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Football: Injuries force offense to step up

By ANDY WOLF
STAFF WRITER
It only takes one faulty part to halt the production of a machine.
In a football sense, replacing an injured player with a healthy one doesn’t guarantee continued success.
All season long, the University of Findlay football team has overcome numerous absences to still posses the most productive offensive unit in the Rob Keys era.
The 47.5 points and 510.3 yards per game are both the highest averages produced in seven years with coach Keys at helm and Troy Rothenbuhler as offensive coordinator.
They also rank third and sixth, nationally, in those categories.
“It’s been difficult,” Keys said. “At the same time our kids understand, regardless of who’s in, you’ve got to play to the standard and at a very high level to win games.”
The Oilers haven’t had trouble running the ball on anyone as they produce 274.1 yards per game on the ground alone.
But the offensive line, which returned four starters, wasn’t blessed with keeping the same starting five in every game.
Junior right tackle Christian Olmstead missed a few games here and there and senior left guard Andrew Alten hasn’t played since exiting in Week 9 at Malone.
Alten, who has made 38 career starts, was named Great Midwest Athletic Conference Offensive Lineman of the Year on Thursday.
In most cases, the next man up was Logan Bailey, a 6-foot-5, 290-pound sophomore.
He filled in for Olmstead against Lake Erie in Week 6 but moved to left tackle for the last two games, sending Andrew Dickinson down a spot to left guard.
Olmstead also missed Week 10 but returned for the season finale. With Bailey already at left tackle, true freshman Erick Eldridge (6-2, 350) got the start at right tackle.
Keys said it’s ultimately about finding the best five linemen.
“It’s very hard to keep that continuity,” Keys said. “I can’t say enough good things about the guys that have stepped in and moved the offense forward.”
Bailey’s contributions are a strong result of hitting the weight room hard in the offseason.
Keys said Bailey wasn’t physically ready to play last season.
He’s since applied that newly-gained tenacity to the opposition.
“Just learning how physical you need to be when it comes to game time,” Bailey said. “You can’t rep that in practice but once you get to the game it’s a lot more physical.”
Senior running back Daouda Sylla has had a considerably light workload with the plenty blowout victories.
He’s 10th in the country with 1,266 yards on 186 carries but missed seven quarters of action in Weeks 9 and 10.
Sylla scored on Findlay’s opening drive against Malone in Week 9 but was helped off the field.
“I was hurting pretty bad but I had trust in my teammates that we were going to stay on track and give ourselves a shot at the playoffs,” Sylla said.
“I just prayed a little bit and everything happened to be all right.”
Sylla said it turned out to be an ankle sprain but is ready to go.
He ran for 134 and two scores in his return in the finale against Ohio Dominican.
“It felt good to be out with my teammates,” Sylla said. “The last two weeks were rough. Being back out there was everything I wanted.”
Sylla’s increased usage came at the loss of another teammate — 1,000-yard rusher and senior Chauncey Bridges who last played in Week 2.
Michael Campbell emerged as back 1-B in the two-back system and kept the ground game churning. He’s totaled 762 yards and 14 TDs opposite Sylla, including 249 yards and 4 TDs in his two-week absence.
Meanwhile, starting quarterback Rhys Gervais (206.4 ypg) also experienced a two-week hiatus.
He exited the Week 4 game against Tuskegee with a left leg injury and missed the following two starts.
Backup Adam Bertke kept the offense rolling.
The Oilers scored 47 and 63 points in his first two career starts in wins over Walsh and Lake Erie.
“That’s why it’s a team. Regardless of who is called upon, we’re one team,” Keys said. “Yes, (wide receiver) Airion Kosak (283 yards, 4 TDs) has missed considerable time. Chauncey Bridge has missed almost all of the season, (6-5 wide receiver) Andrew Ogletree (205 yards, 5 TDs) has missed time playing. Rhys Gervais has missed games playing, offensively.
“I just named four top-notch players who have missed time.”
Keys prides his program on talent depth and creating intense position battles in the offseason.
“It just goes to show you the growth in this program because it’s been able to create enough depth to where maybe the drop-off from player one to player two isn’t as big,” Keys said.
“If this would’ve happened in 2011, 2012, we’re looking at losing multiple games because of that.”
Wolf: 419-427-8496,
andywolf@thecourier.com