The Wellston Rockets have yet to take off yet this season dropping all of their games in the first half of the season. With star running back Cornelius English and the Meigs Marauders (3-2) coming to town, the task does not get any easier in the Tri-Valley Conference Ohio opener.
Paul Boggs checks in with a preview of the game.
WELLSTON — While receiving an education is always a good thing, the Wellston High School football team will be trying to avoid an “English” lesson.
As in star running back Cornelius English of the Meigs Marauders.
For English and the Marauders make their way to Wellston on Friday night for the Tri-Valley Conference Ohio Division opener.
Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. at C.H. Jones Field in Wellston.
For the homestanding Golden Rockets, Friday’s TVC-Ohio opener means both good news — and bad.
The good news is the TVC-Ohio schedule represents a new season, and a chance for the Rockets to challenge for a division championship. After all, they are winless through their first five games, and off to their worst start since an 0-10 season in 1995.
“We have a second season coming up and we have just as good an opportunity (to win the TVC-Ohio) as anybody,” said Wellston coach Jason Mantell. “We believe we can compete for the league. That’s why they play the games.”
The bad news for Wellston, besides being winless, is that its defense has failed to stop much of anything. Add to that, English might be the best running back the Rockets have faced to date, or will face for the entire season.
“I would say that we probably have, statistically, the worst defense in the entire southern part of Ohio,” said Mantell. “If not the worst, it’s close to the bottom. So on paper, it looks very favorable to Meigs.”
In suffering five blowout losses, the underclassmen-led Rockets have been outscored 270-53, as every Wellston opponent has scored at least 49 offensive points.
Last week, the Rockets played Rock Hill to a scoreless first period, but the Redmen racked up 28 points in the second en route to the 49-7 rout.
“The second quarter of the Rock Hill game killed us. That was the difference in the ballgame. It really was,” said Mantell. “It was a good ballgame for about a quarter-and-a-half. Then we just imploded.”
In addition to too many points, yards and big plays being allowed, the Rockets are turning the ball over too much and at the wrong times in the wrong places.
Case in point last week at Rock Hill. Mantell said the Rockets turned the ball over twice inside the Redmen 30-yard-line and once inside the Wellston 25.
Rock Hill turned those turnovers into 21 points.
“There’s no good time to turn the ball over, but we seem to turn it over when we’re either pinned inside our own 25 or we’re driving to score,” said Mantell. “We’re definitely not helping ourselves.”
The second quarter has been especially unkind to the Blue and Gold, who also gave up 28 points to West Jefferson (55-8 loss) and 22 to Akron Manchester (49-12 loss).
In both bouts, the Rockets only trailed 14-8 (West Jefferson) and 13-6 (Akron Manchester) after the first period.
Mantell said it’s all about playing four quarters of football.
“We don’t handle adversity well,” he said. “There’s no dissension amongst the players or coaches or anything like that, but we’re running into situations where it’s like ‘Here we go again.’ We get down 14 or 21 points, and all of the sudden, we’re forgetting every assignment and getting confused. The kids come out and we execute the gameplan we set forth for a quarter. There’s no simple answer or simple ways to fix it.”
Of the 270 points allowed, 257 of those are offensive points, as the Rocket run defense has surrendered at least 290 rushing yards in every game.
All this before facing English, who has amassed 871 yards and 15 touchdowns on 89 carries. He had 644 yards and 11 touchdowns on 45 totes in the first three tilts — all Marauder victories.
“As an individual, we won’t see speed like this for the rest of the season. He’s (English) without a doubt the fastest kid that we’re going to see for the rest of the year,” admitted Mantell of English’s ability. “He is possibly the best individual player we’re going to face in the league.”
On the average, English is carrying 18 times for 174 yards and three scores. That’s almost 10 yards per carry, as he scored six touchdowns against Oak Hill in the season opener.
“He’s (English) going to get yards, there’s no debating that,” added Mantell. “He’s going to have a couple of nice runs, it’s going to happen. What we have to do is limit. We can’t give up 80-yard plays. Most of his 15 touchdowns I’d say have come outside of 20 yards. That’s a killer. We can’t let him break off huge runs. We need to make him earn it. If we’re going to hold him to around 100 yards, we don’t need him getting 100 yards on seven carries. He needs to get 100 yards on 20 or 25 carries.”
But, there is another story to Meigs’ offense. That being three-year starting quarterback Aaron Story, who has completed 28-of-58 passes for 676 yards and five touchdowns.
In a 48-43 shootout loss at Fairland last week, Story threw for 355 yards on 15-of-26. Sophomore Jacob Well is the leading receiver, having caught 17 passes for 418 yards and three scores.
“Meigs’ offense is pretty good. And with the way their offense has played and our defense has played, I don’t know that stopping Meigs is an option. But slowing them down is definitely something we’re capable of doing,” said Mantell. “It’s about containing, not stopping. We accept the fact that we’re facing a very good opponent in Meigs and a very good individual player in English. But we have a gameplan to contain him that we hope will work.”
While the numbers do not favor the Rockets, Meigs can be — and has been — defeated.
The Marauders — after season-opening wins over Oak Hill, Athens and River Valley — have lost two straight.
The week before Fairland, Point Pleasant held English to under 100 yards (21 carries for 77 yards) in a 16-14 Big Blacks’ victory. Point Pleasant won on a last-second field goal, and the Marauders haven’t been the same since.
In recent years, their second-half swoon started with Wellston, who last lost to Meigs in 1998.
Last season, Wellston won at Meigs 16-12, as running back Matt Lockard scored all 16 of the Golden Rockets’ points.
This season, Lockard has scored 39 of the Rockets’ 53 points, with six of those coming on an interception return. He has rushed for 356 yards and five touchdowns on 81 attempts.
“We can move Matt around, whether it’s in the I (formation), in the slot, at fullback, at quarterback,” said Mantell. “If we move him around, we make them think. We want to get the ball in his hands, anywhere from 20-to-30 times a game.”
Mantell would like to establish the run with Lockard, yet try to keep the contest low-scoring against the Marauders’ potent offense.
“We don’t want to get in a 40-point shootout,” said the coach. “We have yet to put any more than 20 points on the board in one week, so to say we’re going to try and outscore them, that would be crazy.”
But, the Rockets must first protect the pigskin. They then have to post points instead of marching down the field for not. After opening with a 75-yard drive at Rock Hill, Lockard missed a 35-yard field goal.
“We have to hold on to the ball. And when we sustain drives, we have to come out with points. We can’t come away with nothing,” said Mantell. “If we run the ball like we did in the first and third quarters against Rock Hill, then we will be fine.”
League at last
For the Rockets, one would think TVC-Ohio play couldn’t have arrived soon enough.
Wellston’s non-league opponents, including undefeateds Minford and West Jefferson, are a combined 20-5. Akron Manchester and Rock Hill are both 4-1.
Amid the brutal non-league schedule, Mantell said his young team has shown positive flashes throughout the season, but also inconsistency.
“We see spurts, it’s just inconsistent,” said Mantell. “The only thing consistent about us right now is inconsistency. If it wasn’t for any consistency, we wouldn’t be consistent at all. That happens with inexperience.”
It’s been a while
Both Meigs and Wellston are aiming to end a TVC-Ohio title drought — and end the stranglehold on the division by Nelsonville-York.
Nelsonville-York is the four-time defending division champion, while Meigs has consistently finished as the fourth-place team for the past five years.
It did tie with Wellston and Vinton County two years ago, while Wellston was second in 1999, 2000, 2003 and 2006 and third in 2004.
Wellston won back-to-back titles in 2001 and 2002, while Meigs’ last league crown came in 1998.