Indians take advantage of three early Tiger turnovers

Osage senior Drake Gaines was often in the right place at the right time Friday night at Versailles. 

At wide receiver, he hauled in two touchdown passes and as a defensive back, he snatched away two errant Versailles throws that were tipped right into his hands. Turns out, his teammates were often where they were supposed to be as well in 48 to 8 win over the Tigers. 

Gaines may have taken some of the credit, but he knows full well there are always 10 other guys on the field with him that allow him to make such plays. 

“You just have to read the quarterback’s eyes and see what he is doing, but I could not do it without the guys on the field,” Gaines said. “Zach (Wheeler) threw it great tonight. He read the field good, looked good back there and I am proud of him.” 

Indeed, all 11 players were on the same page from the start. Osage took the opening drive to the house in just over two minutes as the senior gunslinger Wheeler found a streaking Gaines, who broke away from a tackle, and cruised into the end zone for a 32-yard score. After an empty Versailles drive, Wheeler turned on the jets for the next score and waltzed past Versailles defenders for a 31-yard touchdown run to quickly make it 13-0.

Then disaster struck for Versailles as the Tigers turned the ball over on three straight drives. A muffed kickoff return quickly led to a 20-yard touchdown pass from Wheeler to Gaines, a tipped interception led to a 33-yard touchdown reception to junior wideout Dalton Depeé and another tipped interception led to Depeé’s second score of the night on a 34-yard pass. And just like that, it was 34-0 Osage early in the second quarter. 

“If you can get some turnovers to bounce your way, you have to take advantage of it and I thought our guys did really well,” Osage coach Devin Johnson said. “I thought our guys started fast, set the tone and tempo and I thought they improved throughout.” 

What made the turnovers sting more for Versailles is the fact that the interceptions came when the Tigers had started to establish some offensive success and had entered or were near Osage territory. 

“We killed our own drives by dropping balls and we might have scored again, but it was not going to make a big difference in the game,” Versailles coach Broc Silvers stated. “Coby (Williams) was the quarterback and running back tonight. The offensive line did okay for a while, but we wore down. They (Osage) are rotating guys off the bench and on our sideline we did not have anybody to rotate in there so we have to keep working at it. 

“Our kids know where they are at, there is no mistake about it. We knew coming into this game that we just needed to play the best we could and that is what we got,” the coach added. 

Versailles faced a steep hill early, but kept climbing and kept fighting. After a botched snap led to an Osage turnover, the Tigers drove 50 yards with a couple of big catches from senior wideout Wyatt Espinosa and capped it off with a 22-yard quarterback draw from the sophomore Williams as he darted his way through the middle of the Indian defense to make it 34-6 with 7:23 remaining in the half.

But Osage kept coming. The Indians responded with a 49-yard drive that saw junior running back Hunter Neiman punch in an 11-yard run and the junior soon made it 48-6 with a 7-yard on the following drive just before halftime. A botched snap on an Osage punt late in the fourth quarter led to a safety to create the final margin. However, a lot more went right for the Indians than went wrong.

After hanging up 51 points at Southern Boone last week, the Osage offense did not skip a beat and the Indians have been averaging 42 points per game since a week two loss to Seneca where they put up just seven points. Johnson said the biggest difference has just been cleaning up mistakes and not coughing up the football. 

“In the last four weeks we’ve really cleaned that part up and I felt like we’ve done a really good job,” he said. “I thought our guys up front (offensive line) have been playing as well as they have since I’ve been here and fortunately we have a few people that are pretty good with the football. 

“The other thing is when our quarterback makes good decisions… When you are eiht for 11 for four touchdowns, you are making some pretty good reads and putting the ball in the right spot. When your quarterback is in a rhythm like that, then it just makes everything around him happen a lot more efficiently,” Johnson added of Wheeler. 

The other half of Friday night’s successful equation was a relentless Indian defense that was led by the seven sacks of senior defensive lineman Josh McCubbin as he gave the Tigers fits throughout the night. 

“It was great,” McCubbin said of the sack party. “I just gave effort every play and I just read him (Williams). I just wanted to crunch him every time I got there.” 

Johnson said the game plan was to slow down the quick and elusive Williams, and for the most part, they were able to do just that.

