Versailles entered the 2017 season with hopes of making its first playoff appearance since 2014. Like other recent years, the Tigers were able to compete against some MAC heavyweights but finished around .500.
After starting the season with a big win over Celina, Versailles lost its next four games (three of which came by 10 points or less) and finished 4-6 for the second time in three years. Aside from a lopsided Week 3 loss to Anna, the Tigers’ losses were decided by two touchdowns or less.
Versailles was 4-6 in 2015 and finished 5-5 in 2016. With 10 seniors and an experienced group of juniors, coach Adam Miller was hopeful about the team’s postseason prospects as one of two teams in Division V, Region 20.
“Our first group on both sides of the ball we feel pretty comfortable with, but all of our backups seem to be sophomores, and they’re inexperienced,” Miller said. “We feel good about our first group, but then if we have any injuries or we’ve got to sub guys if they’re getting tired, we get inexperienced in a hurry.”
The Tigers started with a 36-7 thumping of Celina, which went on to finish 7-3. The Bulldogs didn’t have a first down until a penalty early in the first quarter. Versailles racked up 314 yards of offense, including 211 on the ground on 49 carries. Senior running back Kurtis Rutschilling scored three touchdowns in the first half and senior running back Noah Grisez scored two.
Versailles couldn’t keep the hot start going, though.
The Tigers lost 14-7 to Delphos Jefferson in a Week 2 game full of costly mistakes. Versailles outgained the Wildcats 203 to 153 yards but saw multiple drives stall deep in Jefferson territory. Senior quarterback Noah Waymire threw two interceptions in the first half, one of which led to a Jefferson touchdowns. Jefferson’s other touchdown came on the game’s opening kickoff.
“The biggest problem we had offensively is that we were not good at execution in key moments,” Miller said. “We would move the ball well, and then we would either have a mental mistake or a self-inflicted wound that would kill the drive.
“We couldn’t get a series of plays to be able to put one in. We felt like we were able to score at any point in the game, but we just couldn’t make the play when we needed to make the play.”
After two strong showings by Versailles’ defense in the first two weeks, Anna had its way with the Tigers in the teams’ Week 3 MAC opener. The Rockets amassed 472 yards of offense in a 52-20 win. Waymire threw a touchdown pass to Grow with 49 seconds left in the first half to cut the Rockets’ lead to 24-14, but Anna scored a touchdown before the end of the quarter to re-take momentum before halftime.
The Tigers lost a three-overtime heartbreaker to Delphos St. John’s in Week 4. Rutschilling ran for 138 yards and one touchdown to help the team take a 14-6 lead in the fourth quarter. The Blue Jays scored on a 22-yard touchdown pass with 4:13 left, during which Versailles picked up a pass interference penalty.
The penalty was assessed on the PAT, and St. John’s made a two-point conversion to tie the game. Waymire scored on a short run in the second overtime to tie the game 21-21. Versailles fumbled in the third overtime and St. John’s made a field goal to secure the win.
Eventual Division VI state champion Marion Local beat Versailles 28-18 in Week 5. After falling behind 21-6, senior running back Garrett Thompson scored a 5-yard touchdown in the third to pull the Tigers within nine points after a failed two-point conversion.
Rutschilling scored on a 31-yard run with 3:48 left in the fourth which cut the deficit to three points after another failed two-point try. The Flyers fumbled on their next drive but were able to recover and finished the game off with a TD with 47 seconds left.
“Even though we lost, I feel we got better tonight,” Miller said. “If we can bring this attitude and effort every week, we are going to do good things the rest of the year.”
Versailles kept the attitude and effort up in Week 6 with their biggest win of the year. The Tigers beat Division VII playoff qualifier Fort Recovery 35-14. Rutschilling ran for 139 yards and three touchdowns on 13 carries and also had an interception and fumble recovery.
In Week 7, the Tigers posted another big victory with a 36-8 defeat of Parkway. Senior running back George Grow scored three touchdowns, including two in the second quarter to help the Tigers take a 16-0 halftime lead.
Versailles couldn’t keep the two-game winning streak going, though, as they fell to 3-5 with a 24-10 loss to Coldwater in Week 8. The Cavaliers amassed 300 yards of offense while Versailles had 147 yards and three fumbles.
The Tigers fell behind 26-7 to eventual Division VII champion Minster in Week 9 but rallied. Thompson scored a short touchdown to cut the Wildcats’ lead to 12, then Waymire threw a 27-yard touchdown pass to junior Andrew DeMange to cut the lead to five points. Versailles recovered an onside kick with 57 seconds left but couldn’t score and lost 26-21.
Versailles closed out the season with a 21-6 win over New Bremen. Grow, Rutschilling and Waymire each ran for touchdowns for the Tigers, which had 246 yards of offense and held New Bremen to 57.
Rutschilling was named the state’s Division V defensive player of the year by the Ohio Prep Sportswriters Association after the season. He had 106 tackles with two interceptions, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
The Tigers will open the 2018 season on Aug. 24 at Celina.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.