Riders Hope For Long Playoff Run

By: 
JAKE DOWLING
Sports Editor

Could this year’s regular season finale galvanize St. Marys to a deep postseason run like it did in 2016? 

Saturday will serve as a first step in answering that question.

Fans can remember the Roughriders’ 2016 run that saw St. Marys finish as regional runners-up as a Division III team and a run that also included an impressive upset of top-seeded Franklin. That season, the Riders’ lost their regular season finale to Ottawa-Glandorf to end in a three-way tie for the Western Buckeye League title.

In 2018, the Roughriders come in as the No. 2 seeded team in Division IV, Region 14 after suffering a regular season finale loss to Wapakoneta last week to finish WBL co-champs with the Redskins. Following the loss, Roughriders coach Doug Frye said he hopes the loss puts focus back in his team as the postseason arrives.

Now, the playoffs are here, so how far will this Roughriders’ team go?

“Prepared us; we will find out,” Frye said when asked how much the league schedule has prepared his team heading into the playoffs. “We won’t know how the league has prepared us, but I do think this year’s schedule is more difficult with three, almost four, WBL teams in the playoffs. With us being a smaller division, we are playing against higher-division teams now. The league was 7-3 against non-league teams and we played a lot of experienced teams.”

The Roughriders’ hopeful journey for a long playoff run begins Saturday against a team the program has never faced before in Pepper Pike Orange High School.

The Lions (7-3) play in the Chagrin Valley Conference and are coached under Adam Bechlem, who is in his 10th year at Orange High School. This will be Bechlem’s 16th year coaching high school football. 

The Lions are making their second straight postseason appearance and has enjoyed four consecutive winning seasons under Bechlem.

Orange enjoyed its best start to a season since 1999 when the Lions began the year 5-0, but have lost three of their last five games since as they head into the postseason.

“The thing that jumps out at you when you look at Orange is their athleticism,” Frye said. “They are very fast and recently, they’ve been having a lot of success. They are another gun-spread football team, very similar to Elida and maybe a little like Van Wert.”

Frye said Orange will spread opposing defenses out with one back — a similar look that Elida gives — and an inline tight end for a 3-1-1 look — three receivers, one back, one tight end.

The Lions offense is led by quarterback Sean Borgman. The senior has 71-of-125 passing (56.8 completion percentage), 1,525 yards, 15 touchdowns and three interceptions.

“He would be a very similar size and stature to the Sidney quarterback (Ryan Dunham) that we saw, but a more experienced quarterback,” Frye said of Borgman.

Diante White is the Lions’ leading rusher with 790 yards on 70 carries (11.3 yards per carry average) and 10 touchdowns. Borgman owns the team-lead in rushing touchdowns with 15 to go along with his 600 yards on 141 carries. Another back, Luca Garofoli,  has 368 rushing yards on 69 carries and three touchdowns.

Borgman has three main targets he likes to go to in White (15 receptions, 262 yards, 17.5 yard average and four touchdowns), Armon Frey (22 receptions, 450 yards, 20.5 yard average and three touchdowns) and Marvin Davies (18 catches, team-high 481 yards, 26.7 yard average and four touchdowns) as part of Orange’s spread offense.

Frye also said that Orange’s skill players, such as White, have a lot of speed with Orange being a successful track program.

“They will be balanced with the run and pass,” the coach said. “But they will tilt toward the pass a little more.”

That balance may give St. Marys some issues as the Riders have struggled against the run game, statistically,  in two of the final three games to close out the regular season.

Against Celina and Wapakoneta, the Roughriders allowed a combined 408 rushing yards while St. Marys has surrendered 902 yards on the ground on the season. That number is nearly double the average rushing yards allowed per game on the season at 112.8, but Frye does not seemed concerned, pointing out that both Celina and Wapakoneta — solid running teams in the league — will still get their offensive numbers, regardless.

Entering Saturday’s Division IV regional quarterfinal, Orange is averaging 190.4 yards per game on the ground.

“I think we have faced some really good running teams that we have had a few issues with, but they are also very good teams,” he said. “Wapakoneta had a complete senior offensive line with a big fullback and a running back. So from a standpoint of who we were facing, they are as good as any D-III team at running the football.

“And both teams ran a lot inside the tackle and that is something down the road that we won’t see as much. Yeah we struggled at times with the run, but there were other factors in the game too.”

A key to watch out for will be Borgman. If the Roughriders’ had any Achilles heel, it would be against athletic quarterbacks who can run with the football, especially on draw plays. 

Against Wapakoneta, quarterback Brady Erb racked up 160 rushing yards and averaged 7.6 yards per carry, followed by Shawnee’s Johnny Caprella with 117 yards and a near upset of the Roughriders in week four.

However, Frye has been pleased with the way his defense has evolved and adapted to change against opposing offenses all season. To a lesser extent, Frye pointed out that Orange — whose home field is turf — has played most of its game on turf, which helps increase speed for skill players. Being on a grass field at Skip Baughman Stadium might have to be an adjustment the Lions will have to make.

“Early on, we were seeing more spread teams, but lately, we have seen more running teams,” he said. “So as a defense, you have to continue to evolve back and fourth.

“I think we have handled evolving week to week pretty well. If you look at it, we played without (Ty) Schlosser early in the year so we played without our Mike backer until game five, obviously, we had to do a few things differently by moving (Sean) Perry out of the secondary and putting him there. That was something we had to adapt to early in the year. In the secondary, we had two new starters and on the d-line, we had three new starters. Both outside backers were new starters, even though Keegan Sawmiller saw time last year. It was not a veteran defense to begin with and we have had a lot of evolution to go through.”

And that is why the Roughriders have been ranked among the top of the WBL in all major defensive statistics — second in rush, scoring and total defense heading into Saturday. 

Now with Schlosser locked in as the middle linebacker and Perry back to safety, it has allowed the team’s first-year starters to be able to gel at their positions.

In his first season at outside linebacker/edge rusher, Eddie Fowler leads the team and the league in tackles with 133, while first-year starting corner Carter Ballweg is one interception shy of the school record of interceptions in a season (9) to go along with his two picks returned for a touchdown. He also leads the WBL with his eight interceptions. Even Keegan Sawmiller — moved from middle backer to the outside — has not struggled with his change in positions in tallying 102 tackles.

“You’re talking about Eddie, Carter, Jason Taylor, Braden Wietholter and Trey Fisher, those are all new faces in the defensive lineup,” Frye said. “The big reason for their success is the work these young men put in, the time these guys have put in in the weight room and the time our coaches have worked with these guys to get them to grow up, basically.”