West Holmes Football

Knights officially announce their arrival with a signature 35-20 win over Tygers

Knights dig deep against Tygers to claim a key win

While the West Holmes Knights came into their Friday night football contest in week four undefeated, they were still in search of one thing: a signature win.

The Knights aren’t searching any longer.

On Friday, Sept. 14 a talented and athletic Mansfield Senior Tygers team roared into Knights Stadium in an Ohio Cardinal Conference showdown that meant a ton for both teams, and the Knights flexed a little bit of athleticism and muscle of their own in hammering out a 35-20 victory that not only improved them to 4-0, but also told the state this West Holmes team is for real.

“Absolutely a signature win,” West Holmes head coach Zach Gardner said following the big win. “For us to go out in the OCC against the team the local media picked to win the league, for us to go out and play the way we did and get a win is a big win for our program.”

If West Holmes was intimidated by the Tygers, a team that has beaten up West Holmes pretty badly in recent years, it didn’t show. The Knights powered out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter when quarterback Bridger Cline found Shane Jones on a nice lob pass into the corner of the end zone to ignite the early run.

Senior then marched the ball down the field, but a costly penalty inside the five forced them to attempt a field goal, and the Knights line shoved through to block the kick to maintain the seven-point edge.

After the Knights were stopped and West Holmes’ defense stuffed the Tygers on another possession, Cline hooked up with Jones again on a crossing pattern right in front of the goal post, and Mark Biltz’s kick made it 14-0.

“That’s what we’ve been talking about for a long time: not digging yourselves a hole early,” Mansfield Senior head coach Chioke Bradley said. “We came out here, and we’re down 14-0 just like that. We’re on the road against a good team in a hostile environment. That’s tough to overcome.”

Few people in Knights Stadium thought the game was anywhere close to being over, and Senior made sure they got right back into it by ramming the ball right through the West Holmes defense on a series of runs that ended on Amajeon Robertson’s 5-yard score in which he carried a couple of Knights into the end zone. Senior stymied the Knights but were pushed back deep in their own territory on a Cline coffin corner punt that went out on the 5-yard line. Senior was forced to punt, and West Holmes blocked it. The ball went out of the back of the end zone for a touchback and a 16-7 West Holmes lead.

The Tygers produced a big comeback score late in the second quarter when quarterback Angelo Grose slung a deep ball and hit Armon Huguely in stride for a 36-yard score to get within two.

“I felt like we took momentum and made some plays, but we didn’t make enough,” Bradley said. “There were plays out here to be made, and they made more than we did.”

Then came what were perhaps the biggest moments of the game, and two of the three plays were supplied by Gavin Sheldon. With less than one minute to play in the half, the bruising tailback took the Tygers’ kick and ran it back 44 yards, then he took a Cline screen and roared 33 yards to the Senior 19-yard line.

That opened the door for an improbable score that was aided by a tough call on Senior on an interference play in the corner of the end zone, and West Holmes took advantage when Cline found Grady Hay on a swing pass. Hay lunged and found the pylon, giving West Holmes a 22-14 lead heading into the half.

“I was playing with a hurt shoulder, so that really got me going and gave us some momentum,” Sheldon said of his consecutive plays that led to the score. “I fought through the injury because we are family and I wanted to be out here to contribute to our effort.”

“That was huge,” Gardner said of the kick return. “Special teams is a third of the game, and we take pride in it.”

The opening kick of the second half proved to be a head scratcher. The Knights kicked off, and the ball rolled down to the 1-yard line, where nobody from Senior went after it. Two Knights dove for it, knocking it into the end zone, where West Holmes recovered. After the initial call of a West Holmes touchdown, the officials got together and awarded the ball to the Tygers on the 20-yard line, calling it a touchback.

When Robertson plunged in from 4 yards out to make it 22-20, it was game on, and the Knights had to respond.

Both defenses clamped down, and it wouldn’t be until late in the third period following a long 49-yard catch and run by Hay that Biltz would deliver on a 25-yard field goal to push the lead out to 25-20.

Heading into the fourth period, Senior got a long 68-yard kick return from Huguely that went to the Knights’ 18, but it would be negated by a holding penalty, and West Holmes’ defense got a stop.

Senior then came up with a huge interception of Cline to set up a possible drive to take the lead, but Shiloh Jones stepped in front of a Grose delivery and snagged an interception to give the Knights the ball back.

“The play of the game was Shiloh Jones stepping in for an injured teammate and coming up with that interception,” Gardner said. “He’s a senior who is selfless and understands the team aspect of this.”

West Holmes didn’t waste the opportunity as Cline flipped a short pass to Cale Ogi, who stormed down the left sideline and danced into the end zone to move the lead out to 32-20. Biltz connected again later from 25 yards out, and Cline turned off his golden throwing arm and turned on his running cleats as the fourth quarter saw him ramble for the majority of his 84 rushing yards that helped put the game in the win column for the Knights.

“Our kids went out and made plays all night long,” Gardner said. “We challenged them all offseason to make plays, and we are so proud of them going out and making plays against a playoff league championship-caliber ball club.”

Cline had another huge game, throwing for 367 yards and four touchdowns while amassing 84 yards on the ground. The Tygers’ large defensive line and their willingness to load the box with defenders shut down the dangerous running duo of Ogi and Sheldon, limiting them to 16 and 31 rushing yards, respectively.

Jones played a monster role in the win, snaring six of Cline’s 16 completions for a whopping 131 yards and two scores. Hay added four catches for 71 yards and a score, and Sheldon collected four balls for 67 yards. Ogi and Braden Allen made the most of their lone catches, Ogi’s being the 59-yard TD and Allen’s going for 34 yards.

Defensively linebackers Carrick Miller and Josh Baldridge led a great effort, but on this night it would be the West Holmes offensive line that would deserve gold stars. Senior has a massive defensive line, and West Holmes’ front six did a remarkable job in protecting their quarterback all night with Cline facing very little pressure throughout the 48 minutes.

“They are sending six, sometimes seven guys, and for our offensive line to hang in their and to get them is a testament to our kids and their commitment,” Gardner said.

“I am pretty happy with the way things went tonight,” senior offensive lineman Keaton Macaulay said. “We’re still going to make mistakes, but if we can perform at our potential, we are going to score. We grind every practice, and it’s all to make sure we keep number three clean.”

On this night they did just that, and it led to a signature win.

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