By Gary R. Rasberry
FORT RECOVERY -- With everyone concerned about gas prices of late, the Mercer County Cougars will likely not have to worry about road trips for the playoffs.
With their 36-20 win over Kosciusko County at Barrenbrugge Park on Saturday, the Cougars end the regular season with the best record in the Interstate Football Leauge and will have home field advantage through the IFL playoffs, which start Oct. 1.
The Cougars, the IFL North Division champs at 7-1, will likely play West Ohio in the first round of the playoffs. The Divisional finals will be Oct. 8 with the possibility of hosting the Interstate Bowl on Oct. 15 if they are alive in the playoffs. Kosciusko County ends the regular season at 4-4.
The last game of the regular season saw both teams shut down the running games -- the teams combining for just 118 yards, leaving the quarterbacks open for big days.
Cougar signal caller Adam Wenning took advantage right away, finding Eric Belcher for a 35-yard scoring pass on the opening drive of the game. After Kosciusko County scored and hit the conversion pass to lead 8-6, Wenning came back again and called on favorite receiver Craig Schwieterman.
With the second quarter underway, the Cougars put together a 14-play drive that took nearly seven minutes off the clock, spanning the quarters. Wenning found Schwieterman open for a 12-yard scoring pass that would give the Cougars the lead for good after Wenning ran in the conversion run.
One Mustang series later, Wenning and Schwieterman hooked up again, thanks in large part to a 40-yard penalty on a pass interference along with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that moved the ball to the Mustang five. This time the Coldwater products united on a five-yard pass play to make it 20-8 with 3:05 left.
After Kevin Knapke picked off Kosciusko County quarterback Mike Whitaker, Wenning found Schwieterman deep in the end zone to make it 28-6 at halftime. Wenning was 11-of-15 passing for 209 yards in the half, with Schwieterman snagging four catches for 50 yards. Belcher had two catches for 43 yards and Cody Overman gained 60 yards on two receptions.
"It was a good first half," said lineman Kevin Wehrkamp. "We were moving the ball well and the defense played well."
"The line was doing a helluva job," said Wenning. "They were picking up blitzes on about every play. ... the receivers (Wenning threw to five recievers in the game) were wide open. It was pitch and catch after that."
With the lead firmly in hand, the Cougars stuck with the ground game in the second half, as Wenning tried just two passes in the second half, missing both.
Meanwhile, Whitaker, who was just 1-of-9 with an interception in the first half, got the passing game together in the second half. Whitaker was 18-of-27 for 273 yards in the second half and threw two touchdown passes. Nick Bolesky was Whitaker's favorite target, hauling in seven catches for 115 yards and a score.
Penalties hurt the Mustangs as the team was flagged nine times for 117 yards. Frustration set in late in the game, made noticable by a pair of unsportsmanlike conducts that saw the ejection of Damien Richardson in the final two minutes of the game. The Mustangs did score with eight seconds left to make it 34-20.
The team is happy that, for possibly the first two rounds, the Cougars will be able to play at Barrenbrugge.
"It's nice to play here and not have to drive two hours," said Wenning. "The fans come out and support us well here at the stadium. We expect a lot more people coming out for the playoff games."