Times Bulletin photo
Van Wert’s Connor Massillo (23) runs for one of his two touchdowns in a game against Wapakoneta on Friday, Oct. 9, in Van Wert.
Times Bulletin photo Van Wert’s Connor Massillo (23) runs for one of his two touchdowns in a game against Wapakoneta on Friday, Oct. 9, in Van Wert.
BY DREW BITTNER

Times Bulletin Sports Editor

sports@timesbulletin.com

VAN WERT - The big question surrounding Van Wert this week was how the Cougars would respond to the Defiance loss last Friday night. Connor Massillo answered that question immediately.

Massillo returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown against Wapakoneta on Friday, setting the tone for the night as Van Wert demolished the Redskins in Eggress Stadium, 55-6.

The kickoff return robbed the Van Wert offense of getting on the field right away, but the Cougars quickly made up for it with their second possession following a Wapakoneta punt. After driving across midfield on the Redskins, and then facing a third-and-2 from the Wapak 43-yard line, quarterback Corey Clifton executed the veer perfectly, faking a handoff to Massillo and then taking the keep around the left side of the line for a 43-yard touchdown scamper. A two-point conversion gave Van Wert a 14-0 lead with 7:14 remaining in the first quarter.

The Van Wert defense forced another punt, one of seven Wapak punts on the evening, and the Cougars offense took the field once again, this time at their own four-yard line. And Van Wert would once again make good on their possession, using a 45-yard pass from Clifton to Austin Fleming to set up another keeper touchdown by Clifton. This score was a 23-yard run, and with the extra point kick by Gyer Blackmore, Van Wert was up 21-0 only a minute and 24 seconds into the second quarter.

And what a second quarter it was for the Cougars. Following Clifton's score, Van Wert would record two more rushing touchdowns and a passing score before heading into halftime. A one-yard run by Massillo, a 25-yard run by Clifton, and a nine-yard strike from Clifton to Evan Hammons made up the ohter three scores for the Cougars in the second quarter.

The final score for the Cougars in the first half was set up by an interception by Clifton, who returned the pick to the Wapakoneta 29-yard line.

Wapakoneta managed to get on the board in the quarter, as well, using a 39-yard play action pass from quarterback Jordan Martin to Alex Parker to get into the endzone at the 3:37 mark. The play was one of the very few breakdowns by Van Wert on the night, as Martin's fake handoff drew in the entire Cougars defense, and Parker was all alone down the right sideline for the catch and score.

However, Wapak's score was a classic case of too little, too late, as the score at halftime was Van Wert 42, Wapakoneta 6.

The Cougars went right back to work as the second half started, with the defense forcing Wapak to punt, and returning possession to the Van Wert offense, which hadn't been stopped on a drive all night.

Van Wert stuck to the ground nearly the entire possession, throwing one incomplete pass on the drive - the only pass for Van Wert of the entire second half. The Cougars ate up nearly six minutes of clock and drove 66 yards on the drive, before Massillo punched a one-yard run up the gut for another Van Wert score. Blackmore's kick was good, and Van Wert led 49-6 with 3:29 remaining in the third quarter.

The Cougars then got right back on the board on their ensuing possession, with most of the Van Wert regulars on the sidelines, as new quarterback Austin Fleming and new running back Tony Schaffner led a four-minute drive capped off by a 16-yard run by Fleming. The PAT kick was no good, but Van Wert had staked themselves to a 55-6 lead with 9:54 left in the game.

Van Wert did threaten one last time in the contest, driving all the way down to the Wapak 5-yard line, but couldn't convert a fourth-and-1, and turned the ball over on downs. It marked the first Cougars' possession all night that hadn't ended with a touchdown. Van Wert's defense held strong, however, and kept Wapak off the scoreboard for the remainder of the game, with the score of 55-6 holding up when the final seconds ticked off the clock.

Van Wert coach Bob Priest was very pleased with his team's effort following last week's game against Defiance - a game that in year's past has haunted the Cougars for the rest of the season.

"I tell you, it was good," said Priest. "You know, the concern was how we were going to respond. Defiance put it to us last week and the last two years after getting beat by Defiance, we lost our enthusiasm and laid an egg. So that was a concern coming into this week...I think it helped that we broke that kickoff for a touchdown and things seemed to start going our way after that."

"I thought our offensive line played well tonight, probably the best game of blocking as an entire team tonight, and you know, our backs get all the accolades, but tonight goes to the offensive line."

For the game, Clifton was 7 of 15 passing with 120 yards and a touchdown. Clifton also led the Cougars with 140 rushing yards on eight carries with three touchdowns. Massillo added 126 yards rushing on 20 carries and two touchdowns, and Schaffner gained 50 yards on 15 carries. Fleming finished with five carries for 90 yards and a score.

Fleming was the Cougars leading receiver, with three catches for 68 yards. Hammons added three receptions for 48 yards and a touchdown, with Sam Tindall adding a catch for four yards.

The Cougars rolled up 547 yards of total offense in the contest, with 427 rushing yards and 120 passing.

Wapak only managed 132 total yards against the Van Wert defense, with Martin finishing 4 of 10 passing for 57 yards. He threw a pick and a touchdown in the game. Connor Pickens led the Redskins in rushing with nine carries for 39 yards. Parker had his one catch for 39 yards and the touchdown.

Van Wert's record improves to 4-3 on the season and 4-2 in the Western Buckeye League. Wapakoneta falls to 1-6 overall and 1-5 in the league.