Big Walnut defense is difference in D-III semifinal win over Monroe

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Big Walnut 21, Monroe 7
Sunbury Big Walnut came from behind to beat Lemon-Monroe in the
Division III state semifinals Friday at Lima Stadium, 21-7. With the
win the Eagles advance to their first state final and will face Central
Ohio brethren Newark Licking Valley at 3 p.m. Friday at Canton’s
Fawcett Stadium. Big Walnut was backed up against its own goal line all night. But the Eagles defense didn’t break – and barely bent.


LIMA – Sunbury Big Walnut came from behind to beat Lemon-Monroe in the Division III state semifinals Friday at Lima Stadium, 21-7. With the win the Eagles advance to their first state final and will face Central Ohio brethren Newark Licking Valley at 3 p.m. Friday at Canton’s Fawcett Stadium.

Big Walnut was backed up against its own goal line all night. But the Eagles defense didn’t break – and barely bent.

Five of seven Monroe possessions found the potent Hornets navigating in BW territory. A three-year starter, Monroe quarterback Tyler Osterman had thrown only four interceptions in nearly 300 attempts this year. On this night he would throw three more and all of them were in the red zone.

Things would turn out badly for the Hornets. But even so, the game came down to just one play.

BW took the opening kickoff but went three-and-out. The Hornets took possession and six minutes and 12 seconds later Jared Ferguson scored from 11 yards out.

Ethan Wetzel returned the ensuing kickoff 49 yards to the Monroe 33-yard line. Moments later, he scored from the 12-yard line on a quarterback keeper to tie the game.

Wetzel ran for 114 yards (15 carries) and passed for 27 more (3-for10). Cory Wolfe (13 carries) and Trevor Tutorow (7 carries) each contributed 64 yards rushing.

Ferguson took the BW kickoff and returned it 75 yards, but the threat would end when Osterman was picked off by Wetzel.

Monroe forced BW to punt but on fourth-and-three from the Golden Eagle 29, but on the ensuing possession Osterman was picked again, this time by senior free safety Joe Reed. Reed also added a second quarter fumble recovery (of a Big Walnut run) in the end zone to give the Eagles the lead for good.

The game remained 14-7 and the teams traded punts until the fourth quarter.

In the closing stanza, Monroe took possession at its own 45 and drove down field. But twelve plays later Osterman was picked off in the red zone yet again – this time by Derek Jones who returned the pick 92 yards for the backbreaker.

Turn in your uniforms.

“On our first drive we were improvising,” Osterman said after the game. “We made stuff happen out of broken plays because their defense was very, very fast. They were definitely the fastest defense that we’ve faced all year.

“They had athletes that could break on the ball and get to the ball carrier quickly. It’s hard to stop a team when they have players like that. I got hit as I threw it (the interception). I kinda threw the ball off, and…”

Jones picked up the narrative:

“We were playing a deep third (cover 3) with three of us across the field,” he said about his role in the decisive play. “My guy ran to the sidelines, but I saw another guy wide open. So, I just leaned back and grabbed it and then I took it to the house.

“(On the return) everyone was coming my way. At the thirty, I saw a huge window (courtesy of devastating blocks downfield by Tony Zarcone and Chris Franklin), so I just cut it back. It was so awesome, I knew that I was gone.”

“They’re just a good team,” Monroe head coach Jason Krause said. “Their kids are fast and strong and they played well. Their schemes were good and they were beating us man-to-man at times. Even the second level runs that Ferguson usually takes, further (he couldn’t). They are good tacklers. One time, (Junior LB, William) Studlien tackled Fergie with one arm. We haven’t seen anyone do anything like that all year. He was player of the year in his district for good reason.

“In the playoffs, turnovers are more often than not the difference maker. We forced a lot of them in the first three games, but so did they. We had three interceptions in the red zone. That was obviously the difference. We didn’t get points on the board when we were down there when we normally are (efficient finishers).”

The Big Walnut braintrust had a similar perspective.

“I thought our defense played a great game,” said head coach Scott Wetzel. “We had a couple of nice drives in the first half and we shut down number 12 (Ferguson). That was a big key for us. We knew that we had to take him out of the game and consume the clock offensively to win. In the first half, I thought we did a pretty decent job.”

Ferguson rushed for 66 yards (19 carries) in his final game for Monroe. He caught four passes for 31 more yards. He also returned 2 kickoffs for 93 yards and 2 punts for 8 more. For most people 198 yards of total offense would have been a great day at the office.

“The strength of our defense is the secondary,” Coach Wetzel said. “We felt that we could give up the short ball because we could defend the long pass, but our biggest concern was defending number 12. He’s a heck of a kid. We haven’t seen a fullback/linebacker like that in a long time. We play in the OCC. We play D-I and D-II schools. He could play for anybody.”

“I told our guys that if we could get three scores we would have a good shot at winning the game. We’ve hung our hat on defense all year long, but we knew our defense wasn’t going to hold Monroe to two scores or less (even though they did). Tonight, we got some turnovers and I thought that was important.

“The kickoff after they scored was another key. The return gave us good field position when, frankly, we weren’t confident that we could move the ball. To be able to punch the ball in right there and immediately tie the game up took their momentum away.”

The word around the SWBL is that to beat Monroe you have to push them around. BW did that enough.

“I though going in that we were more of a physical team and that they were more of a finesse team,” Coach Wetzel continued. “I thought that if we could shake their foundation that would be a factor in the game. I think we wore them down.”

“I like number 18 (Osterman) running the ball. In the second half when he ran that little mid-line keep for eight or nine yards, I was thinking, ‘Oh, crap!’ In the film we had, anytime anybody shut them down they would go to the quarterback running the ball.

“At Waynesville, they were losing 3-0. Then they came out in the second half and ran their quarterback and Waynesville couldn’t tackle him. So, we were going, ‘Oh, crap man!’ We were afraid that they might have run him more.”

Osterman ran for only 29 yards on 11 carries and passed for 77 (9-for-23).

A Muskingum graduate, Wetzel was head coach at Buckeye Valley (five years), an assistant at Dublin (one year), and has been at Big Walnut (Sunbury) for the last ten years. He is looking forward to next week’s showdown.

“I know (Licking Valley head coach) Randy Baughman really well,” Wetzel laughed. “We’re both from the central district. He’s a great coach and he has been there for a long time. They play physical football and they used to be in our league. I think it is a great treat to have two teams from our area in the D-III final.”

A grinning Jones agreed.

“We have a lot of work to do, but we have a lot left for next week,” Jones said. “We’ll be up for the game. You can count on it.”

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