By Gary R. Rasberry
With the season roughly a third of the way through, conference chases begin to get revved up.
The featured game on the Midwest Athletic Conference schedule features Coldwater playing host to the Anna Rockets for the first-time in history.
Although the 2-1 Rockets are just two games into their tenure in the conference, they have shown that they will not be idle spectators in the race for the conference crown.
That was shown last week as the Rockets ran up 21 straight points to start their game against Versailles and cruised to a 48-20 win at Booster Field in Anna for their first-ever win in the MAC.
The Cavaliers are 3-0 out of the chute and sit in second in the first Associated Press Division IV poll of the season after a 56-7 drubbing of New Bremen last week. Anna coach Bryan Rioch knows that this will be a big challenge for his squad. "Our former superintendent, John Granger, was a former player of (Coldwater coach) John Reed when he was at Parkway," said Rioch (pronounced Ree-ock). "He used to joke around and call it the University of Coldwater.
"There's a lot of truth in that. They do everything well, from the coaching to the playing and having great athletes. They pay great attention to detail. I can't remember the last time they lost a regular season game (The last Coldwater regular season loss was in 2003 in a week-eight loss at Versailles). I keep looking on film of a player, offensively or defensively, that they're trying to hide. I can't find anybody."
The Rockets provide a very balanced offensive attack led by senior Kyle Muehlfeld, who has completed 54 percent of his passes this season (27-of-50) for 574 yards and six touchdowns without an interception.
Senior J.T. Tidwell has been Muehlfeld's favorite receiver. The 6-2 Tidwell had six catches for 182 yards with two touchdowns against Versailles, raising his season totals to 255 yards on 10 snags. Junior tight end Kreg Elsass (6-3, 195) has also proven to be a potent pass receiver with nine catches for 222 yards and three scores.
When the Tigers run, Bryant Bensman is the go-to guy as the 5-8, 145-pound senior has carried 26 times for 313 yards and one touchdown. Mark Bensman adds 117 yards on 22 carries with a touchdown.
Defensively, the Rockets bring some hard hitters to the group. Linebacker Sean Stewart (6-0, 190, senior) leads the team with 35 tackles and classmate Ben Baker adds two sacks to the mix.
The secondary of the Rockets will be challenged this week as they face a Coldwater team that has plenty of weapons in the passing game.
The Cavaliers had a near flawless game against New Bremen when it came to running the offense. Quarterback Sam Slavik was praised by Coldwater coach John Reed for his rapid improvement so far this season after a 14-of-20 game for 196 yards and two touchdowns while running in another score. Slavik is the only area quarterback to complete 60 percent of his passes or better this season, posting a 61.8 completion percentage for 610 yards and six scores this season.
"He's not only efficient, he has a nice arm. He puts the ball in spots where (Ryan) Geier can get it," said Rioch. "He's very impressive. I make a lot of comparisons to him and (Muehlfeld). He manages the game well."
Running back Tony Harlamert, the area's rushing leader with 368 yards, continues to be one of the best all-around players in the area.
Defensively a week ago, the Cavaliers shut down both the running and passing game of the Cardinals, limiting New Bremen to just 127 total yards of offense.
One player that Rioch spotlights on defense is sophomore linebacker Adam Homan, the team leader in tackles with 38
"We're going to have to take advantage of situations when they arise. They're solid defensively," said Rioch. "The younger Homan kid is a spitting image of his brother (Ross). Sideline-to-sideline, he's physical.
"Up front, they have four defensive linemen that are as good as I've seen while I've been here."