By Rob Kiser
Call Sports Editor
Piqua football coach Bill Nees is not big on focusing on individual accomplishments — and even less comfortable talking about himself.
But, even Nees had to admit — the events of Friday night couldn’t have worked out much better for his football team and himself.
With Piqua’s five former NFL players — Craig Clemons, Matt Finkes, Dave Gallagher, Quinn Pitcock and Brandon Saine in attendance and being honored at halftime — the Indians used a second-half blitzkrieg to stun Toledo St. John’s and turn a 21-14 deficit into a 42-21 victory.
To make it even better, Nees tied George Wertz’s school record for career wins.
Wertz had a mark of 165-63-22 from 1925-50, while Nees is currently 165-80.
“It is a big honor,” Nees said about tying Wertz. “And three of those guys (Finkes, Pitcock and Saine) are responsible for 95 of my wins. That is a pretty big chunk. Toledo St. John’s is a really good football team — and we played one of the best games we have played in several years.”
For the entire first half and into the third quarter, Piqua was playing from behind.
And just as quickly, the Indians were in complete command.
“Things just kind of snowballed (in the second half),” Darien Tipps-Clemons said. “We don’t want to be known as a second-half team. We are trying to get rid of that. But, it feels great to get a win.”
Following a 44-yard touchdown run by Christian King, the Titans led 21-14 with 8:42 remaining in the third quarter.
Just over 12 minutes later — with 8:30 remaining in the game — Piqua was in front 42-21 and on their way to a season-opening victory.
“We had a lot of new guys out there,” Trent Yeomans, who coming off a 2,000-yard season, had another big game for the Indians. “It just took us awhile to get going. We are going to be good on offense — and we have darn good defense. We are going to have a good year.”
Quarterback Rupert Delacruz provided the tying touchdown — the first of his two scores on the night.
Following a 17-yard run by Delacruz and a 24-yard run by Clemons, Delacruz hit Colton Bachman for 12 yards on second and-18, giving Piqua third-and-six on the 11.
Delacruz sprinted into the end zone on the next play and Dylan Runge’s kick made it 21-21 with 4:58 remaining in the third quarter.
The defense seemed to feed off that and forced just the Titans second punt of the game.
A short kick gave Piqua the ball on the St. John’s 42 and two plays later, Yeomans went 32 yards for his second score of the game. Runge’s kick made it 28-21 with 2:09 remaining in the third quarter and the Indians were in front for good.
“I think the runs (late in the first half) did give me confidence,” Yeomans said.
Two plays later, Brady Hill recovered fumble on sack of quarterback Matt Winzeler at the Titans 27 yard-line.
The drive ended with three straight runs by Tipps-Clemons, the last one from four yards out to make the score 35-21 with 11:07 remaining in the game after Runge’s kick.
On the next play after the kickoff, King was stripped with Jack Schmiesing recovering at the St. John’s 21.
Six plays later, Delacruz found the end zone from one-yard out and it was 42-21 with 8:30 remaining after Runge’s six PAT of the night.
“The defense made some plays,” Runge, who had recovered a fumble earlier, said. “But, you have to give the offense credit for scoring and keeping us in the game. We just started making plays in the second half.”
The first half had been a different story.
St. John’s had rolled up 266 yards of offense and a 14-0 lead before what may well end up being one of the pivotal drives of the season.
Starting on its own 20 with 2:52 remaining in the half, Yeomans ran for 23 and 25 yards on the first two plays of the drive.
On a second and 13 from the Titans 35 two plays later, Tate Honeycutt caught a short pass from Delacruz and broke three tackles on his way to the end zone.
“I was thinking about the end zone the whole way,” Honeycutt said. “Coach (Nees) is always telling us when you have the opportunity, you need to make plays — I just made a play.”
Runge’s kick made it 14-7 with 1:53 remaining in the half.
Runge would then recover a fumble and while Piqua didn’t score again before the break — the momentum had swung at the break.
“That was a great run by Tate (Honeycutt),” Nees said. “That is what he can do. That was a big score.”
On the opening possession of the second half, Yeomans went 53 yards on a quick-hitter to start an amazing comeback.
“It was a big win for us,” Nees said. “It is going to help Rupert (Delacruz). It is going to help the whole team.”
For the Titans, Winzeler completed 17 of 23 passes for 218 yards, with Max McCormick catching eight passes for 113 yards.
Delacruz, in his first start, was 10-for-17 for 97 yards and a score passing and ran 11 times for 74 yards and two scores.
Honeycutt caught five passes for 53 yards, while Bachman hauled in three for 34 yards.
“The thing is, I didn’t have any jitters,” Delacruz said. “I told coach (Troy) Ouhl that. He had me well prepared and I wasn’t nervous at all.”
Clemons finished with seven carries for 65 yards, while Yeomans picked up right where he left off last season.
He carried the ball 21 times for 178 yards.
And while it snapped his seven-game streak of rushing for 200 or more yards — his smile couldn’t have been any bigger as the Indians prepare to head to Urbana Friday for a 7:30 p.m.
“That’s great that coach (Bill) Nees tied the record (for career wins),” Yeomans said. “Hopefully, we can go out next week and get another win and give him the record.”
And with another strong effort on both sides of the ball — nothing would make the coach happier.