All season long the West Holmes Knights’ offense has put up some prolific numbers as West Holmes produced a mammoth turnaround season.
On Friday, Oct. 26 at Mt. Vernon High School, the Knights faced a must-win game versus the Yellowjackets if they wanted to entertain any thought of a playoff showing in week 11 of the high school football season.
The Knights won 23-0 to finish the year 8-2, but on this night it would be the defense that took control and took a starring role.
“We played lights out, and what I am most proud of is that we have shown that we can win any type of game we get in, whether it is a shoot-out or a grind-it-out defensive game. I think the knock on us coming into the year was that we weren’t going to be able to play good defense, but our defense has gotten better each and every week,” Knights’ head coach Zach Gardner said. “Our kids went out and executed the game plan to perfection. Any time you hold a team to 75 yards and two first downs you are thrilled with the outcome.”
On a blustery, rainy evening neither team could generate much offense, and the Knights produced the only points of the first half on a 33-yard Nate Ginsburg field goal, that despite West Holmes lurking in Mt. Vernon’s half of the field much of the half.
While the defense was stellar, the usually potent offense was being bogged down as Mt. Vernon threw some unique looks at the Knights.
“We needed to make some adjustments at the half, where we just needed to figure out what they were doing and approach it differently,” Gardner said. “They were doubling on Shane Jones and Grady Hay and giving us a weird box and flooding gaps. Once we got into the locker room at the half, we worked through it and scored in three of our four possessions in the second half.”
The Knights were finally able to break through into the end zone late in the third period when Cale Ogi hammered in from 5 yards out. Ginsburg missed the PAT, and West Holmes pushed its lead out to 9-0.
Led by middle linebacker Josh Baldridge, West Holmes’ defense stymied the Yellowjackets, and the Knights started to wear down the Mt. Vernon defense.
Gardner said Jones and Hay both played key games in the defensive backfield, and he praised his three-down linemen for playing unselfishly and taking up space, allowing the linebackers to swallow up Yellowjackets ball carriers.
“It’s about impossible to pinpoint one kid out there who played well because it was a whole-team defensive effort,” Gardner said. “Everything we do is about doing your job, and sometimes that means being selfless. If we want to be a success on defense, each kid has to play their role, and we performed our tasks to perfection.”
That led to more fourth-quarter points for West Holmes than both teams had scored combined over the first three periods.
Quarterback Bridger Cline finally got the passing attack going, first finding Braden Allen for a 6-yard scoring strike. Then one series later he delivered again, this time finding Jones, his favorite target, on a 28-yard touchdown pass that finished the scoring on the evening.
For the Knights the victory erased last year’s disappointing 41-21 loss to Mt. Vernon and capped a fantastic season for a team that went 0-10 just two seasons ago.
“We talked all week about last year’s game,” Gardner said. “Last year we were feeling pretty good about ourselves and getting to the point we were at, and we expected to finish the season strong, and we didn’t go out and play the way we were capable of playing, so finishing and taking care of business was a big teaching point all week for us, and the kids went out and finished strong.”
While the Yellowjackets defense and the horrible weather contributed to Cline’s subpar 139 yards of passing, Ogi stepped up and did the yeoman’s portion of the work on the night, peeling off 126 rushing yards on 38 carries. Hayden Baker added 39 rushing yards on five carries. Jones ended the night with six catches for 90 yards. Taylor and Hay each hauled in a pair of catches.
But on this night the defense provided the most impressive numbers, the most important one being the zero on the Mt. Vernon side of the scoreboard. West Holmes held MVHS to a paltry total of 75 yards on the evening, 46 on the ground and 29 through the air. In fact Mt. Vernon gained more yardage on penalties, where West Holmes committed six miscues, giving the Yellowjackets 98 yards in penalties.
Just as important was West Holmes’ performance on third and fourth down. Mt. Vernon was just one-of-11 on third-down conversions and went an abysmal 0-of-11 on fourth-down tries. Such was West Holmes’ dominating defense. Conversely the Knights went 4-of-5 on their fourth-down attempts, a huge advantage in the game.
“This team is very ready for the challenge of the playoffs,” Gardner said. “We told our kids after the Lexington game that we can keep this thing going, this thing that we have worked so hard for, for as long as we keeping winning. That is the mind-set we were in when we played Ashland and when we played Mt. Vernon and now as we move into our first playoff game.”
That game will be up north against a talented 9-1 Chagrin Falls team, the number-two seed in Div. III Region 9.
Gardner said Chagrin Falls is very much like West Holmes in that it has a lot of great athletes and also runs a spread offense.
“You can tell they are very well coached,” Gardner said. “They have a number of play-makers, and they don’t have a lot of guys who play both ways. We are extremely excited to have this opportunity in front of us.”
Gardner spoke about this senior group of players who have won a grand total of six games over the past three seasons. To win eight games and earn a playoff berth is a monumental task.
“We have said all season that if there is any justice these seniors deserve this kind of finish because of what they have had to endure in their careers,” Gardner said. “They have not backed down from the challenge. They have been committed and done everything they needed to do to put themselves in this position when they had every reason in the world to quit. They were on a mission to bring West Holmes football back to prominence, and we feel like they have set the foundation for years to come by resetting the culture.”