By Gary R. Rasberry
VAN WERT -- The goal for the Celina Bulldogs this week was to play hard for 48 minutes.
The first two games, Celina had leads going into the fourth quarter, only to have the leads disappear.
Friday against Van Wert, Celina went the distance.
The Bulldogs put together a 12-play drive, ending with Andy Harner breaking several tackles and rushing in from 12 yards out with three minutes left to give Celina a 12-7 win over the Cougars at Eggress Field for their first win of the season. The Cougars drop to 1-2 overall and 1-1 in the Western Buckeye League loss.
"We talked about it at halftime, being able to play 48 minutes" said Celina coach Mike Fell after the game. "It's a situation where the boys decided to play all 48 minutes and it turned out well for us." The game turned out to be a defensive battle between the teams. After both teams scored in the first quarter, neither team could find the end zone for the next 33 minutes.
Celina got off to a hot start, scoring on its first drive with Harner, making his 2005 debut, punching in the final yard after his 43-yard run from the Van Wert 45.
On Van Wert's second drive, quarterback Kyle Smelser broke the longest run of the game, a 47-yard burst up the middle for a score as the clock reached zeroes in the first quarter. Kody Heppeard booted the extra point to make it 7-6 in favor of Van Wert.
Then the defenses took over until Celina's score in the fourth quarter.
"Both defensive coaches should be commended," said Van Wert coach Jeff Hood. "They did a good job shutting down the offense.
"We didn't win many wars with the blocking, whether it was on the perimeter or up front. I just thought that we didn't block well enough to move the ball consistently."
The defense for Celina finally paid off with 8:24 left in the game. Smelser looked deep to speedster Darren Wood for a potential score, but Jordan Heuker camped under the ball and intercepted it, running it back to the Celina 31 with 8:09 left.
Erik Chapin began to move the ball quickly for Celina, running the ball and coming up big on several plays. The first was a fourth-and-one from the Celina 40, where Chapin ran up the middle to get the first down and keep the drive moving.
The second came on fourth-and-nine from the Cougar 32. Chapin took the snap and looked long, finding Stu Amstutz for a 13-yard gain to the 19. Chapin optioned for seven more yards to get to the 12.
On second-and-three, Chapin handed off to Harner, who went into a crowd and looked to be stopped at the line, but Harner spun out and headed for the sidelines, breaking several more tackles to hit the end zone with 3:09 left.
"The big play was Chapin to Amstutz on fourth down to keep the drive alive," said Fell. "Then Andy busting the run on a broken play. It came down to the boys stepping up.
"We knew it was time to get something done. To get some positives going."
Van Wert got the ball back on its 37, but Celina's defense stepped up again. Smelser was stopped by Dane Dwenger for no gain on the first play, but then completed a six-yard pass to Cole Harting on second down. After an incompletion on third down, Smelser tried to find Harting again, but the ball was tipped at the goal line and fell to the turf with 2:20 left.
"We dedicated this ballgame to Mick Gabes, our defensive coordinator," said Fell. "He's in the hospital recovering from pneumonia. I think the boys worked hard. Big part of the credit goes to Drew Braun (who handled the defensive chores). He took over on Monday and definitely had those boys ready to play tonight."
"It was a defensive game. Both teams's defenses had the upper hand," said Hood. "The offensive coaches were pulling their hair out trying to develop more consistency and moving the ball. You're living in a day in age where you never think one score will hold up. We just put our defense on the field too long."
With Harner on the sidelines after hobbling off the field following his touchdown run, Chapin called his own number, getting runs of three, four and one on the first three carries, then on fourth down breaking through for 13 yards and a first down. With Van Wert out of timeouts, Chapin kneeled twice to end the game.
Harner came through with what Celina needed, another offensive weapon to compliment Chapin. Harner carried 13 times for 94 yards.
"Andy's a good back," said Fell. "But it came down to the offensive line. It was a battle up there. Van Wert has an excellent defense and are always very well prepared. It seemed at the end we drove them off when we needed to."
Chapin added 74 yards on 21 carries and was 8-of-12 passing for 61 yards.
Smelser managed 49 yards rushing on 12 carries for the Cougars while Wood added 41 yards on nine totes.
Celina (1-2, 1-1 WBL) stays on the road for week four, traveling to Lima to face the 1-2 Shawnee Indians.