WAUSEON — Travis Cooper probably knows Wauseon’s upcoming opponent, Bryan, as well as any other opponent the Indians will face this fall.
The Wauseon coach might even know some of the Golden Bears as well as some his own players.
Cooper was the head coach at Bryan four years ago when this year’s Bryan seniors were a talented freshman class.
Cooper has plenty of respect for the Golden Bears, led by standout seniors quarterback Austin Schimmoeller, wideout Brandon Poncsak, and running back Daniel Pendergrast. Bryan is attempting to repeat as the Northwest Ohio Athletic League champion.
“Bryan has a great team,” Cooper said. “They are stacked from top to bottom. I coached a lot of those kids, and I know the quality of kids they have there.”
Cooper’s past ties with Bryan make up only part of why this midseason matchup looms particularly large for the Indians.
Both teams enter with 5-0 overall records, 3-0 in the NWOAL.
This is the most significant game for Wauseon since Cooper started coaching the Indians three years ago. Picked to finish in the middle of the league standings, the Indians are one of three league teams still undefeated in NWOAL play. Patrick Henry is the other.
Wauseon (3-7, 3-5 NWOAL last season) is a surprising contender for the league title and has the community energized.
“It’s going to be a good game for the community,” Cooper said. “When you have two teams 5-0, you don’t see them come together a lot in the middle of the season. It’s going to be a good show.”
For Wauseon to be competitive, it will need to continue with its lethal ground game, anchored by running back Axel Bueter and quarterback Ty Suntken.
Bueter and Suntken have been tough on opponents, combining for nearly 1,300 rushing yards.
Bueter has rushed for a team-leading 770 yards on 78 carries, including a team-leading 11 for touchdowns. Suntken has gained 522 yards on 77 carries and scored seven TDs.
Bueter, who chose not to play football last year to focus on honing his baseball skills, has been a major boost to the offense. He delivered a single-game school rushing record 335 yards on 18 carries in a decisive 38-6 win Friday against Liberty Center.
“My job is way easier because now other people have to focus on him [Bueter] too,” said Suntken, who rushed for 1,141 yards and passed for 1,087 yards last season. “Soon he might be the main focus so I definitely want to help the team out. It’s just a big boost for the team for him to be able to come back and do something great in his senior year.”
Bueter, who plans to play baseball at Bowling Green State University, said his strong start deserves to be shared with his peers.
“It’s a great team. It’s not just me,” he said.
Bueter and Suntken are working behind a veteran offensive line that includes returners Cesar Juarez (6-1, 220), Alec Vonier (5-8, 188), and Anthony Werder (6-1, 217).
Cooper said the running attack is key to Wauseon success. It even plays a role in Suntken’s success as a passer (38 of 57 passes for 597 yards) and Kris Boysel as a receiver (15 catches for 272 yards, 6 TDs).
“Ty gets frustrated he’s not having the stats he had last year and he’s not having the same success [passing], but I said, ‘You’re part of his [overall] success,’ ” Cooper said. “I think we have a good thing going. I know there's many more good games for them to come.”
As much as they’ve thrived offensively running the football, the Indians have been steady on defense with linebacker Aaron Schuette leading the way. The 6-foot, 178-pounder has a team-leading 56 tackles. Nate Suntken ranks second with 36, followed by Zac Robinson and Werder with 34 apiece.
Boysel has been a ballhawk in Wauseon’s secondary with four interceptions.
The last time the Indians claimed at least a share of the championship was 2007 when they shared the title with Patrick Henry. Wauseon also shared the title in 1999 with Liberty Center and hasn’t won an outright league since going back-to-back in 1993 and 1994.
The 1993 team finished 14-0 and won the Division III state championship.