SHELBY — A season of dreams for the Shelby Whippets veered off the rails during a nightmarish first half Saturday night at W.W. Skiles Field.
Van Wert quarterback Owen Treece completed 14 of 15 passes for 228 yards and five touchdowns — all in the first half — as the Cougars rolled to a 49-7 win in the Division IV, Region 14 championship game.
Van Wert (9-1) will play Cincinnati Wyoming in the state semifinals at 7 p.m. Nov. 14 at a site to be determined. Wyoming beat Clarksville Clinton-Massie 28-9 in the Region 16 final Saturday.
“It was like an avalanche,” Shelby coach Rob Mahaney said.
Shelby went three-and-out on its opening possession before Treece went to work. He tossed 8 yard touchdown pass to Dru Johnson after scrambling to buy time.
The Whippets (9-1) were forced to punt on their next possession, but Marshall Shepherd’s attempt was blocked and the Cougars took over at the Shelby 27 yard line. Treece capped the abbreviated drive when he found Connor Pratt from 11 yards out to make it 14-0 with 3:45 to play in the first.
Shelby punted on its next possession and Treece, who doubles as Van Wert’s punt returner, returned it to the Shelby 13 yard line. Two plays later, Nate Jackson scored on a 16 yard run to make it 21-0.
On Shelby very next offensive play, Johnson intercepted a pass and returned it 28 yards for a touchdown to make it 28-0 with 1:48 remaining on the first quarter.
Shelby finally got something going on its next possession, driving deep into Van Wert territory. But tragedy struck when running back Owen Fisher, the program’s career rushing king, was hit hard at the Van Wert 2 yard line and suffered a serious knee injury. Fisher wouldn’t return.
“I thought we did a great job of driving the field and we had a chance to get a score and stop the bleeding a little bit,” Mahaney said. “Then you get to the goal line and you lose Owen Fisher. At that point, I don’t want to say it was over but it was going to be a tough hill to climb.”
Shelby fumbled on the first play after Fisher’s departure and Treece recovered at the Van Wert 4 yard line. On the first play of Van Wert’s ensuing drive, Treece found Johnson behind the Shelby secondary and the speedy senior raced 96 yards for the score and a 35-0 lead.
Treece would throw an 11 yard touchdown pass to Jackson and a 16 yarder to Maddix Crutchfield to make it 49-0 with 1:09 remaining in the first half. The senior intercepted a pass at his own 28 with 42 seconds remaining in the second quarter to preserve the first-half shutout.
“He’s a really good football player, the best one I thought that we have seen,” Mahaney said. “You’ve got your starting quarterback that has 46 total touchdowns and he’s your punt returned. That speaks to the type of athlete that he is and the fact that they want him to have the ball all the time.”
Shelby avoided the shutout when Shepherd tossed an 8 yard touchdown pass to Blaine Bowman late in the third quarter. If would be the only score of the second half.
Shelby managed just 150 yards of total offense. Fisher ran for 41 yards before his injury, while Shepherd completed 8 of 23 passes for 66 yards.
“I told our kids that tonight was our worst game of the season, but it doesn’t take away from what we did all year,” Mahaney said. “We set goals to win back-to-back conference championships. We did that. We’ve been to the regional final four times (in program history) and we were able to add a trophy to the trophy case. It’s only the fourth one. It’s something we can be proud of.”