall and 0-1 in the league. Van Wert will travel to Elida next week to take on the Bulldogs, who moved to 2-0 last night with a win over St. Mary's.