A feeling of excitement is flowing through the Wapakoneta schools’ football program right now, and that excited feeling is peaking as the varsity squad is set to begin the playoffs Friday with the Redskins’ first home playoff game ever.
Wapakoneta varsity coach Doug Frye said the excitement is evident in the fact that the line of people at the high school to purchase tickets for Friday’s game was 60 yards in length as he was leaving Tuesday’s practice.
“There’s a feeling of excitement, not just with the playoffs but for our entire program,” Frye said. “This year, from varsity on down, we lost three football games. We’re excited about the progress of our program, playing a second season and playing at home again.”
The Redskins (9-1) will return to their home venue, Harmon Field, after two straight road games to face the Springfield Shawnee Braves (9-1) in a Division III, Region 10 quarterfinal Friday.
Wapakoneta is the No. 3 seed in the region, while Shawnee is No. 6.
The Redskins have won eight straight games, while the Braves won nine in a row to start the season before losing their final game.
Within their schedules, the two teams played one common opponent in the regular season — Bellefontaine — which was beaten by Wapakoneta, 35-17, and Shawnee, 34-33.
Frye said Wapak will see a familiar offensive approach Friday from Shawnee.
“They’re very similar to Elida, Celina and Van Wert,” Frye said.
These teams operate the spread offense, while Shawnee utilizes zone reads, jet sweeps and options — something Wapak saw a heavy dose of from Van Wert in Week 9.
Frye assessed the Shawnee offense, one that has peaked with scoring outputs of 82, 73 and 61 in games this season.
“What jumps at you is their skill athletes,” Frye said. “They’re very, very athletic and quick kids.”
Shawnee is led by a left-handed sophomore quarterback, Saalih Muhammad (6-foot-2, 175 pounds), who has over 1,000 yards passing and rushing this season.
“Muhammad is very athletic,” Frye said. “He’s a good runner, and he throws a good ball.”
Along with Muhammad in the backfield, Braves senior Jalen Nelson (6’1, 155) is the team’s top rusher with over 1,400 yards on the year.
Frye described Shawnee’s defense as a downhill, attacking one.
It will require good tackling from the Redskins, the coach said.
“We have to tackle well,” Frye said. “They’ll make some yards, but what we have to do is make sure we don’t give them big plays. We’ve got to make sure a 2-yard gain doesn’t turn into a 20-yard gain and a 6-yard gain doesn’t turn into a 60-yard gain.”
Nelson is Shawnee’s leading tackler.
Frye also said another key for his team in Friday’s game will be special teams.
“I’m a great believer in the play of your special teams, so we’re working very hard on our special teams,” Frye said.
This season Wapak senior kicker Bailey Hinegardner has missed all but one PAT attempts, while the Redskins have had two kick returns for touchdowns, one by Keaton Metz, the other by Cameron Lauck, both on game’s opening kickoff.
The Redskins are seeking their fourth 10-win season and just their third playoff win in school history Friday.
The Braves have a bit more established playoff tradition, with 10 wins all time, including four along in the 2011 postseason when they were the state runner-up.