Game of the Week

IVC thrill ride in West Lafayette rides on the leg of Claxon in Ridgewood’s 27-24 win over Garaway

Ridgewood and Garaway play another typical nail-biter

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Ridgewood head coach John Slusser celebrated with his players on the field long after Ridgewood’s stunning 27-24 victory over Garaway in West Lafayette on Friday, Oct. 6. Garaway skipper Jason Wallick sat dejected outside the visitor’s locker room, playing back about one hundred different plays that could have made the outcome slide in favor of the Pirates.

The Inter-Valley Conference thrill ride saw these two old rivals go at it until the very end when Ridgewood junior Keith Claxon nailed a 37-yard field goal with seven seconds remaining to give his team the victory. Even that wasn’t secured until a blocked punt, a key Pirates’ penalty and a wild scramble for a Generals fumble that was eventually recovered by Ridgewood with time running down made for quite the tumultuous finish.

“That was probably fun to watch as a fan,” coach Slusser said. “Maybe not so much as a coach, but it was one heck of a football game that is kind of exactly what people have come to expect from this rivalry.”

Early on it appeared as though the Generals might run away and hide as Slusser’s team did whatever it wanted to with great aplomb.

An opening drive saw Ridgewood pound it downfield and take a 7-0 lead on Kaden Smith’s 6-yard run. After getting a stop, Smith escaped a tackle in the backfield and ripped off a 35-yard run, and quarterback Kolton Alexander found Jarrett Slusser for 47 yards, setting up an Isaiah Lamneck race around the left corner to make it 14-0. Garaway finally got going on offense. Brady Winters rolled left for a 43-yard run, and Dawson Ley completed a nice drive with an 8-yard quarterback draw, but Garaway missed the extra point to make it 14-6. The Generals responded by whipping downfield on one gigantic play, Kolton Alexander connecting with wide-out Jarrett Slusser for a beautiful 63-yard scoring strike to make it 21-6.

Ridgewood then got a big stop and hammered down the field to the 12-yard line, where it was poised to take a 28-6 lead. However, Garaway’s Holden Yoder stepped in front of an Alexander offering for an interception, stopping the drive.

Ridgewood eventually got the ball back, and Claxon gave the Generals a 24-6 edge with a field goal.

A 35-yard pass play from Ley to Winters and a key first-down catch from Matt Mullen allowed Ley to sneak his way through traffic for a 19-yard scoring run that trimmed the deficit to 24-12 with just 44 seconds remaining in the half, and that seemed to give Garaway hope.

Garaway got a stop, and Winters rumbled in from 4 yards out on a bruising inside run that made it 24-18 following a missed two-point attempt. Pirate Korey Stress then made an interception, and Garaway turned it into another score, this one coming with 7:24 left in the third period with Winters capping it off with a 15-yard scamper to pay-dirt. However, Garaway again failed to connect on the point after, and it was tied at 24.

Suddenly both defenses clamped down and neither could produce points. As the field got slick, moving the ball got tougher, but late in the fourth quarter the Generals moved the ball deep into Garaway territory. As Alexander took the ball inside the 15, he coughed it up, and in a wild scramble that saw about eight players have a shot at grabbing the bouncing pigskin, it would eventually end up back in the hands of Slusser.

Garaway’s defense would stop Ridgewood, but with the ball on the 4-yard line, it was a chip shot for Claxon. Dillon Donaldson didn’t see it that way, bursting through the Ridgewood line to block the kick.

Garaway took over with 54 seconds on their own 20 and were prepared to move the ball downfield. However, an offside penalty put them in a first-and-15 situation, and Wallick was prepared to head to overtime.

“We were prepared to attack, but the penalty put us in a bad position, so we decided to play it safe,” Wallick said, knowing they would have to punt it away with about 10 seconds left. Instead a holding penalty on Garaway gave Ridgewood an additional 25 seconds, and Alexander made the most of it, getting his team in position to allow Claxon a shot at winning the game.

