The Ottawa University football team showcased its depth at the running back position.
Ottawa’s top two tailbacks Michael Baer and Dexter Hayes missed Saturday’s homecoming game against Bethany because of injuries.
Then Gene Dydell went out against Bethany with an ankle sprain. No worries.
Freshman Tanner Staats along with converted linebacker Jeremy Cabrales looked the part of starters, despite getting their first collegiate carries in Ottawa’s 56-20 win over the Swedes at Peoples Bank Field.
Staats finished with 63 yards rushing on 15 attempts and scored two touchdowns. He also had a kickoff return for 57 yards. Cabrales bulldozed through the Swedes for 19 yards on eight attempts.
Kodee Wood, who has been a starter at tight end, stepped in at fullback and had three rushes.
For Staats, this was an opportunity he had been waiting on. The Paola freshman had been used at receiver until Saturday.
“I went out and worked hard and did what I could,” Staats said. “It paid off.”
Once he got his hands on the ball, the nerves were gone.
“After the first kickoff return, it pretty much left me,” he said. “It was a little bit different than I thought it would. Game speed is a lot faster than practice. Especially with our no-huddle offense. It is all on the fly.”
Staats had little varsity time with just one catch for 10 yards coming into the game.
“It was a little hard because coach wanted me to learn wide receiver at the same time,” Staats said. “They were putting in wide receiver and running plays. They tried to dumb it down for me. It felt great. As receiver, you don’t get much [contact].
“It was exciting. I studied my playbook hard. It all felt real natural. I went out and played. The big guys opened things up nice for you.”
Staats found the end zone twice.
“I have been smelling it all year,” he said. “I had a chance a couple of games ago. I finally got it in varsity game.”
The Ottawa offense rolled up 460 total yards, including 181 yards on the ground with the patchwork backfield.
“We were clicking,” Staats said. “The running backs were reading it good. The quarterback was reading the defense. Receivers were running their routes great. When you get all the parts of the machine working together, the machine runs great. Even if some of the parts are not as great as they used to be ... if everything works together, it all falls into place.”
Ottawa scored four touchdowns on six possessions in each first half. Ottawa coach Kent Kessinger began to pull the starters after scoring on the first two possessions of the second half as Ottawa built a 42-12 lead.
“At halftime we talked about what we could run,” Kessinger said. “I went back to our script. Everything seemed to go pretty well for us. We were able to throw the football well, run the ball well. We did a lot of good things offensively.”
The coach liked how the running backs performed.
“We had to do a little bit of piecemeal,” he said. “It was really nice to see Tanner Staats run really hard and Jeremy Cabrales did some great things leading up to the hole. We were able to do motion stuff and run power game. It tells me the O-line was getting a push on things.”
Shane Gimzo finished 17 of 21 passing for 230 yards and rushed for 56 yards on 12 carries in eight series. He accounted for five touchdowns (three passes and two rushing).
The Ottawa defense played up and down. Bethany’s Tevis Linnebur, the conference’s leading rusher, had close to 90 yards in the first quarter. He finished with 137 yards.
“He is a good running back,” Ottawa defensive coordinator Josh Homolka said. “He is tough. He knows how to run the power play and counter play.
“At points, we did a good job of stopping it. We have to be more physical. We made plays when we had to.
“They have good players. Give them credit. Their offense is good enough to score points. We have to play better upfront. We gave up three drives. A bunch of drives we played well in. We have to get stops.”
No. 19 Ottawa (6-2, 5-1) plays its final home game of the season 1:30 p.m. Saturday against Friends.
B — Wollenberg 1 run (kick failed).
O — Adamson 16 pass from Gimzo (Stamp kick).
O — Gimzo 2 run (Stamp kick).
O — Gimzo 4 run (Stamp kick).
O — Wilkerson 15 pass from Gimzo (Stamp kick).
B — Dovenbarger 24 pass from House (kick blocked).
O — Staats 1 run (Stamp kick).
O — Wilkerson 20 pass from Gimzo (Stamp kick)
O — Hilliger 22 pass from Johnson (Stamp kick).
O — Staats 4 run (Stamp kick).
B — Linden 8 pass from House (Martino pass from House).
Rushing — Ottawa (50-181): Staats 15-63; Gimzo 12-56; Johnson 5-26; Dydell 5-24; Cabrales 8-19; Wood 3-2; Bethany (47-159): Linnebur 30-137; Grist 7-39; House 4-9; Stegman 1-3; Wollenberg 3-3.
Passing — Ottawa: Gimzo 17-21-0 230; Johnson 4-6-0 49; Bethany: House 16-34-2 218.
Receiving — Ottawa: Hilliger 10-148; Adamson 5-59; Wilkerson 4-60; Wood 1-10; Hernandez 1-2; Bethany: Johnson 5-70; Martino 4-46; Dovenbarger 2-37; Thompson 2-14; Linden 1-8; Atherton 1-6; Linnebur 1-1.
Tackles — Ottawa: Semmel 15, Gross 13, Schultz 9, Coomes 7, Magdalena 7; Bethany: Peabody 7, C. Linnebur 7, Junker 5, Scherer 5.