Waterford to play top-seeded Lucas Saturday night
WATERFORD — Waterford High featured a balanced attack in its opening round football playoff win against Berne Union, passing for 189 and rushing for 154 yards.
If the Wildcats, fourth-ranked in OHSAA Division VII, Region 27 with a 9-2 overall record, can have a similar offensive output versus top-seeded Lucas (9-2) in a regional semifinal at 7 p.m. this upcoming Saturday night at Coshocton High Stewart Field, they should be in pretty good shape.
“I thought our team played very hard and was focused from the start Saturday night, and we will have to do the same against Lucas,” said WHS head coach Eric McCutcheon. “We were very balanced on offense, and that’s what we will try to do against a very good Lucas defense.
“We need to take care of the ball, make good decisions, and play hard. If we do that we will be fine.”
A first half like the Cats had against the fifth-seeded Rockets (8-3) would also be beneficial.
“We dominated and came out on all cylinders in the first half,” said McCutcheon, whose Wildcats scored on their first four offensive possessions en route to a 34-14 triumph over BU.
“The kids were pumped and fired up. The seniors didn’t want this to be their last game, so they played extremely hard. The whole team played hard, too. It was a great game.”
Waterford’s go-to guys all season long have been senior running back Braden Bellville and senior quarterback Peyten Stephens.
On the season, the 6-foot, 2015-pound Bellville has rushed for 1,262 yards on 174 carries and 17 touchdowns. He also has had seven catches for 65 yards and two TDs.
Against Berne Union, Bellville, the school’s career rushing leader, gained 117 tough yards on 20 carries. Amazingly, he did not reach the end zone.
But the 6-3, 215-pound Stephens did twice on 14- and three-yard runs in the first half.
“They (Rockets) made it pretty clear early that they weren’t going to let Braden do most of the scoring on our team,” Stephens said. “So, we started airing it out, and we realized we were killing them.
“We just kept on going, going, and going. Eventually, when they covered the pass, I just took off and had a couple of rushing touchdowns. They didn’t have any answers.”
Stephens finished with 189 passing yards and three TD passes to three different receivers — George “Doc” Pantelidis (29 receptions, 449 yards, six TDs), Zane Heiss (22, 339, 5), and Nick Fouss (28, 350, 2). Tight end Rhys Thatcher (15, 109, 1) also had a couple of receptions.
“Peyten played phenomenal,” McCutcheon said.
And, he did so on both sides of the ball, at his defensive left end position, where he had a couple of QB sacks.
On the season, Stephens has completed 79 of 126 passes for 1,328 yards and 16 touchdowns. He’s also rushed for 210 yards on 63 carries and eight TD.
The Cats’ offensive line is expected to feature Brock Hayes, Haydon Reynolds, Colin Jackson, Ethan Hinton, Nate Hutchins, and Quentin Doak.
Waterford’s defensive unit could have its work cut out for itself versus run-first Lucas, which routed No. 8 Hannibal River, 42-0, in a quarterfinal game at Madison’s STARTEK Stadium last Saturday night.
Joe Pantelidis leads the Cats in tackles with a total of 93. Bellville has 70, and Stephens 64
The Scott Spitler-coached Cubs were led by senior RB Jeb Grover, who rushed for 209 yards and four TDs on just five first-half carries. He also had a pick-6.
This fall, Grover became just the 28th player in state history to eclipse 6,000 yards. On the season, he rushed for 2,218 yards on 244 carries (9.1 yards per carry) and 31 touchdowns. He also had seven receptions for a team-high189 yards.
Kaiden Thomas is another Cub RB who Waterford will not be able to ignore. On the season, he gained 648 yards on 77 carries and scored seven TDs. On defense, he leads the team in tackles with a total of 88. Grover has 73.
Lucas is expected to be quarterbacked by Logan Niswander, who has completed 35 of 81 passes for 630 yards and eight TDs. He’s had five interceptions.
Niswander’s primary receiving targets have been Carson Hauger, Tristen Arnold, Ethan Puckett, Thomas, and Grover.
“Lucas is a team that likes to run between the tackles and has a very nice running back (Grover),” McCutcheon said. “They also can throw the ball when they have to, so we will have to be prepared for that as well.”