Claxon delivered.

“I knew we just had to get the ball far enough downfield to give Keith a shot,” Alexander said. “We have confidence in him, and we had confidence all night we could get it done tonight.”

“Typical Ridgewood/Garaway football game,” coach Slusser said. “It’s always a great football game between two great programs. We have the utmost respect for them. Jason and his staff are always the best-coached team and the classiest team we play, and we know it is going to be a battle every time we take the field with them.”

A tale of two halves

Ridgewood was unstoppable in the first half. Garaway would not be deterred in the second half. The two halves put together made one heck of a football game.

“I really can’t pin-point why,” Garaway coach Jason Wallick said about the ugly start. “We’ll have to look at the film. We had a great week of practice, and it showed in the second half, but that first half was just brutal. We’ve got to do better.”

“We keep finding ways to win,” Slusser said. “We got challenged in the second half, and we made some plays when we absolutely had to. I am extremely proud of them when we responded late in that game.”

Claxon clicks for the win

Claxon has been under the microscope, having to make a kick in the closing seconds for a win before in a junior varsity game. This one was different. This one was for a varsity victory that kept the Generals in the chase for a state playoff spot. This was for bragging rights in a rivalry that has only grown better over the years. This one meant something.

And just like he did in the JV game, Claxon delivered the game-winner.

“That kick in the JV game came all of a sudden,” Claxon said. “It also came with seven seconds, and after I made that one, I started crying.”

There was no crying after this one as Claxon delivered one right through the uprights for the win that set off a wild and jubilant celebration in West Lafayette.

“I knew I had to run through all of the fundamentals, and most importantly I had to keep my head down,” Claxon said. “That’s about it. Whether it is 20 yards or 40 yards, you want to hit every kick the same way, no matter the length.”

Claxon, who has made field goals from 50 yards in practice, said he knew right when he kicked it that this was going to be a good outcome for the Generals. The 37-yarder marked his long for the season.

“He’s a weapon,” Slusser said of Claxon. “We are fortunate to have him. He’s made a lot of big kicks for us. He made two key field goals in the playoffs for us as a freshman. He is very good at what he does.”

Garaway’s Dillon Donaldson was almost a hero

While Keith Claxon made the game-winning field goal with seven seconds to play, he had an opportunity earlier, but Garaway’s Dillon Donaldson spoiled the Generals’ party for at least the moment. With a chip shot 21-yarder, Donaldson timed up his rush, blew through a hole in the Ridgewood line and was all over Claxon before the kicker could connect. Donaldson got a mitt on the ball, sending it fluttering upward but well short of the cross bar.

“He came blowing through our line and made a great play,” Slusser said. “He almost saved the game for them, and he almost got the second one too.”

“Dillon responded well in the second half because I challenged him at halftime to make a difference, and I told him he’d have a chance at redemption. He really made a big-time play.”

Lesson learned … again

For Garaway it was another excruciating loss in a close game that came late in the fourth quarter. Those kinds of losses are agonizing.

“I said it before, I think I would rather lose by 50 points than to lose like that,” Wallick said. “But it is a good lesson again for our young kids. You can’t play 24 minutes and hope to win a game against a good team. I am proud of our kids because we fought to the very end and gave ourselves a chance after we got down big. But in the end, the first part of that game just killed us. We can’t afford to play like that and expect to beat a team this good. I think it was just some mental mistakes that we made that really hurt us before we got going. But we responded to some adversity tonight, and that is going to help us grow in the long run.”

Numbers game

For Garaway, Winters ran for 96 yards on 13 carries while Ley racked up 95 yards on 24 rushing attempts. Ley threw for 119 yards and ran for two scores, as did Winters, while Mullen pulled down five catches for 51 yards.

Ridgewood was paced by Slusser’s six catches for 189 yards while Alexander was 16-of-27 for 245 yards and a touchdown. Smith led all rushers with 104 yards on 14 carries, adding the one score.

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