Those exciting roller coaster rides at Cedar Point may lay claim to the most thrilling rides in Ohio, but for the fans of West Holmes football, they may well take their Knights as the most breathtaking, heart-stopping ride in the Buckeye state.
For the second week in a row, the Knights put on quite a show on the football field, providing fans with another version of totally intense football, and this time escaped Ashland High with a 41-36 win that saw both teams maneuver up and down the field at a breathtaking clip.
The Knights traveled to Ashland (3-2) in a key Ohio Cardinal Conference match-up that pitted two end-of-the-spectrum offenses against one another.
This one featured the Knights hit-em-hard, grinding power running game against the five-wide spread offense of Ashland, where it seems as though anyone can catch a pass.
While touted as a game in which whoever had the ball last would probably win, the offensive explosion made this one an instant classic.
If anyone was questioning the Knights’ number two ranking in their region and their top 10 statewide ranking in the polls, they surely put aside any question as to whether or not they could play a big game on the road against a spread offense the likes of this one.
Even when Ashland punched the Knights in the mouth by scoring first, West Holmes responded by reeling off 21 straight to forge a 21-7 lead.
“I think that says a lot about our kids, about how their mind-set is,” said West Holmes coach Kevin Maltarich. “The kids don’t get up, they don’t get down, it is just business as usual. That is exactly what we did. We didn’t get rattled, we just went out and played good football.”
But if there was anyone in the stadium that thought Ashland would roll over, they weren’t very expressive in their opinion, which would have been a wrong one anyway.
Exactly 92 seconds after Garrett Mackey’s rushing TD had followed Layne Perone and Gabe Snyder’s scores, Ashland quarterback Tyson Vogel began to work his magic. He connected on a 44-yard stroke to Carlton Buchanon, then found his favorite target, Nick Barker, in the flats for a score to make it 21-14. After Snyder threw an interception, the Arrows worked their way into field goal range and Barker nailed a 33-yarder before the half to make it 21-17 Knights.
Even though Maltarich felt his team was playing well against the spread offense as it followed the evening’s game plan, Vogel was making it very rough on the Knights defense.
“A lot of the time we only rushed three, and we were getting doubled on the edge, but we just kept trying our hardest to get to him,” said defensive end Brock Macaulay, who along with twin tower Gabe Snyder at the other end created some rather large barriers for the diminutive but athletic Vogel to throw around and over.
Vogel did that on the Arrows opening second half possession, marching his team to pay dirt and finding Kosmo Krueger on an eight-yard scoring strike to give the Arrows as 24-21 lead.
Again the Knights responded immediately, and it wasn’t just the edge rush and giant road block that Macaulay added to the fun on the night. His juggling, bobbling acrobatic catch in the end zone led to the culmination of the Knights’ 72-yard drive, which resulted in a 28-24 lead in the third quarter.
“Slow motion, it was all slow motion,” said Macaulay with a grin. “I didn’t really know if I was in the air or not, but my feet hit the ground and cupped it in one of my wrists. It was such a great feeling.”
But like so many good feelings, that soon dissipated when Vogel led the Arrows on an answering drive, which looked to be snuffed out when Lucas Geib sacked Vogel making it third-and-18. But Vogel hit Max Stringer for a 35-yard pass for a first down, then found Carlton Buchanan on a short gainer before connecting with Barker on a sensational leaping grab at the nine-yard line. On second down, Vogel found Krueger and it was 30-28 after the Knights blocked the extra point attempt of Barker.
Having to answer back, the Knights did just that. Arnold returned the kick to the 36, and Snyder ran for three yards before Mackey rambled for 11 yards to midfield. Perone churned out eight yards on first down, and after he was stuffed at the line on second down, Mackey picked up another first with a burst of 13 yards to the 29. Grant Hay went nine yards to the 20, Perone gained nine more to the 11 and Mackey raced untouched along the right side and into the end zone. Gallion’s extra point was wide left, leaving the Knights up 34-30.
“I am confident in all of our running backs, and Garrett ripped off some big runs and our offensive line came through tonight when they had to,” said Maltarich. “It was a total team effort, and if we want to win games we have to do it as a team.”
With under nine minutes left to play, the Knights defense finally stiffened, thanks to a holding call on third-and-1 on Heath Reineke, which put the Arrows in a precarious third-and-16 situation. Macaulay was able to get a piece of Vogel’s arm as he threw, and the pass fell harmlessly to the ground.
It didn’t take long for the Knights to take full advantage of the opportunity, as Mackey and Perone began chewing up real estate in solid chunks. However, it was Snyder’s sneaky keeper around the right side that netted 21 yards that was the big run, bringing the ball to Ashland’s five-yard line. From there, Mackey roared up the middle, making it 41-30 and giving the Knights a little breathing room.
However, with a five-wide offensive juggernaut like Ashland’s there is no time to breath.
Both teams actually stopped one another forcing punts, and the Arrows got the ball back with 2:48 left to play.
Vogel found Stringer wide open down the left side for a 40-yard gain to West Holmes’ 37 yard line, hit a couple of quick strikes, and then drilled one in to Jake Allton to trim the lead to 41-36, the Arrows just missing on a two-point conversion.
While the Knights couldn’t run out the clock after Grant Hay gobbled up a very tricky on-side kick attempt, it was definitely an ally, and despite being shut down on three straight running plays, with no time-outs available, all the Arrows could do was watch the tick-tocking of the clock as it began to disappear with Maltarich standing on the sideline waiting to call time-out before the play clock reached zero.
He did with 28 seconds left, and then Macaulay lifted a lazy punt down the middle of the field, and by the time it had stopped with three Knights gathered around, there was just 14 ticks left.
A nifty hook and lateral took the Arrows from the nine to the 35, but a long Hail Mary was picked off by Mitch Sheely and the Knights celebrated a huge win.
“We knew coming in that this was going to be a four quarter game, and they have a great team,” said Scott Valentine, 11th year head coach of Ashland. “We just came up a little short.”
Valentine said that his kids always felt they had a chance to come back, with their spread offense able to score quickly. However, not even they could produce the miracle needed to add one more touchdown by going 91 yards in just 14 seconds.
For the Knights, it was one more chance to face a quality opponent, this time away from home, and one more chance to try their skills against an entirely different offense, one which they knew would be a challenge to stop coming in.
“We knew this was going to be a shoot out and a hard fought game for 48 minutes,” said Maltarich. “We knew they would make some big plays and we knew they would score. It was a matter of us getting a couple of stops and controlling the ball.”
The game was definitely a tale of two very different teams, and it certainly showed in the statistics. The Knights got 127 yards from Perone and 108 from Mackey, and ran the ball 58 times for 315 rushing yards, while Vogel took to the air 52 times, completing 29 passes for a total of 359 yards and five scores.
“That is an explosive offense,” said Maltarich. “Their pass is like our run. They are going to make big plays and makes catches. We just had to take a bend but don’t break mentality, and we did it well enough to get a win.”