By Gary R. Rasberry
With an even amount of teams for Midwest Athletic Conference football this season, every week becomes a big week for games from here on out.
Anna makes its debut as a football-only member of the MAC, meaning that for the next nine weeks, action should be hot and heavy.
The first week of conference play already has some big games on the line as jockeying for the title starts immediately.
One game that should have state football gurus looking for updates will be at Stadium Park in Delphos as St. Henry faces off with St. John's.
Both teams had to travel to open the season, both faced solid programs and both came away with convincing wins. The Blue Jays, the defending Division VI state champs, faced Division I Worthington Kilbourne and came away with a 28-12 win.
The Redskins traveled to Marion to face Division V stalwart Pleasant in a rematch from the 2004 playoffs. The Redskins came away with a 35-7 win over the Spartans with a solid all-around game.
St. John's had the option attack working well in the second half against the Wolves after being a little sluggish in the opening two quarters. Aaron Etzkorn, replacing 1,000-yard speedster Andrew DeWitt this season, rushed for 101 yards on 21 carries on Friday. Quarterback Nick Johnson was also working well out of the option, rushing for 80 yards and was 6-of-12 passing for 142 yards. Fullback Brian Backus added 48 yards on eight carries.
"It was just a matter of us executing in the second half," said St. John's coach Todd Schulte. "Our defense played a nice game all game with our offense being a night-and-day difference first half to second half."
"That's the reason their option is so successful," said St. Henry coach Jeff Starkey. "You have to respect the fullback, the quarterback and the tailback. All three phases of the option can hurt you. If you go into the game thinking you have to stop Nick Johnson, you may contain him on a few plays, but on a third-and-four the fullback will hurt you. You have to be disciplined in your assignments, because all three are threats."
When the Jays throw, tight end Jeff Ostendorf is the big target. The 6-2, 215-pound senior turned both his receptions last week into 75 yards worth of touchdown passes, including the game-winner with 5:23 to go in the third quarter on a 68-yard pass from Johnson. The pair also hooked up for the spirit-breaker with 2 1/2 minutes left in the game.
"I think he has really improved as a passer," said Starkey of Johnson. "I know he's thrown the ball better. He's thrown the ball well in scrimmages and threw it well against us (last year when Johnson drove the team to a late touchdown to beat the Redskins 7-3)."
More impressive may have been the defense of St. John's. After trailing 12-7 midway in the third quarter, the Blue Jays shut down the Wolves, holding them to just 162 yards of offense.
"They won the physical battle," said Starkey. "Especially in the second half. They were just a little tougher and stronger (than Kilbourne)."
St. Henry's win over Pleasant had the Redskins playing very well for a first game of the season with no turnovers and just one penalty while scoring on both offense and defense.
"I thought we played a pretty clean game," said Starkey. "We didn't have any handoff problems, we didn't have any kids line up wrong on defense, we didn't have a lot of missed tackles and we caught punts. We punted well and kicked well."
"They're obviously a very experienced team," said Schulte. "That's always a concern. They're also a very efficient team. They're not going to hurt themselves with penalties or turnovers. What they do, they do well."
Quarterback Doug Griesdorn had plenty of time to throw, thanks to the solid line play, throwing for 228 yards and three touchdowns. Matt Thobe recovered a fumble in the end zone for the defensive score and Kyle Bruggeman took a handoff out of the slot for the other Redskin score. Griesdorn also had plenty of time to throw as the offensive line did not allow a sack in the game.
"That's very important (breaking through the offensive line), no matter who's the quarterback," said Schulte. "Especially with Griesdorn, a second-year starter. He's very poised and relaxed in the pocket, that's because the guys up front are doing their job. Definitely, that's going to be one of our concerns: to be able to get to him."