That will be one key for St. John’s as the Blue Jays prepare to head to Leipsic to take on the Vikings 7:30 p.m. Friday in a Division VI, Region 22 quarterfinal.
“We have eight turnovers in the last two games, five last week. We have to hang onto the football; it’s that simple,” Blue Jay coach Todd Schulte explained.
As well as deal with an explosive Viking (8-2, 7-2 Blanchard Valley Conference) offense centered around junior quarterback Zac Kuhlman.
“This is a pass-heavy offense revolving around Kuhlman; he has something like 2,200 passing yards and 29 touchdowns, so this is an explosive offense,” Schulte continued. “The go-to guy is Devin Mangas outside and the Chamberlain kid is a good running back that is speedy out of the backfield. They will mix in the run some to try and keep you off-balance but this is a passing offense. Last year, they were big up front and pretty athletic in the skill players; this year, they aren’t quite as big but still very athletic.”
The Blue Jays (6-4, 5-3 Midwest Athletic Conference) will need a strong defensive effort (13.9 points, 246.9 yards per outing - 107.2 passing) led by Brent Schwinnen (52 solos, 35 assists), Cody Looser (50 and 34), Kody White (41 and 29, 6 for loss; 6 sacks), Ben Youngpeter (35 and 24), Troy Warnecke (30 and 26; 32 punts, 33.6-yard average), Evan Hays (36 and 18), Andrew Metzger (37 and 15; 3 picks) and Brock Bonifas (29 and 22, 6 for loss; 8 QB harrassments).
“Defensively, we see them in a 4-man front. They have given up about nine points a game, so this is a strong unit,” Schulte continued. “They have yet to be scored on in the first quarter. The strength of the unit is its linebackers, especially Brown - he is the BVC Defensive Player of the Year. We don’t see them with a lot of blitzing but they mix it up; what they mainly want to do is let those linebackers flow to the ball, so the line’s job is to protect them.”
The St. John’s offense (21.5 points, 297 yards per - 226.9 rushing), which may or may not have star tailback Tyler Jettinghoff (187 rushes, 1,446 yards, 16 scores; 16 grabs, 165 yards, 1) due to injury, will still need to rely on fullback Luke MacLennan (59 rushes, 384 yards, 4), Mark Boggs (49-of-115 passing, 691 yards, 4 scores, 11 picks), Jake Hays (7 grabs, 135 yards, 1), Jared Knebel (7 for 132), Metzger (7 for 104, 1) and linemen such as Seth Bockey (8 pancake blocks) and Luke Wrasman (4). If Jettinghoff can’t go, Warnecke will likely see more carries.
“The offense has to take care of the ball; it’s as simple as that,” Schulte said. “Defensively, we cannot let Kuhlman sit back there in the pocket and find his receivers; he’s too good of a passer to allow that. I’m not saying we have to sack him seven times — which would be great — but we have to make him uncomfortable and get him out of his rhythm.”
The Jays were in line to host a playoff game until falling 21-14 in overtime at Minster — due to those five miscues.
“You watch it on film and consider that and then we still took it to overtime. We also missed 16 tackles, four on one play (a 76-yard touchdown run),” Schulte added. “Still, we were that close to winning the game. That’s been the story of the season for us in tight games; close but can’t finish the deal. We challenge the kids this week to get us over that hump and finish.”