“We knew their quarterback was good and he is good. He made us look like we were on skates a few times so he is a good football player,” Johnson said of the young Versailles quarterback. “We did not want Coby to make the plays that beat us. I thought we did a really good job of putting pressure on him and confusing him. You have to give a lot of props to our defensive coordinator (Nathan Dains) for putting together a good game plan to find different ways to put pressure on him. 

“I thought their offensive scheme to protect him was pretty good too and it allowed him to step into the pocket a couple of times, but anytime you can put him in second or third-and-long situations, it makes it that much easier because not many teams have a 3rd-and-15 play. They are just not out there so anytime we can do that, it bodes well for us as a team,” the coach added. 

Meanwhile for Versailles, the intention has never been to lean heavily on the pass. Unfortunately for the Tigers, the team was without two regular starters at running back on Friday night so the offense was fairly depleted in the backfield. Add to that a young receiving corps and the offensive struggles become a little more clear. Defensively, the Tigers were also a little depleted at some positions like cornerback and Osage took advantage. Silvers is just looking to get his guys healthy and find the right formula on either side of the ball. 

“When you are getting no pass rush- and I don’t think Wheeler is probably any better than our quarterback- but he has a lot more time than we do and some more weapons right now,” Silvers said. “Three-fifths of our receiving corps tonight had less than two catches in their career so we are playing short-handed. 

“It is what it is right now and at the point we are at, we have to get some kids healthy. We just have to find what we can do to keep our quarterback upright and let him do a better job. He did a great job tonight and we have to catch a little better and protect him more… We’ll just keep trying to mix and match to find the best 11 to throw out there,” he added.

Osage improves to 4-2 overall with the win and 3-1 in the Tri-County Conference. However, the road does not get any easier as the Indians will face state-ranked Blair Oaks at home on Friday and visit state-ranked rival Eldon the following week. The schedule may be tough, but Johnson noted he was confident in his guys and what they are capable of. 

“We are ver consistent in our preparation, have been for four years and it will be the exact same thing for Blair Oaks. It does not matter who we are playing against,” he remarked. “This will be the third time we have played a ranked team or a team that was ranked this year, so we’ve played good football teams, know what it takes to beat a good football team and have done it before… I think our guys will prepare and be ready for the challenge.”

Osage will also be returning home next week for Homecoming after a three-game road trip and Johnson said it simply comes down execution on offense and making big stops defensively. Ultimately, a few plays can make a big difference in any game and time will tell if the Indians are ready to make those plays Friday night at 7 p.m.

“In a ballgame that is 48 minutes, there will be three or four plays that can go one way or the other and if they go our way, then we’ll come out with the win,” the coach stated. “In the Tri-County Conference, every Friday night is special and important so we just look forward to another battle.”

Versailles falls to 2-4 overall and 1-3 in the conference with Eldon coming to town next Friday at 7 p.m. With a roster of just about 30 players facing a few injury bugs, Silvers pointed out that it will be no small task for a Class 2 school to take on the larger Class 3 schools on the schedule and that is why there was discussion about leaving the Tri-County last winter.

“We are starting six to seven sophomores, we got 10 to 11 guys going both ways and we were playing a team (Osage) that does not have any freshmen or sophomores on the field so we were outclassed coming into the game,” the coach said. “With Eldon and Southern Boone coming up, those guys are the same way that Osage is with good programs and I don’t know that we’ll ever be that way here at Versailles if we can’t get a class to stay together or a group of kids to stick around long enough to see what we can do. 

“We’ve had 11 kids move away that should have been playing at some point. We are just playing a lot of young kids and if they stay with it, hopefully in a couple of years when they are all juniors and seniors maybe we can get something done then,” he added.

The conference may be tough, but the good news for Versailles is that the Tigers get to face schools much closer to their size when the district playoffs roll around. 

“We are still working to week 10 when we’ll play somebody our size and caliber,” Silvers said. “Fate is not in our hands anymore after losing to Warsaw, but week 10 is going to be a playoff game we are going to be able to compete in no matter who it is we play… We might end up 3-8, but we can win a playoff game.” 

Time will tell if the Tigers are up to the task.

This story will be updated with stats as soon as they become available