Weekly Preview: Developed Fullback Position Powering St. Marys

St. Marys’ Ethan Wedding (6) rushes up the middle during a Western Buckeye League football game against Bath last week. Wedding has been a player who has seen increased time as a fullback as the season has progressed.
Sports Editor

A win and St. Marys is in the playoffs.

The Roughriders enter week 9 without a playoff status on Joe Eitel’s computer rankings website, but a win against a Division III school would at worst keep the Roughriders in fifth place in the Division III, Region 12 rankings. And a win against their archival, no less, would promptly eliminate Celina from postseason contention — the Bulldogs are not mathematically eliminated entering Friday — and unofficially put the Roughriders in the playoffs for the fourth straight season. 

A win against Celina would give St. Marys 15.1811 average, which would keep them at fifth place based on the fact that Trotwood-Madison, who is ranked fourth in the rankings, has an average of 15.2083. But the Riders’ average if they win does not include what teams that the Roughriders beat this season would do on Friday. For example, if Sidney, Van Wert, Shawnee, Kenton, Elida and Bath win — Shawnee and Elida and Bath and Van Wert do play each other this week — the Roughriders’ average would be higher than 15.1811. With a win against Celina, St. Marys' average would not be lower than 15.1811.

“I think you talk a little bit about it throughout the season, but you really don’t get too deep on that anytime during the season,” Roughriders coach Doug Frye said when asked when he begins talking to his players about the playoffs. “You set your goals before the season and the playoffs are one of those goals and then you re-evaluate as you go along.

“Most years, we are fighting to get there, so you don’t really elaborate on it until our regular season ends.”

The Roughriders bring their five-game win streak and a much more developed running game to Celina. The Roughriders have rushed for at least 249 yards and scored three rushing touchdowns in four games during their five-game winning streak. Only Bath allowed fewer yards during that span at 156 yards and two TDs.

“I think our guys realize that and each team matches up differently,” Frye said. “Bath’s physicalness matched up well with us. Our kids understand that we have had some injuries and players have been in and out of the lineup so we understand that we have to do a lot of little things well to be successful.”

The development at fullback, however has made the difference in the backfield during St. Marys’ postseason push.

Against Shawnee, Frye introduced freshman running back Aiden Hinkle to the Indians and Hinkle had 171 rushing yards on 39 carries and three scores in the Riders’ Sept. 27 win. In the Riders’ Oct. 4 win against Kenton, the coaching staff moved Ethan Wedding into the fullback position. The junior first-year full-time varsity was moved from halfback to fullback in the fourth quarter of that game and accounted for 28 of the Roughriders’ 42 yards on a crucial offensive drive that Wedding scored on for what ended up being the game-winning score. Against Elida, Wedding had his best offensive game with 102 yards, two rushing touchdowns and an average of 14.6 yards per carry and in last week’s win against Bath, Frye had his runners pound the ball inside ball in the second half. St. Marys pounded the ball inside nine times out of a 12-play drive to gain 35 of the team’s 63 yards in the opening third-quarter drive. It was a slight adjustment made in the third quarter to get the running game going after Bath had kept it in check much of the first half.

“We have used a number of running backs and we really think that we have seven or eight kids back there who can play football for us in a lot of different ways,” Frye added. “When you are using are using four different fullbacks, it is difficult for the defense to defend that because they all have a different style about them and that is the area I think we have built the most depth on our team and a lot of those guys are back there.”

Frye added that the development of quarterback Kurt Bubp has been an asset to the team as well as the maturation of the team’s offensive line. Bubp has improved with the various fakes and handoffs and the offensive line has improved as certain players have settled into their positions. 

“The o-line has shown a lot of growth,” Frye said. “Our o-line coach is Kevin Jacobs and Bo Frye have done an excellent job with those kids up front.”

Frye pointed to the growth and development of sophomore Stash Patterson — a player the coaches would have rather wait to start just because of his youth — but coaches have been happy with his progression. Frye also praised tackle Bryan Ward’s play in the last four or five weeks.

“He has been our top-graded o-linemen since the O-G game,” he said. “He was a young man who we challenged to continue to get better and he is who we call our Friday night lights guy and he has really stepped his play up.”

Heading into Celina, Frye believed that his team was going to get Celina’s best efforts and it would pull out all of the stops in Friday’s game, but regardless, the team has been marred by inconsistence all season long.

“You look at them one week where they take Ottawa-Glandorf to the wire and the next week maybe not so good,” Frye added.

But Frye added that he thought the Bulldogs were a scary team with a two-headed threat in the backfield with Cooper Jones and Jaxson Silliman — both are the top 10 runners in the league.

“They are exceptional athletes, they are big and at times they play like a championship-caliber football team so we are going to have our hands full,” he said.

Jones leads the league in rushing with 856 yards on 142 carries and 11 touchdowns — the second-most in the league behind Wapakoneta’s Evan Kaeck. Silliman is third with 739 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. Both of those players for the Bulldogs lead an offense that enters Friday as the third-best rushing offense in the league — behind St. Marys and Wapakoneta. Celina is middle of the road in total offense (131.9 yards per game) and scoring offense (22.5 ppg).

Where the issues come in for Celina is on defense.

The Bulldogs are in the bottom third of all defensive categories, including eighth against the rush with 18 rushing touchdowns allowed. And although the Bulldogs are at home against their archival, the Roughriders have more to play off at this point of the season — a playoff berth. Frye added that despite younger players in the lineup, he is not concerned with the atmosphere being too big on Friday.

“Our kids through the years have played over there so it is not like it is a far away or a foreign environment to them,” he said.

All season long, Frye has been stating that the league is the best he has seen since he has coached in the WBL and with the season winding down, it would seem that his proclamation is accurate. League leader Ottawa-Glandorf — who has a huge game between Kenton this week — controls its own destiny in Division IV, Region 14, as well as Kenton in Division IV, Region 16 and Wapakoneta in Division III, Region 12.

“Our only concern right now is getting the Roughriders better and bringing our best game over to Celina on Friday night,” he concluded. “There have been so many changes and the kids understand that we have to get better at the little things that there’s not really been a day where we can look ahead of the next day. We are just continuing to try to work on this particular day.”