Riders Rule Dog Pound

St. Marys Tanner Howell runs back a fumble during the third quarter of a Western Buckeye League football game against Celina on Friday.
Sports Editor

Turnovers create opportunities and that was not more evident than on Friday.

An emphasis throughout the years and a theme during St. Marys’ five-game win streak, turnovers played a major role in the Roughriders earning their sixth straight win and in control of their playoff destiny.

Two fumble recoveries by St. Marys accounted for 14 unanswered points during two critical parts of Friday’s Western Buckeye League showdown with Celina and lent a helping hand to the Roughriders’ 35-6 win against their archrivals.

Once beginning the season 1-2 and only forcing one turnover through those first three games, taking the ball away has not only been a priority for the Roughriders, but it has served as a difference maker and an asset for a program who will be eventually making its fourth straight postseason appearance thanks to its +9 turnover ratio.

“A year ago, what was our MO was our plus-minus turnover ratio and special teams and we weren’t doing that early in the year,” Roughriders coach Doug Frye said. “Now, we are starting to get back to the way we used to play.”

Celina trailed by just one score 14-6 when it got the ball back followed a St. Marys touchdown. Already racking up 85 yards of total offense and fresh off a score on their previous drive, the Bulldogs gave the Roughriders a gift when an exchange between Cooper Jones and Jaxson Silliman resulted in a fumble that Hunter Fultz pounced on to give St. Marys the ball at the Celina 23 yard line. One play later, St. Marys capitalized when Ty Howell took a toss to the left edge to the endzone to extend the lead to 21-6.

Even after that score, Celina had chances to come back in the contest with a 55-yard drive that concluded on an incomplete pass in the endzone to end the first half as time expired and a turnover on downs on the Roughriders’ 16 yard line on their opening drive of the second half. 

Churning 182 yards of offense as they began their third drive of the third quarter following back-to-back punts by each team to open the second half, Celina began its third drive of the third quarter with Jones flushed to his left as the WBL leader in rushing moved up in the pocket before Lukas Walter punched the ball out of Jones’ hands as the ball bounced into the awaiting arms of Tanner Howell, who took the ball back 42 yards for a scoop and score.

All of a sudden, a one-score game turned into a two-score deficit and a two-score deficit quickly turned into a rout for the Blue and Gold. 

“We didn’t see that early in the year and our kids are playing with a lot my spunk and a lot more hustle now than they did earlier in the year,” Frye said. “I am very proud of our effort tonight.”

Aside from the turnovers, the Roughriders defense also stymied the league’s top rusher.

Jones entered Friday with a WBL-best 846 rushing yards, 120.9 yards per game and a second-most 11 touchdowns out of the team’s 18 scores on the ground.

Jones did not put up those kind of numbers on Friday. 

The junior mustered just 81 yards on 17 carries, a 4.8 yards per carry, and was the team’s lone scorer on Celina’s second offensive drive of the game. 

Other than that, Jones was chased, tackled, hit and uncomfortable as he accounted for all three of the Bulldogs’ turnovers.

“There were moments where he took advantage of us and did a nice job, but I thought overall we kept him away from making big plays,” Frye added. “I thought Celina’s kids played with very good efforts tonight and they were well-coached so I give them credit. “It was a tough rivalry game and it is a tough place to play, but I was proud of our kids with the way they reacted.”

The Bulldogs amassed 215 total yards of offense before their second fumble, but aside from their 67-yard drive to open the third quarter that ended in a turnover on downs, Celina mustered just 26 yards of offense in the final five drives and did not amount more than eight yards in a drive.

“I thought there were too many missed tackles in the first half, but we really shored up our tackling,” Frye added. 

For the full story, see Saturday's print edition of The Evening Leader.