PIQUA — There was so much good in the 2018 season that Jack Fessler found it hard to feel bad Friday night.
Fessler and his Fenwick High School football teammates exited the Division III playoffs with a 27-17 loss to Wapakoneta in a Region 12 semifinal at Piqua’s Purk Field at Alexander Stadium, finishing with a 9-3 record.
How good is a nine-win season for the Falcons? Outside of a 13-1 mark in 2015, they hadn’t won nine games since going 9-3 in 1988.
WEEK 12 FOOTBALL COVERAGE
“I cannot be more proud of my guys,” said Fessler, a senior running back who put up 137 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries. “I’ve never seen so many kids, so many of my brothers, play with so much heart. We’ve got a brotherhood that can’t be broken, so at the end of the day, I think we still won.”
First-year coach Dan Haverkamp said it was a season worthy of being remembered.
“I don’t know if the kids realize how special this season was and how impressive what they did was,” he said. “So I feel incredibly proud of them, and hopefully we can take this and build the program from here and keep having seasons like this.”
Fenwick, the No. 3 seed, didn’t play poorly against second-seeded Wapakoneta (11-1). The Redskins were simply better at the most critical moments, and they had a very big weapon carrying the ball at fullback.
Junior Evan Kaeck rumbled for 216 yards and three touchdowns on 35 carries for Wapakoneta, which advanced to a regional-final matchup against top-ranked Alter next Friday at a neutral site.
“It’s a great feeling to see him go,” Redskins senior quarterback Brady Erb said of the 6-foot-1, 205-pound Kaeck, who declined to be interviewed after the game. “He doesn’t stop moving. He lowers his head and just goes right through ’em.”
Erb ran 11 times for 66 yards, contributing to a 288-yard ground effort by Wapakoneta. Haverkamp said he knew it would be difficult to stop Kaeck.
“We unfortunately struggled with running backs like that this year,” Haverkamp said. “He was tough to bring down, and they were great at getting the 2 yards, 3 yards they needed. They got the third-down conversions, the fourth-down conversions, and that made life tough for us.”
Falcons quarterback Sully Janeck completed 8-of-19 passes for 103 yards. He got picked off twice (by Reed Merricle and Devin Kuhns) — both interceptions led to field goals by Luke Beach.
Fenwick trailed 17-14 at halftime, then tied the game with Matt Beckman’s 26-yard field goal on the opening possession of the third period. Fessler had a 70-yard touchdown run negated by a penalty on the second play of the half.
“Losing that play certainly seemed to take a lot of wind out of our sails,” Haverkamp said. “We got a field goal there, but it’s tough to win playoff games with field goals, especially when you come off that touchdown run feeling so much momentum, so much positive energy. To have it called back on a blind-side block when a player spins … I don’t know how that’s blind side when he can see the player and spin away from him.”
The Redskins responded with a 76-yard drive that lasted nearly seven minutes, with Kaeck scoring from 5 yards out with 0:23 left in the third quarter. Included in that possession was a 13-yard completion from Erb to Merricle on fourth-and-9, putting Wapakoneta on the Fenwick 11. Kaeck scored two plays later.
“It seemed like we had them in a great spot. We just missed getting the ball on the ground,” Haverkamp said. “We get a stop there, we’ve got the ball and the momentum back on our side. It would’ve been a very different ballgame.”
Janeck was intercepted by Kuhns on the first play on the fourth stanza. Wapakoneta followed with another long drive and went up 27-17 on Beach’s 19-yard field goal with 3:16 left.
“We knew this was going to be a tough, physical football game. Credit those guys up front all night long,” Redskins coach Travis Moyer said. “I can’t say enough about (Kaeck’s) effort tonight. They were really taking our outside game away, and obviously that opened up things for him.”
Caleb Davis had 11 runs for 44 yards for the Falcons. Ty Houck and Logan Miller collected 15 and 14 tackles, respectively, and Henry Nenni recorded an interception.
“I think if we played this team 10 times, the record’s probably 5-5,” Haverkamp said. “I think we were very evenly matched.”
Fessler finished the year with 1,869 yards and 26 touchdowns on the ground, both single-season school records. He missed the entire 2017 campaign with a knee injury.
“It was all worth it,” Fessler said. “Not just for me and my family, but for these guys out here. The way I started my first two years in high school … I quit on these boys twice, and last year I had to come back from a knee injury. I wasn’t going to quit on these guys this year. Coming back, I just knew I needed to be like the heart and soul of this team. I think we all were, and we just kept beating together and striving to be the best we could be.”
Fessler said Friday might have marked the end of his football career. He said there are some college coaches that want to talk to him, but he’s seriously considering just being a college student.
“I want to pursue a degree in psychology and help people out,” Fessler said. “Football is great, but helping other people out is definitely how I want to go out and be remembered.”
He’s one of 20 seniors on the Fenwick roster.
“It’s going to be tough to replace all those guys, but the bigger thing probably is replacing their leadership,” Haverkamp said. “You had a lot of guys who were very good leaders in that group.”
W: Luke Beach 33 field goal
F: Jack Fessler 5 run (Matt Beckman kick)
W: Evan Kaeck 33 run (Tristan Gesler kick)
F: Fessler 1 run (Beckman kick)
W: Kaeck 4 run (Gesler kick)
F: Beckman 26 field goal
W: Kaeck 5 run (Gesler kick)
W: Beach 19 field goal
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