ASHLAND — Remarkably successful football coaches such as Wadsworth’s Greg Dennison can’t be expected to recall all their victories.
Dennison, though, will always remember his 139th win as the Grizzlies’ leader and 150th overall in his high school career.
Dennison, who had kidney removal surgery Aug. 12, wore a headset in Wadsworth’s press box coaching booth, communicating with his assistants during his team’s season-opening 26-15 win at Ashland on Friday night.
“I’m feeling good,” the 49-year-old Dennison said after first complimenting his team. “They took out my right (cancerous) kidney and they said everything looks good, that it hadn’t spread anywhere.
“I’ll probably be tired when I get home, but right now, I’m feeling good.”
The contest began Dennison’s 20th season as Wadsworth’s coach. The Grizzlies have just 66 defeats during that span.
Standout senior Austin White, a receiver and safety, iced the win when he sprinted 98 yards with a kickoff return for a 26-8 lead with 11:37 left.
“He gives us hope,” White said of Dennison. “He’s a great coach. It’s exciting that he was able to come back. It gives us a real boost.”
Defensive coordinator Rob Karovic directed matters on the Wadsworth sideline in the non-league game. He readied his defense for a sparkling performance.
Ashland scored its touchdowns in the fourth quarter only because of mistakes by the Grizzlies’ punt unit. One bad snap set up a 21-yard scoring drive. Another bad hike left punter Benny Baier attempting a desperation pass that was picked off by Ashland’s Drew Dickinson and returned 38 yards for a touchdown.
Wadsworth, which went 9-2 and lost a Division I first-round playoff game last season to Cleveland Heights, led 19-0 after three quarters. Junior Dan Weinerman finished with 158 rushing yards and a 28-yard scoring burst on 26 carries and sophomore Alex Jones had touchdown runs of 5 and 12 yards in his 10-carry, 60-yard effort.
One of the Grizzlies’ primary challenges heading into the season was to replace the graduated Martice Jackson, who rushed for more than 1,700 yards in 2013. Weinerman and Jones showed promise that they may be up to the task. They did it behind an offensive line which was not only stung by graduations, but also by injuries during the preseason.
Dennison pointed out that none of the starting offensive linemen had experience at those positions last season.
“Dan and Alex ran hard and made plays,” he said. “(The linemen) were physical and they came off the ball. They did a great job opening holes.”
Senior Adam Dennison, the coach’s son and third-year starting quarterback, completed 5-of-6 passes for 48 yards. The young blockers had trouble protecting him in the first half, when he was sacked three times, but they more than made up for it by clearing the way for Weinerman and Jones.
“They were able to work through things that could have hindered us,” Weinerman said. “We lost guys to injuries, but guys stepped up in their place and performed well.”
Wadsworth played three- and four-man defensive fronts against Ashland’s spread offense. White, senior cornerback Kyle Pennington, senior inside linebackers Wil Rock and Kyle Kemppel, senior outside linebacker Mason Egleston and senior lineman Chris Kessler were among the defenders who gave Ashland fits.
White, Kemppel and sophomore defensive back Craig Palidar intercepted passes as Wadsworth’s defense limited Ashland to 105 yards in 48 plays in the first three quarters. The Arrows’ promising sophomore quarterback, 6-5 Grant Denbow, finished with 24 completions in 53 attempts for 248 yards — with 185 of the yards in the fourth quarter after the outcome had been virtually decided.
White began his touchdown return by fielding the Ashland kick near the middle of the field, then made shifty moves to get to the right sideline before turning on the jets.
“I’ve got to give all the credit to the 10 people in front of me,” he said. “They created the hole and made the blocks.”
Contact Mike Peticca at email@example.com.
Wadsworth 26, Ashland 15
WADSWORTH 6 6 7 7 — 26
ASHLAND 0 0 0 15 — 15
W — Alex Jones 5 run (kick failed), 3:56.
W — Dan Weinerman 28 run (run failed), 3:55.
W — Jones 12 run (Benny Baier kick), 6:00.
A — Jacob Purtell 14 pass from Grant Denbow (Denbow run), 11:50.
W — Austin White 98 kickoff return (Cameron Deemer kick), 11:37.
A — Drew Dickinson 38 interception return (Dominic Donofrio kick), 8:03.