Golden Rockets looking to rebound from Week 1 loss, snap 12-game losing streak
WELLSTON — The Wellston High School football team saw one streak continue last week that it would rather see come to an end.
It has another such streak on the line this week, one that hasn’t been better by the dozen.
However, all things — whether good or bad — must come to an end, so is this the week the Golden Rockets finally rebound and snap an on-the-field 12-game losing skid?
The task will indeed be difficult, as a good Minford Falcons team comes calling to C.H. Jones Field in Wellston for renewal of their non-league series.
Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. at C.H. Jones Field.
Unfortunately for the Golden Rockets, to put last week’s loss to archrival Jackson in perspective, it has to be at least 18.
As in their 18th straight loss to the Ironmen, which pulled away from a 14-7 third-quarter advantage to post a 41-14 rout of the Rockets.
As a result, the Golden Rockets — on the field — have lost 12 games in a row, dating back to the Division IV Region 15 playoff game two years ago.
Second-year Wellston head coach Jason Mantell is well-aware that his Rockets are indeed overdue for a victory.
“We lost as a team, and when you lose, the head coach takes the loss and I’ll take that on my shoulders. It’s my job to lead them and we have yet to win a game on the field under me. That’s going to have to change soon,” said Mantell. “We’re talented, but until we start winning some games and use that talent to our ability, teams are going to keep doubting Wellston. We’ll have another opportunity to show we can play on Friday.”
Although, the opponent will be just as difficult as the Ironmen.
In fact, the 61 points which Minford amassed last season was the most points allowed by the Rockets in any of the past 12 losses.
The Falcons scored 55 offensive points, and returned an interception for a score.
In 10 of those dozen setbacks, the opposition has scored at least 41 points while Wellston has scored no more than 20 twice in the 12.
But, Mantell believes that this year’s Rockets are much improved over last season.
“We’re definitely much improved from last year. I don’t know, maybe other people have other opinions, but I’m only concerned with the opinion of the coaching staff and the kids,” he said. “I know we’re better than what we showed, and we’re far and away better than what we were at this time last year.”
After falling behind 14-0 on Saturday, Wellston battled Jackson to a scoreless second period before Jeff Matteson’s 75-yard interception return in the third sliced the deficit in half.
“I was happy that we didn’t shut down and we could’ve. We had multiple opportunities to quit and I think that by being a year older and more mature, the kids stepped up and didn’t shut down,” said Mantell. “Even when we were down 14-0 at halftime, the kids were completely positive and really believed that we had the opportunity to come back and win the game. And we came right back, took advantage of a turnover and made it 14-7.”
However, the Ironmen struck right back with a 73-yard touchdown pass on their first play from scrimmage following the interception return.
From there, Wellston was outscored 21-7 in the final 15 minutes.
“I thought the kids played hard, but I think we let up a little bit at the end which led to the last two touchdowns. I would have felt a lot better if we had walked out down 28-14. We need to step up and definitely play with intensity for four quarters. I was pleased for three quarters and two minutes,” admitted Mantell. “I’m still disappointed because we didn’t play as well as we could have. We have very talented kids, but we still had missed reads and keys and missed opportunities.”
As for Minford, reading keys will be even more critical against the Falcons.
The Falcons, a Division V program, are coming off an 8-3 season in which they qualified for the Region 19 playoffs.
Minford head coach Brent Daniels was named the Southeast District Co-Coach of the Year in Division V.
Despite the loss of several seniors, including first-team all-district fullback Trent Reynolds, Minford maintains a “talented core of skilled kids” according to Mantell.
Among those are junior quarterback Aaron Oesch and running backs Aaron and Joel Williams.
Oesch is in his second year under center, as sophomore halfback Aaron Williams and senior fullback Joel Williams are transfers from Portsmouth Notre Dame.
“They are coming off a playoff season, they have a lot of speed and athletic ability,” said Mantell. “If we don’t read keys better, and it’s a key-oriented offense with the guards pulling, trapping and misdirection, then we’ll be in trouble.”
That key-oriented offense is the wing-T, which is predicated upon quick counters and misdirection.
In the opener, Minford routed River Valley 42-6, scoring all 42 unanswered while piling up over 300 rushing yards.
“They still run the wing-T, but it’s more two-back sets than last year. They ran a lot of double-wing or a wing-and-slot and fullback last year,” said Mantell. “They have four kids that carry the ball and they can all run and they’re all pretty fast. Their speed is similar to last year.”
Mantell added that his “defense can’t be on the field so much. The same kids play on offense.”
Against the Ironmen, Wellston ran just 40 plays compared to Jackson’s 66, including 58 on the ground.
The Falcons are a run-oriented offense just like Jackson.
However, the key for Wellston’s defense, Mantell explained, is “reading keys.”
“When we did it, we were successful. It’s not a matter of not knowing, it’s a matter of being overaggressive and flying to where they thought the ball was,” he said. “One false step against Jackson and they will beat you. We took too many false steps in our reads and they beat us to the punch. And Minford pulls guards more than Jackson does, and if we don’t read keys…If we take one false step or one unnecessary step the wrong way, there’s too much speed on the field. Minford is as fast, if not faster, than Jackson. I’m not saying Minford is better than Jackson, but they are a good opponent. Their skilled kids are fast. They have one of the fastest backfields in this area. They are not the biggest group of kids, but they are quick and they run hard. We know what is coming, and we know how to stop it, it’s just a matter of execution.”
On offense as well.
The Rockets, despite over 100 yards in kickoff returns by senior Matt Lockard, were held to just 34 yards on the ground on 24 attempts.
The leading Rocket rusher had just 13 yards, while Lockard was limited to only seven yards on eight carries.
“We have to score more than 14 points and move the ball better,” said Mantell.
That may be more difficult to do now for the remainder of the season, though.
Junior tackle Josh Jones, who is recovering from a ruptured appendix, is already out for the season, and Wellston lost two more two-way starters on Saturday night.
Senior center Benny Grey suffered a torn ACL and junior wideout and cornerback Ryan Wagener has a broken collarbone.
It is likely that Grey and Wagener will miss the remainder of the season.
Mantell said some changes will have to be made along the offensive line, including the likelihood that senior Kevin King — an all-Tri-Valley Conference Ohio Division center — will reclaim his old position from tackle.
Fellow senior Corey McLain is now expected to play both ways, as could Derrick Loudermilk.
“We’ll have to make some adjustments and move kids around. We’re not deep in the offensive line department,” said Mantell.
Despite some stacked odds, though, the Rockets will take aim at snapping their 12-game losing streak on Friday night.
Right place, right time?
In Heath Hinton’s three seasons as the Wellston head coach, he followed up three straight losses to Jackson with three straight wins over Minford.
Two of them came at C.H. Jones Field, including a 14-7 win four years ago and a 27-25 triumph just two years back.
In both instances, the Rockets eventually earned a Division IV, Region 15 playoff berth — their only two playoff appearances in school history.
And, C.H. Jones Field is once again the site of Friday night’s lights.