By DAVE HANNEMAN
TOLEDO — Neither team got off to a good start at Start on Friday night.
But Findlay’s finish was everything Mark Ritzler was hoping it would be.
“It didn’t feel like a 30-0 ball game, but we’ll take it,” Ritzler said after Findlay, 0-2 after overtime losses in weeks one and two, rode an outstanding defensive effort and a four-minute offensive burst spanning the first and second halves to a decisive nonleague win over Toledo Start.
“We came to an opponent’s field, a Division I team, a team that just won its first game and was playing its first game on its new field, a team that has good athletes and momentum going for it … but we came in and did what we had to do,” Ritzler said.
Senior quarterback Tanner Rickle had his first pass of the game intercepted and misfired on four of his next seven attempts. But he hit RJ Nunn with a 41-yard slant pass to put Findlay on the board, hooked up with Isaiah Moore for a 77-yard catch-and-run TD to open the third quarter, and ended up completing 12 of 18 passes for 250 yards and two scores. He also ran for 68 yards and two TDs in helping Findlay improve to 1-2.
Until Findlay got its offense cranking, though, the Trojans’ defense was dominating.
Start had 11 offensive possessions from the beginning of the game until Rickle’s 1-yard run with 7:42 left in the third quarter put the Trojans up 30-0 and triggered the running-clock rule. Those 11 possessions ended in nine punts and two interceptions.
Findlay limited Start to minus-4 yards rushing in the first half and 3 yards total offense.
“That’s what happens when you play a good football team,” second-year Start head coach Corey Pargo said after the Spartans dropped to 1-2. “That’s the best 0-2 team I’ve ever seen. We have to go back to the drawing board, block better and tackle better, and fix it.”
“The offense just sort of sputtered a bit. We just never got into a good rhythm,” Ritzler said. “The defense did a great job, even when we put them is some bad field position. We kept it simple. We challenged the defensive linemen and the linebackers to take care of the running game so we could play (pass) coverage against their speed, and we still got a good pass rush from those guys.
“Any time you can put a goose egg up there against an opponent, that’s a good thing.”
Early in the game, missed opportunities were scattered like forbidden fruit across the field. Findlay looked golden on its first possession when a defensive stop, a friendly bounce on Jake Baumgartner’s punt and a 15-yard penalty on Start gave Findlay the ball on the Spartans’ 28-yard line. Moore’s 13-yard run on a jet sweep gave the Trojans a first down at the Start 15.
Rickle was dropped for a 2-yard loss, though, and Start’s Devin Williams made a one-handed interception of Rickle’s first pass of the game and returned it 57 yards to the Findlay 26.
Findlay’s defense — and Start’s confusion — flipped the field, though.
Caleb Coyne’s first pass was incomplete, Start’s next snap hit KeJuan Lucas as he was racing behind the line on a jet sweep and ended in an 11-yard loss, and FHS linebacker Brandon Hamilton sacked Coyne on third down.
It was the start of a frustrating half for the Spartans, who started drives at the Findlay 33-, 35- and 34-yard lines, but never threatened the end zone. Start had eight possessions in the first half. Seven ended in punts, the other in an interception when Coyne’s pass went through the hands of Tavieon McDonald and into the arms of Moore.
Start fumbled the ball twice and had six penalties for 60 yards in addition to its seven punts.
Findlay struggled a bit early, but got on the board in the final seconds of the first quarter. Following a short punt and a 22-yard run by Rickle on a quarterback counter, Rickle fired a slant pass to Nunn on the left side. Nunn got a great downfield block from Adam Gilbert and weaved his way 41 yards for a score.
Findlay tacked on 10 points in the final three minutes of the half.
Following Moore’s interception, Rickle drove the Trojans 67 yards in nine plays. He started the drive with a 4-yard dive and capped it with a 14-yard burst up the middle with 2:47 left in the second quarter.
Another defensive stop and smart clock management gave Findlay one final possession in the half. Rickle hit Pat Dillon with 18- and 12-yard strikes and Gilbert with a 17-yard pass to the Start 20. After a short keeper by Rickle, Mitchell Taylor came on and converted a 34-yard field goal on the final snap of the half.
Findlay quickly made it 24-0 when, on the second play of the third quarter, Rickle looked left and fired a sideline pass to Moore. The 155-pound junior, who had more than 100 receiving yards for the second straight game, sidestepped one tackler, spun through the arm-grabs of two others and outran everyone 77 yards for the score.
“We knew we were getting the ball to start the second half,” Ritzler said. “We said if we can score right away, we might be able to finish them off, and we did it.
“When you’re able to plan something, then follow through with it, that’s rewarding.”
After another defensive stop, Rickle fired 14 and 24-yard strikes to Gilbert to set up his 1-yard TD plunge midway through the third quarter.
Findlay opens Three Rivers Athletic Conference play next week when the Trojans travel to Fremont Ross.
Findlay 7 10 13 0 — 30
Toledo Start 0 0 0 0 — 0
FIN — Nunn 41 pass from Rickle (Taylor kick)
FIN — Rickle 14 run (Taylor kick)
FIN — FG Taylor 34
FIN — Moore 77 pass from Rickle (Taylor kick)
FIN — Rickle 1 run (Taylor kick)
rushing — Findlay, Rickle 16-68, Nunn 9-45, Moore 2-15, Gaines 4-6, DeLaCruz 6-19. Toledo Start, Coyne 3-(-14), Beringer 5-13, Tucker 6-(-5), Patterson 1-8, Lucas 1-(-2), Brown 1-(-4), Zdunczyk 3-23.
passing — Findlay, Rickle 12-18-1, 250 yards. Toledo Start, Coyne 2-11-2, 25 yards; Beringer 2-5-0, 12 yards.
receiving — Findlay, Fetterman 1-10, Moore 4-102, Dillon 3-43, Gilbert 3-54, Nunn 1-41. Toledo Start, Brown 1-3, Floyd 1-9, Patterson 1-7, McDonald 1-17.