By Ryan Hines
It was a soggy and muddy celebration, but it was a celebration nonetheless.
Wapakoneta fought off the weather and won the outright Western Buckeye League football title following a 34-6 win over Celina on a rainy night at Celina Stadium.
"We won one (WBL title) 10 years ago when we shared it but it's the first outright one for us in 20 years," said soaked Wapakoneta head coach Kevin Fell. "We knew we had a chance to win the outright title tonight and the game was just as we thought it would be, a battle. I thought that Celina played an outstanding game and it was much closer than the score showed, especially in the first half."
The Redskins went 9-1 overall and 8-1 in the WBL, which was one game ahead of the 7-2 marks posted by Lima Shawnee and St. Marys. Celina closes out its season 2-8 and 2-7 in league play.
Celina gave Wapakoneta a scare in the early going as the Bulldogs trailed just 7-6 after one quarter of play and just 14-6 at halftime. However, the Wapakoneta running game took over from there as the Redskins amassed a total of 312 yards on the ground while also scoring five rushing touchdowns.
"I think that once we got ahead 20-6 that they lost a little momentum and we began to wear them down," said Fell. "Until that time it was a tough football game."
"I honestly don't believe that it would have changed the outcome of the game but it certainly changed the complexion of the game," said Celina coach Jerry Harris. "The referee came over and told me that he was embarrassed and he blew it, but there's nothing that you can do about it, that's the way it is in the rule book with inadvertent whistles."
Alex Tuttle and Andrew Maitlin were the two main beneficiaries of the powerful Redskins rushing attack. Tuttle rushed the ball 22 times for a game-high 175 yards and three touchdowns. Maitlin added 80 yards and a pair of touchdowns on just 12 touches.
Wapakoneta marched down the field on its first possession in nine plays covering 83 yards to take a 7-0 lead on a Maitin score.
Celina answered with just 30 ticks left in the first quarter when Josh Hedge capped a 35-yard drive with a four-yard touchdown run pulling the Bulldogs to within one point at 7-6 following a missed two-point conversion try.
From that point on, though, Wapakoneta scored 27 unanswered points to bury the Bulldogs.
If the lop-sided score, muddy field and consistent rainfall wasn't enough to bother the fans of both teams, the officiating was poor on both sides as the zebras drew boos from both sidelines.
With Celina trailing just 14-6 at the time, Derek Gagle rushed for a Bulldogs first down on a fourth-down-situation, but an inadvertent whistle nullified the play. On the ensuing play, Gagle's pitch on the option was dropped and the Bulldogs turned the ball over on downs.
Fell recognized that the play was hurtful for Celina.
"They (Celina) were probably one tough call from making this a helluva game," said Fell. "That was a tough inadvertent whistle in that situation. They (Celina) had us a couple of times in tough situations but our kids were able to make a couple of really big plays."
"Wapakoneta stopped making mistakes in the second half and they used their strong running game to put the game away," said Harris. "They have a nice line and they have some nice running backs to give the ball to. The can go a long way in the playoffs."
Celina was almost the beneficiary of the poor officiating crew just before the half when the Bulldogs were awarded five downs to make a first down. On fourth down, a Celina rushing play was stopped for negative yardage with just a few ticks left on the clock but the officials never issued the change in possession and Green and White quickly got to the line of scrimmage to run another play. On what was in essence fifth down on the Wapak 37-yard line, Gagle fired a long pass down the field for Zach Sams who made an acrobatic catch at the one-yard line, but time ran out on the pass play.
Poor ball placement after plays, clock management and just an overall lack of control on the field by the officiating crew had fans shaking their heads.