By Gary R. Rasberry
LIMA -- In a game between teams that were evenly matched, the outcome was going to come down to who made the fewest mistakes.
In the end, it was the Shawnee Indians who had the cleaner game, holding on to defeat St. Marys, 7-6, in a battle for sole possession of first place in the Western Buckeye League at Shawnee Field.
The Indians snap a 17-game losing streak to the Roughriders, winning for the first time since October 3, 1986, and take over the top spot in the WBL with a 5-0 league mark and a 6-0 overall mark. The Roughriders fall to 5-1 overall and 4-1 in the WBL.
St. Marys, who had come into the game with a plus-eight in the turnover ratio department, was struck by three fumbles -- the first coming on the opening kickoff -- and a late interception that ended any comeback attempt.
"Kids really came through and worked hard," said West. "We made up for the errors with some key first downs on our last big drive. "It's a great feeling. I cannot explain it. I feel like I'm dreaming. I hope I don't wake up tomorrow and find out it's still Friday," added a jubilant West.
St. Marys coach Doug Frye was gracious in his opening comments.
"Give Shawnee a lot of credit. I thought their kids played extremely well," said Frye after the game. "Dick West does a great job with his football program. I thought our kids did a whale of a job, but it obviously wasn't as good as we are capable of playing.
"We didn't do the normal characteristic things we do like holding on to the football and playing mistake-free football. We're not happy with our effort tonight. We felt (if) we have done those things like we're capable of, we would have won this football game."
Both teams kept each other off the scoreboard for most of the first half. After St. Marys gave the ball back on downs on the Shawnee 31-yard line, the Indians put together a big drive in the final five minutes of the half.
With St. Marys looking to keep tabs on standout running back Brian Stephenson, West looked to quarterback Matt Hershey to move the ball. Hershey responded, making two big passes inside the Roughrider 30 to move the ball to the three-yard line. After Stephenson got one yard, Hershey handed off to sophomore Derek Ligenfelter, who pounded it in with 38 seconds left for the lone Shawnee score of the game.
Shawnee got the ball to start the second half and looked to run the clock, putting together a 10-play drive that lasted 5 1/2 minutes. The Roughriders held and kept Shawnee from getting a fourth-and-nine from the 10 to take over, but St. Marys could only manage three plays before having to punt.
St. Marys took the ball with 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter and went nowhere for three plays to force another punt.
Nick Yahl punted the ball to Ryan Downard on the Shawnee 40 and Downard got hit on the 41 and popped the ball out. A number of white jerseys jumped on the ball to give St. Marys the ball back with 9:22 to go.
The turnover was big as St. Marys went 12 plays on the drive before Corey Vossler went the last yard of the play when he went up and over the Shawnee defensive wall to make the score 7-6 pending the extra point.
Ross Quellhorst came out to try the one-pointer. When the snap came, it looked like he hesitated before going through with the kick. The ball went wide right of the goal post, allowing Shawnee to hold on to the one-point lead.
But Shawnee needed to run the clock down enough without the help of timeouts after Shawnee burned its last one on St. Marys' scoring drive.
"I told them to hang on to the ball and stay inbounds," said West. "We had worked that last week. We had our fullback (Ryan Small) trying his heart out going up the sideline trying to stay inbounds and just barely stepped out."
Shawnee took 3:10 off the clock with a nine-play drive that stalled out at the 35. Shawnee punted and Vossler took the ball at the five and got to the 16 before being downed with 1:06 left.
The first play St. Marys ran was one of its specials, putting five players to the right side and four to the left. Vossler looked to pass to Yahl for a possible hook-and-lateral, but Yahl dropped a perfect pass.
On second down, Vossler sent three to the left and three to the right. This time the ball was caught, but unfortunately, it was by Stephenson on an interception to give Shawnee a chance for two knees to end the game.
Shawnee tried hard to contain Bo Frye as the WBL's top rusher netted 99 yards on 21 carries.
"He's a tremendous back," said West. "Our kids kept trying to hit him. He has tons of power. He was hurting our kids a lot but they kept at it."
St. Marys did its best in containing Stephenson, holding him to just 63 yards on 23 carries. Ligenfelter helped with 44 yards on eight carries before hurting his ankle late in the second half. Hershey was 13-of-17 passing for 145 yards and Downard finished with nine catches for 92 yards.
"I'm not disappointed with our defense by any means," said coach Frye. "I just thought our offense didn't do a good job of hanging onto the ball and finishing things. We'll have to bounce back and get ready for next week."
St. Marys hosts Kenton on Friday in a matchup of teams with just one loss in the WBL.