By Gary R. Rasberry
ST. MARYS -- For the first two games of the season, the Mercer County Cougars have been propelled by their defense.
Saturday, the 2-0 Cougars faced off with expansion West Ohio, coming in at 0-2, looking to keep the undefeated string intact.
Another stifling defensive day was in the cards as the Cougars posted their first shutout of the season with a 41-0 drubbing of the Wranglers at West Elementary School to run their record to 3-0 and take firm control of the Interstate Football League North Division. The Wranglers fall to 0-3 in a game that featured plenty of mental errors.
The Cougars defense, which had posted 19 sacks in the first two wins of the year, recorded just one sack against the Wranglers, who tried to feature the running game early.
The Cougars held the Wranglers to negative eight yards rushing in the game on 25 carries, compared to the 89 yards on 24 carries the Cougars posted. "They have some quick backs," said linebacker Collin Bechtol, who was in many of the defensive stops. "We knew we had to shut them down. We had to get close to them where they didn't have any room to run."
The Cougars got six points in the first quarter thanks to a three-yard burst by Chad Timmerman. After that, the defense took control.
Wrangler back Brandon Meyer tried to punt away, but kicked it out of bounds at the line of scrimmage.
That gave the Cougars great field position and they went 46 yards on five plays, with big fullback Chris Guggenbiller pounding in the final four yards to make it 14-0.
Another punt try by the Wranglers resulted in a botched play that moved the Cougars up nine yards.
Three plays later, Timmerman took the pitch and went in from eight yards out to make it 21-0.
Late in the half, Adam Wenning, who was 7-of-12 for 133 yards, all in the first half, hit Cody Overman for the final score of the half with a 12-yard strike.
In the third quarter, the Cougar offense did not take the field until the 4:43 mark of the period.
The Wranglers held the ball for 17 plays, but were unable to score.
The Cougars, however did score when Meyer fumbled the ball around the 20. Dale Everman scooped up the fumble and hustled back for his second fumble recovery touchdown in as many weeks to make the score 35-0 after the PAT.
"It's a change of pace," said Everman, who last year was getting ready for his senior season at the University of Findlay. "My first two touchdowns of my career. Playing football the last couple of years has been a dream. The defense is clicking pretty good. Helps out when every one is running on all cylinders."
The Wranglers began to move the ball again until Al Rinderle sacked quarterback Adam Solomon for a 19-yard loss. Two plays later, Solomon's desperate throw went into the hands of linebacker Ron Kahlig, who took it to the 11.
One play later, Guggenbiller ended the scoring for the Cougars with a 10-yard rumble to make it 41-0.
"We read their quarterback pretty well," said Bechtol. "Nothing big. We shut them down. They had nothing we hadn't seen before. We knew coming into this year that our offense was going to be good and our defense was pretty good with the same guys coming back from last year. We knew if we picked it up one more notch, we could possibly pitch a couple of shutouts and make it easier on the offense."
After that, the game clock kept rolling -- IFL rules keep the clock moving when a team has a 40-point lead.
The Wranglers got to within 10 yards of the end zone on their last possession, only to have one player's complaining to the officials result in a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Solomon tried to find a receiver in the end zone, but instead found Cougar back Eric Belcher, who snagged the ball at the one with two minutes left. The Cougars ran the clock out to end the game.
Guggenbiller finished with 56 yards on six carries while Timmerman carried the ball 11 times for 47 yards, with all but one carry coming in the first half.
Craig Schwieterman had just two catches, but totaled 50 yards as the Cougars kept the ball on the ground with the huge lead. The Cougars won the total yards battle by a 222-79 margin.
The Cougars head back to Barrenbrugge Park in Fort Recovery on Saturday for a rematch of last year's Interstate Bowl as IFL defending champ Darke County comes to town for a 5 p.m. game. St. Marys remains at home to play the Madison County Pirates at 4 p.m. at West Elementary.