By Mark Heiman
BOWLING GREEN — The opportunities were plenty.
Unfortunately for Findlay High, the Trojans could not exploit those early chances.
Then Toledo St. John’s broke out its running game in the second half.
And, the result was St. John’s defeating the Trojans for the sixth straight year with a 28-9 decision at Bowling Green State University’s venerable Doyt Perry Stadium in the teams’ season opener Thursday night.
“We had opportunities. The defense gave us great field position and we didn’t take advantage of it,” Findlay coach Mark Ritzler said.
“We looked at the scoreboard with about four minutes left in the half and it was 9-0. Now we look at the scoreboard and it’s 28-9.”
Findlay jumped out to the 9-0 lead when Michael Alexander, who had 19 rushes for 80 yards, bounced off the left side of the line and went eight yards for a score with seven minutes left in the first quarter.
The touchdown was set up by Zach Crawford’s interception and 39-yard return.
Findlay extended the lead to 9-0 with 7:29 left in the first half when Eric Schaible booted a 29-yard field goal.
But Findlay was also inside the St. John’s 40 three other times in the first two quarters and didn’t come away with any points.
Early in the game, Findlay elected to punt on a fourth-and-5 from the 37. The second trip into St. John’s territory, Schaible missed a 42-yard field goal to the left. On the final excursion, Matt Spragg was incomplete on a fourth down pass with 27 seconds left in the half from the Titans’ 38.
Two of Findlay’s opportunities were set up by interceptions. Crawford had his second pick of the game early in the second quarter and Matt McDaniel grabbed another on St. John’s next possession.
“It was a lot of self-inflicted wounds (when we did not score) that a lot of young, inexperienced teams are going to make,” Ritzler said. “But that is not an excuse, because we did not come here to keep it close or to take baby steps.
“We came here to win.”
St. John’s scoring avalanche started with just four minutes left in the half. The Titans’ Josh Holzemer picked off a Spragg pass and returned it 43 yards for a touchdown.
“Josh’s interception turned the table for us,” St. John’s coach Doug Pearson said.
It certainly did as Findlay was forced to punt on its next possession. The Titans’ Cheatam Norrils returned Schaible’s booming 40-yard punt 13 yards to St. John’s 48. Two plays later, St. John’s quarterback Kent Kern, who was 1-of-10 passing to that point, hooked up with Norrils on a 52-yard touchdown pass.
“Cheatham was going both ways and was cramping up a little bit, but we got him in there on the hitch-and-go, and that certainly helped,” Pearson said. “That was a big score right before the half. It gave us some momentum.”
The Titans took the momentum and ran with it, literally. St. John’s put Denrick Milletti in the backfield and he gained 42 yards on the Titans’ first drive. But the drive stalled when Kern fumbled a snap at the FHS two.
Findlay was forced to punt and Garrett Harvey got a hand on the punt. Norrils returned it to the 15 and Kern covered all the yards in three plays and scored on a three-yard run.
Findlay came back and moved the ball, but Holzemer again interrupted things when he picked Spragg off and returned the ball 55 yards. One play later, Milletti found pay dirt on a 10-yard run.
Milletti finished with 104 yards on 12 carries. The Titans had 153 yards on the ground with 115 in the second half. The final two periods were reminiscent of the last two years. St. John’s ran for 463 yards two seasons ago and last year Ian Gaston had 190 yards.
“If I had big kids like that and good running backs, I would have done that, too. I was surprised I didn’t see more tight end stuff out of them, because we are pretty small,” Ritzler said.
“I think throwing teams will play into our hands a little bit with our (strong) secondary. If I was (other) teams, I’d keep the ball on the ground a bit more.”
When St. John’s offense heated up, its defense came alive. Findlay had 157 yards at halftime, but was limited to 56 yards in the second half.
Spragg was 15-of-33 passing for 108 yards and was intercepted three times. Crawford caught seven passes for 48 yards and Cody Ramsey hauled in seven passes for 40 yards.
“I think some of these things are correctable. We’ll have to take a look at the films,” Ritzler said.
Then the Trojans will be able to take advantage of the opportunities they are given.
FHS hosts Toledo St. Francis next Friday.
Findlay 6 3 0 0 — 9
Toledo St. John’s 0 14 14 0 — 28
FIN — Alexander 8 run (kick failed)
FIN — FG Schaible 29
TSJ —Holzemer 43 interception return (B. Smith kick)
TSJ — Norrils 52 pass from Kern (B. Smith kick)
TSJ — Kern 3 run (B. Smith kick)
TSJ —Milletti 10 run (B. Smith kick)
Findlay St. John’s
First Downs 13 12
Rushes-yards 36-93 31-153
Passing Yards 120 73
Comp-Att-Int 17-36-4 3-15-2
Punts-Avg. 6-34.2 5-35.5
Fumbles-Lost 2-0 4-1
Penalties-Yards 6-45 4-30
rushing — Findlay, Alexander 19-80, Crawford 3-4, Spragg 8-4, Kupferberg 6-5. St. John’s, Milletti 12-104, Kern 16-32, White 1-12, Pennese 2-5.
passing — Findlay, Spragg, 15-33-3, 108 yards; Price 2-3-1, 12. St. John’s, Kern 3-15-2, 73.
receiving — Findlay, Ramsey 7-40, Crawford 7-48, Blunk 1-3, Romantic 1-25, Kupferberg 1-4. St. John’s, White 1-6, Norrils 2-67.