West Holmes Football

Knights’ defense, Ogi dominate West Branch in a 30-8 must-win victory in week 8

West Holmes' smothering defense was a key to victory over West Branch

The West Holmes Knights understood very well what was on the line when they hosted the West Branch Warriors on Friday, Oct. 12 at Knights Stadium. With West Branch in the same region and coming in at 6-1, the Knights knew this was a do-or-die football game for a team in need of something great after dropping its last two games following a 5-0 start.

On the very first play from scrimmage, West Holmes stand-out Shane Jones coughed up the football on an end-around, and the Warriors recovered. However, on this night the first play was not a harbinger of things to come as West Holmes’ defense stepped up time and again, and the Knights carved up the West Branch defense with a running game powered by Cale Ogi to earn a stunning 30-8 victory that was impressive start to finish.

“I think our kids came out and played with a chip on their shoulder, and I am extremely proud of this team and the attitude, effort and fight they showed all night long,” West Holmes coach Zach Gardner said.

After the two losses the past two weeks, Gardner said his team understands that in order to earn a playoff berth, they must do one thing: win.

“We have told our kids that as long as we take care of our business and play one week at a time, we are going to keep playing,” Gardner said. “For us every week is a playoff week, and now we have to prep for another really big game next week.”

The Knights came up with a big stop after Jones coughed up the ball on the first play from scrimmage. After both teams created stops, West Holmes then took the ball downfield and got a huge reception from Jones for 42 yards that took the ball to the Warriors’ 16-yard line. That eventually led to a touchdown toss from Bridger Cline to Grady Hay of 13 yards, and West Holmes took the lead.

The West Holmes defense stuffed West Branch after a lengthy drive and took over, but Cline made an ill-advised throw across his body back into the middle of the field for an interception. However, Braden Allen stepped in front of a pass and changed the game’s momentum, and rather than the Warriors looking for a tying score, the Knights were about to pounce.

Early in the second quarter Cline again found Hay on a 25-yard scoring strike across the middle after Ogi had reeled off a 34-yard run. Later in the period the Knights advanced the ball deep into West Branch territory, where Cline used his legs to scamper in from 11 yards out for a 21-0 halftime lead.

Neither team generated any score in the third period, and defensively Ryan O’Donnell and Josh Baldridge were tearing it up and stifling the Warriors.

West Holmes would record a safety early in the fourth period after a poor punt snap went out of the end zone, making it 23-0, and the Warriors finally broke through after Gage Buckley cracked off a 70-yard run inside the Knights’ 10-yard line. Moments later Brock Hillyer plunged in from the one to put West Branch on the board at 23-8 after a two-point conversion.

But as it had all night, West Holmes rammed the ball right down the throat of the Warriors by running Ogi at them, and the senior finished off the drive with a 10-yard scoring run, where he plowed through a crowd to find pay-dirt.

It was a fitting way to cap off a game the Knights absolutely had to have.

“I thought our kids just went out and took what they felt was theirs tonight,” Gardner said. “We played well in every aspect of the game, and we have to continue to do that.”

Game-defining play

With West Holmes clinging to a 7-0 lead in the first quarter, Cline had slung an ill-advised pass back across the middle of the field that was picked off at the Knights’ 20-yard line. The Warriors poised to strike to tie the score, but defensive back Braden Allen read an out-pass and stepped in front of it, snaring it inside the 10 and returning it out beyond the 30.

It was the defining play that epitomized the Knights’ defensive effort all night.

“I was looking for a screen, but I read the receiver and was able to make a play on the ball,” Allen said. “After that you could sense the change in momentum. The crowd was way into it, and we got fired up and kind of went from there. I thought our defense really worked hard after our last lost, and we were all ready to come out here and make a difference.”

Game-defining player

At 5 feet, 6 inches and 175 pounds, senior nose tackle O’Donnell is far from a prototypical defensive lineman. However, that didn’t stop him from living in the Warriors’ backfield all night, where he collected four sacks and continually shut down West Branch drives.

It was almost as though O’Donnell was inside the Warriors’ huddle, listening to their play calls.

“I was just out there doing my job,” O’Donnell said. “I was just trying to get around the hip of the defenders, whether it was from my tackle or nose guard spot, and tried to create a pass rush. Coach [Tom] Eastep had me moving around to a couple of different positions so they wouldn’t get used to me. That helped a lot. Our team played stellar all night, and I think the adrenaline was going pretty good tonight. It definitely wasn’t hard to get up for this game because we all knew how big it was.”

Game-defining plow horse

Ogi didn’t have his usual yardage-chomping game a week ago in the Knights’ one-point loss to Lexington. He was going to make amends in a huge way in this must-win game.

Ogi gobbled up huge chunks of real estate and helped set up every single West Holmes score before finally punching in the last one himself.

Ogi ended the evening with 192 rushing yards on 25 carries, proving to be an absolute workhorse on a night when West Holmes absolutely had to have him.

“It seemed like every time I touched the ball my offensive line was clearing out these huge holes and I was hitting them at full speed,” Ogi said. “They were great throughout the whole game.”

It got to the point where Warriors faithful were screaming to their team’s defense to watch out for the run up the middle, but no matter what the Warriors applied to their strategy, it did little to deter the battering ram that was eating them up several yards at a time.

“We felt all week that we would be able to run the ball against them,” Ogi said. “I pride myself on being able to build my game and get better and better as the game goes on. Offensively we were able to do the things we wanted to do going into the game.”

Game-defining defense

Gardner said this was by far the finest game his defense had played all season. The effort, the implementation of the game plan and the attention to little details helped West Holmes contain the vaunted Warriors running game. It wasn’t until the terrific 70-yard romp from Buckley deep into the fourth quarter that West Branch would finally put a dent in the Knights’ defense, ending the shut-out bid.

“Definitely our best game of the year,” defensive back Grady Hay said. “We played together as a unit, and that is the kind of thing that creates defensive stops. Everyone went out and played the way we were coached to play, and that created the building block for us tonight. Everything kind of flowed together, and Brayden’s pick was the start of it all.”

“I can’t say enough about the role our defense played in this win,” Gardner said. “Coach Golec had a great game plan, and we challenged our kids to go out and win on third down.”

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