By Gary R. Rasberry
The annual Coldwater-St. John's game has received the nickname "The Big Finish" over the last several years because playoff hopes on either side of the field have come to a head in this annual Week 10 matchup.
This year, The Big Finish will live up to its billing once again.
While the Cavaliers are pretty much locked into a home game for the playoffs, thanks to a 9-0 regular season mark, in Division IV Region 14, the Blue Jays are in a must-win situation.
After losses to Anna and Marion Local in the middle part of the season, the Blue Jays are 6-3 coming into this game and are ninth in Division VI Region 24. A win over the Cavaliers would be needed -- along with some game scenarios from other contests -- for St. John's to defend their Division VI state title.
With all that aside, the Cavaliers-Blue Jays matchup has proven to be a battle of a matchup over the years. Coldwater holds the 19-13-1 nod in the series, which began in 1955 and has been played as the final game of the season beginning in 1982. The Blue Jays last win came in 2001, a 42-28 shootout. The Coldwater defense, which sees a lot of different offensive sets during the season, will get a good look at the triple option of the Blue Jays, led by quarterback Nick Johnson, tailback Aaron Etzkorn and fullback Brian Backus.
Johnson has 810 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns this season while adding 934 yards passing with 10 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Etzkorn provides a solid running attack with 732 yards and 13 touchdowns while Backus give St. John's a solid threat, especially on third down situations, with 407 yards and a healthy 6.5 yards per carry average.
When Johnson passes, Nate Greaves has become a solid threat to catch the ball. Greaves has 18 receptions for 310 yards on the season.
The Cavalier scout team, which Coldwater coach John Reed has praised in the past for its ability to give the first-team defense an excellent read for the opponents, had a challenge to find the right person to fill the roles of the skill players.
The Cavaliers looked to a veteran option quarterback for help.
"It's kind of been an interesting preparation," said Reed. "Coach Otten (assistant coach Chip Otten, a former Coldwater quarterback) was probably the best option quarterback that ever ran the option play in his day. He is our option quarterback right now. He's stepping in there and giving up a great look. We really appreciate him doing that."
Reed has a lot of respect for the reserves that make up the scout team.
"I don't think young people understand the importance of their contribution to the team," said Reed, "Even perhaps when they are not a starter. Almost all of our kids, with a couple exceptions, have gone through the process of growing up through the system of scout team player. Honing their individual skills at the same time giving the offense and defense the look that they need to prepare for what the opposition is going to do. I think our kids have bought into it. Our (Continued from page 1B)
kids understand the significance. When the game is over, we hope they can take great satisfaction that they have made a great contribution to the victory."
St. John's will have to contend with the Cavaliers' own multiple threats. Senior quarterback Sam Slavik went over the 2,000-yard mark last week against Fort Recovery, raising his touchdown total to 17 on the season with just six interceptions while completing 60 percent of his passes on the season.
As has been the case in the past, Slavik has plenty of weapons to throw to. Most potent could be sophomore Tony Harlamert. Already the leading rusher on the team with 658 yards and nine touchdowns this season, Harlamert became a bigger receiving threat after Ryan Geier went down with a broken collarbone against Anna. Harlamert leads the Cavaliers with 513 yards receiving.
Classmate Cory Klenke also had his responsibilities rise with Geier's absence. Klenke has 443 yards receiving and five touchdowns. The pair also have taken over the passing-breaking chores on defense. Each has four interceptions on the year with Harlamert running two back for touchdowns.
The Cavaliers also have four other receiving threats with 100 or more yards on the season.
Defensively, Coldwater's shotgun-style offense, with differing looks for both passing and running games, promotes a challenge for the Blue Jays.
St. John's will bring a solid defensive group against the Cavaliers. Linebacker Tyler Kroeger is third in the MAC with 105 tackles while fellow linebacker Drew Hilvers is having one of the best all-around years for the Blue Jays. In addition to 101 tackles, Hilvers has four interceptions and four fumble recoveries.
Coldwater's defense has been solid all season, allowing just under 10 points per game. Linebackers Adam Hoying and Adam Homan combine for 169 tackles and seven sacks. Junior end Tyler Kunk leads a solid front four out of the 4-4 defense, recording an area-best eight sacks. Linemate Kurt Schlarman adds five sacks and has disrupted quarterbacks by causing five bad passes.