By Gary R. Rasberry
FORT RECOVERY -- With no true kicker on the team, the Mercer County Cougars turned to Adam Wenning to save the day for the Cougars on Saturday.
Wenning, the starting quarterback, lined up for the kick with one second remaining in a 14-14 tie against Darke County and he hit the 24-yard kick to give the Cougars a win in a matchup of Interstate Football League unbeatens.
The end result looked like a veteran booting in a chip shot.
Wenning's kick was long enough and right down the middle, allowing Mercer County to come back from a 14-6 deficit to hand the Warriors a 17-14 loss at Barrenbrugge Park in a rematch from last season's Interstate Bowl.
The Cougars are now the sole unbeaten team in the IFL at 4-0, leading the North Division. The Warriors, who beat the Cougars 28-20 at the Hoosier Dome last October to take the first Interstate Bowl, falls to 3-1. "Last year left a sour taste in our mouths. We left it out on the field last year (in the title game)," said Wenning. "It feels good to come out and beat these guys. That's a damn good team over there."
The comeback was sparked after some showboating by Warrior receiver Shean Bosworth, who taunted the trailing Cougar defenders after an 88-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Justin Miller to make the score 14-6 with 6:06 left in the third quarter.
The showboating not only cost the Warriors 15 yards on the kickoff, it seemed to also spark the Cougars' defense.
"It (ticked) us off. It made us mad," said linebacker Ron Kahlig about Bosworth's taunt. "We got mad. We just wanted to get the ball back to the offense."
Mercer County, which struggled early on offense, punted the ball away on its next possession. The Warriors started from their own nine. On the second play, Brian Snyder was hit hard by Kahlig, losing the ball. Defensive back Eric Belcher snagged the ball and scampered 19 yards for a touchdown to cut the lead to 14-12. After a bad kick try on the first Cougar score in the first half, the team decided to go for two this time around late in the game. Wenning handed off to Chad Timmerman, who used Greg Schmitz as a bulldozer and broke the goal line to tie the game with 30 seconds left in the quarter.
"It really was Bull (Kahlig) on that fumble recovery," said Belcher. "He made the play. I was just there to pick it up."
The Cougar defense came up strong and held the Warriors to a three-and-out on its ensuing series. It looked like the momentum was going the Cougars' way until lightning was spotted and the officials cleared the field and the stands for safety concerns. After a 30-minute break to let the storm blow through, the momentum dropped a little as the drive was halted at the Warrior 34. Wenning punted the ball perfectly as the Cougar defense downed the ball at the five with 3:52 to go.
The Mercer County defense rose again as Eli Grieshop got his second interception of the game, spotting the ball on the 35-yard line with 13 seconds left.
Wenning looked for an out pattern to stop the clock. Belcher, playing receiver with regular wideout Craig Schwieterman missing the game due to injury, got open in the red zone. Wenning found him hovering near the sidelines for a 29-yard pass that made it first-and-goal with seven seconds left at the Warrior 6.
Wenning looked for Belcher in the end zone, but the momentum carried the former Minster and University of Dayton player out of bounds. The clock stopped at one second as the Cougars called timeout to try the field goal.
The Warriors packed the line to try and block the game-winning kick, but the snap was good and Cody Overman's hold was good as Wenning got the ball off and it sailed between the posts with no time left on the clock.
"I was trying not to think," said Wenning. "I was trying to do what we did in practice. There's five guys on the team that can kick it 45 yards and I was trying to do a pitch shot. I just wanted to kick it straight. The field goals come out once in a blue moon (Mercer County tried one unsuccessfully last season)."
"The defense played a helluva game. Our offense was sputtering. Having Sweets (Schwieterman) out didn't help, but Cody, Iggy (Eric Schmitz) and Cowboy (Kevin Knapke) and Belcher, who made a helluva catch at the end, really stepped up. Belcher was a great pickup for us this year."
Despite a rough day for Wenning passing, going 7-of-22 for 52 yards and three picks, the offense did outgain the Warriors by a 252-238 margin. The Cougars picked up 200 yards on the ground. With Timmerman being the main concern early for the Warrior defense, Chris Guggenbiller picked up the pace, rushing 10 times for 80 yards. Timmerman finished with 68 yards on 24 carries while Wenning added 52 yards on the ground.
The Cougars head west Saturday to face the Madison County Pirates, then return home August 27 to face the West Ohio Wranglers at Barrenbrugge Park.