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The Daily



09-18-03: First place in MAC on the line

An early battle for a share of first place in the Midwest Athletic Conference highlights a night of rivalry games on Friday’s football slate.
The battle for a share of the MAC lead takes place in Delphos as unbeatens Versailles and St. John’s battle at Stadium Park. In other big games: St. Henry heads north on Ohio 118 to face Coldwater in the annual Backyard Battle, Minster heads west on Ohio 119 to face Marion Local in their annual grudge match and Parkway heads to New Bremen in a battle of teams that suffered big losses last week.
Fort Recovery has the league bye week and celebrates homecoming with LCC at Barrenbrugge Park.
In just the short time the teams have faced off as conference foes, Versailles and St. John’s have become a very strong rivalry.
In the first two conference meetings, the visitor has left the unfriendly confines a winner, with the Blue Jays ending the Tigers’ 4-0 start to the season with a 23-15 win last season, a year after the Tigers ended St. John’s 32-game conference win streak and 45-game regular season streak with a 34-28 win at Delphos.
The Tigers come back to Stadium Park with a lot riding on the game for both teams. Both are 4-0 overall and both unbeaten in the MAC — the Jays have one more MAC win than Versailles. With the other MAC unbeaten, Coldwater, waiting in the wings for both teams later in the season, a win would be huge but a loss doesn’t mean the hope for a title ends.
“This is a big game with two schools with a lot of history and success,” said St. John’s coach Todd Schulte. “We knew when Versailles came into the MAC we would have a good opponent. There’s no bye week in the MAC but this week’s game is big to stay in the drivers’ seat in the conference. The other thing is that whoever wins the game is going to get some big computer points.”
Veteran Versailles coach Al Hetrick concurs.
“This is two programs with a lot of pride,” said Hetrick. “In the two years we’ve played (in the MAC) both teams have hard fought clean football and there have been some good games.”
The Tigers come into the game with one of the most balanced offenses in the conference. Leading the way for the MAC are the triple threat of seniors Kyle Gehle, Ben Shappie and Ryan McNeilan.
Quarterback Gehle has been efficient this season, completing 16-of-35 passes for 317 yards but has not thrown an interception while tossing six touchdown passes, amassing a TDS Quarterback Rating of 178.36.
The running back tandem of Shappie and McNeilan have been dangerous on the run as well as the pass. McNeilan leads the team in rushing with 259 yards with four rushing touchdowns and has added two receiving touchdowns on just four total receptions. Shappie leads the team in receiving with seven catches for 165 yards and three scores and rushed for 229 yards and two scores.
One thing that Hetrick worried about coming into the season was finding compliments to his three threats. Eric Strasbaugh has been a big help, scoring three times and rushing for 222 yards this season. Offensive end Bart Schmitz has been able to make timely receptions, making two big catches for 48 yards and a touchdown.
“They have some great players returning this season with Strasbaugh at fullback and Shappie and McNeilan at the halfbacks,” said Schulte. “Gehle is a great quarterback who can run or pass whenever his team needs it.”
“Bart has been a good blocker and has improved his receiving this season. Our sophomore on the other side, Stephen Murphy (two catches for 29 yards, one conversion) has also been playing well,” said Hetrick. “Eric has been having a good season at fullback and a couple of our other runners, Matt Murphy (9 carries for 104 yards, 3 TD) and Curtis Wourms (8 carries for 84 yards, 1 TD) have stepped up.”
As strong as the offense is, the defense has been stingy, limiting teams to just 12.5 points per game while the offense averaged 49.5 per game.
One thing that Schulte might need to be concerned about is the Tigers’ rush defense, which has giving up just 420 yards this season.
The Blue Jays are coming off an escape win over Minster 20-14. St. John’s was shut down on the run in the second half, tallying 35 yards and forcing Blue Jay quarterback Jesse Kill to go to the air. Kill completed all four of his passes for 124 yards, 70 coming on the game-winning pass to tight end Bart Bergfeld with six minutes left in the game.
Schulte knows the passing game will be a need against the Tigers’ rush defense.
“We need to be more balanced,” said Schulte. “We’re a running team and we will not get away from that, but we will need to work on the passing game more this week since Versailles has a great defense, especially against the rush.”
“We’ve been fortunate to swarm to the ball on defense,” said Hetrick. “We had trouble harnessing Matt Shumaker (129 yards against Minster, two scores) last season and will need to find a way this season. They also have a good quarterback in Kill and a good tight end who can catch the ball.”


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