By Bruce Monnin
DELPHOS -- Coming into Saturday night's contest, the Minster Wildcats had lost 10 straight games to the Delphos St. John's Blue Jays, including two of the last four losses where the Wildcats had the ball late with a chance to win the game.
History repeated itself, as the Wildcats came up one drive short in a 26-21 loss at Stadium Park.
Minster started the game strong as Brian Mueller returned the opening kickoff 34 yards to near midfield. The Wildcat offense then used almost six minutes to drive 52 yards to the end zone on 11 plays, twice converting on fourth-and-one situations. Minster struck paydirt with a six-yard touchdown pass from Dan Mueller to Andrew Baumer for the early 6-0 lead.
Delphos only managed to gain seven yards on its first possession, and Minster again started its second possession near midfield. Once again they used 11 plays to drive the 51 yards required for their second score, a two-yard touchdown run by Andrew Meyer.
A two-point conversion run by Dan Mueller made the early second quarter Wildcat lead 14-0. In contrast to Minster's grind it out approach to offense, Delphos turned things around with quick scores. The Blue Jays needed only 2:39 and seven plays to drive 65 yards for their first score. A 25-yard pass from Nick Johnson to Jeff Ostendorf was the big play which set up a three-yard Aaron Etzkorn touchdown run to reduce the Delphos deficit to 14-7.
St. John's defender Drew Hilvers intercepted a Wildcat pass on the first play of the next Minster drive.
"When they are having success moving the ball we'll take a stop any way we can get it," stated St. John's coach Todd Schulte.
Three plays and 1:20 later the Blue Jays tied the game on a six-yard pass from Johnson to Ryan Reynolds and the score was knotted at 14 apiece.
With momentum changing, the Delphos defense shut down the Minster offense on three plays the next possession. Starting from near midfield, the Blue Jays scored on their third straight possession, this time needing six plays to cover 54 yards. Aaron Etzkorn capped off the drive with a big 35-yard run for the 20-14 half-time lead.
"We had a rough second quarter, but the rest of the game the kids kept their heads up and they played hard," admitted Minster coach Eric Belcher.
St. John's continued with its momentum on the opening drive of the second half, using seven plays to drive 66 yards for the Blue Jays' fourth unanswered touchdown. This time it was Brian Backus scoring on a 10-yard run, though, a failed two-point conversion left the lead 26-14.
Minster responded with a drive reminiscent of those at the start of the game. The Wildcats ground out the clock with a 14-play, 67-yard scoring drive. Minster narrowly avoided disaster when it fumbled the ball into the end zone, but Dan Mueller was Johnny on the spot, recovering the loose ball for the Wildcat score to tighten the game at 26-21.
Minster's momentum seemed to grow as it forced a Blue Jay fumble on the second play of the next series. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, they returned the favor four plays later, fumbling the ball back to Delphos.
"When turnovers happen, they're usually costly," lamented Belcher.
St. John's then proceeded to try to put the game away with a ball-control offense. They drove for 12 plays down to a second down and goal to go situation at the Minster five-yard line. Johnson lofted a pass to the end zone which Minster appeared to have a chance to intercept, however, the play was broken up by the Delphos receiver, but offensive pass interference was called, taking the Blue Jays back 15 yards.
The Blue Jays gained back 10 yards in the next two plays, but the Wildcats took over on downs at the 10-yard line with under eight minutes left to play.
Once again pounding Delphos with the wishbone running game, Minster slowly advanced down the field, crossing midfield with about three minutes remaining. The Wildcats eventually ran 15 plays on the drive, but the crucial play occurred when Minster attempted a halfback pass. Aaron Heitbrink was hit while attempting to pass, and when the ball landed with no receiver in the vicinity, intentional grounding was called to push the Wildcats back.
A subsequent sack left Minster with a fourth down-and-32 to go with 1:15 left in the game. The Wildcats' last gasp pass fell incomplete and the Blue Jays held on for the 26-21 victory.
"They won the line of scrimmage against our defense and I think we won the line of scrimmage against their defense. They powered the ball on us, that's what they do. They get 3-4 yards, 3-4 yards, and before you know it, its third-and-one," summarized Schulte. "We'll take any victory we can get in this league."
"The kids played hard," assessed Belcher. "We won the first quarter, they won the second quarter and I think the rest of the game was somewhat even."
Next week St. John's takes its 3-1 record on the road to face 3-1 Versailles while Minster, now 2-2, returns home to host its second game at Memorial Field against 2-2 Marion Local in a crucial Region 24 computer-point matchup.