Game of the Week

Quakers take Knights’ best shot and then finish strong in 49-24 win

Bridger Cline uncorks a 95-yard TD pass to Shane Jones, a West Holmes record

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Sometimes in life when David fires the first rock, Goliath simply deflects it and comes back with a fiery temperament that signifies that the stone only angered the big man.

On Friday, Sept. 1 at Woody Hayes Quaker Stadium, the West Holmes Knights wanted to come out of the gate and make it known they were bent on competing with the highly favored New Philadelphia Quakers.

They did.

But the Quakers made sure the Knights knew in the end why Matt Dennison’s Quakers program is one that is playing at an extremely high level, having made a deep playoff run last season.

New Philadelphia absorbed West Holmes’ best punch early and then went on to post a 49-24 win in which the Quakers used a number of weapons to earn their second win against no defeats while West Holmes fell to 0-2.

After the Knights stopped the Quakers and forced a punt on the opening possession, Zac Gardner’s Knights did something that has never been done in West Holmes football history.

Taking over the football with its back to the wall on the 5-yard line, West Holmes quarterback Bridger Cline dropped back and hit Shane Jones on a crossing pattern over the middle, and Jones turned the pass into a 95-yard catch-and-run touchdown, the longest scoring pass in West Holmes history.

David had slung his stone and connected, but Goliath was about to get angry.

“Offensively that team has some big weapons, and we aren’t a team that gives up a lot of big plays,” Dennison said. “But I was proud of the way our kids responded to that adversity.”

The Quakers quickly got back to even when sophomore quarterback Baron May whipped a long pass to Sam Zemis that got the ball out to the 1-yard line, where Kye Crowthers pounded it in.

West Holmes then got a great play that turned into a huge downer when Cline hit wide-out Ethan Kinsey on a 47-yard pass play, but on the tackle down the sideline Kinsey broke his collarbone and was done for the night. That put a huge crimp in the Knights’ attack plan. In essence several stones had been removed from David’s pouch.

“Losing Ethan really hurt us because our game plan was to spread them out and get the ball to our play-makers, and Ethan has been that early on,” Gardner said. “But kudos to our kids to adjusting and continuing to play hard.”

West Holmes would get to the New Philadelphia 6-yard line, but the Quakers’ interior defense would stiffen and force a field goal. Trailing 10-7, the Quakers quickly flew downfield, thanks in large part to a 47-yard gain by Crowthers, who later punched one in from the 5-yard line for a 14-10 New Philadelphia lead.

West Holmes again responded, driving downfield to the New Philadelphia 4-yard line, the big plays including a 17-yard catch from Grady Hay, an 18-yard catch from Brayden Chaney and a big 11-yard run on third down from Gavin Sheldon.

However, the Quakers’ goal-line defense stiffened again, and when the Knights went for it on fourth and goal from the 11, the drive came up empty.

“Our kid stake a lot of pride in our red-zone defense (inside the 20-yard line), and we take pride in keeping teams out of the end zone,” Dennison said. “Our kids stepped up and made plays when it mattered the most, and we got some great senior leadership.”

“We were able to come out and execute our game plan early on,” Gardner said. “We went out and executed our game plan, and we felt really good about what we were doing even though we only got the three points on those two long drives. Part of what we are working on is learning how to compete, make plays and win, and we made some nice plays in the first quarter.”

After getting a stop, West Holmes looked like it would start another drive with an impressive reverse play, but Garrett Strand did a great job of staying home and foiled a big play for the Knights, forcing a punt. It wouldn’t be the last time the New Philadelphia senior would come up huge on defense.

Goliath smelled blood and went for the throat. May reeled off runs of 12 and 24 yards and then found Zemis for a 21-yard score to make it 21-10.

On the Knights’ first play from scrimmage, the exchange was botched, and when the ball hit the turf, Strand was there to scoop it up and scramble 28 yards to pay dirt and a 28-10 Quakers’ lead.

“That’s the second time I’ve scored a defensive touchdown in two games,” Strand said. “I thought it got us going and gave us some nice momentum, but this was really a total team effort from start to finish.”

The Knights quickly went three and out, and the Quakers had just over two minutes to work for a score. It took 90 seconds. May found Austin Kohl on two huge pass plays, the second being a 24-yard touchdown strike that made the score 35-10 and put the Knights in a big-time hole at the half.

The Knights opened the third quarter with a nice-looking drive, but Caleb Robbins stepped in front of a Cline pass to thwart that drive, and the two teams’ defenses settled in and stopped each other’s offense for most of the third period.

That would change near the end of the third period, and it would be Strand who would again be the catalyst, stepping into the passing lane and picking off a Cline offering. Several plays later Crowthers would sprint to the end zone from 23-yards out to make it 42-10.

Goliath was now flexing his muscles, but David was about to show everyone he wasn’t going to be bullied. West Holmes drove down the field, and Sheldon hammered into the end zone from the 5-yard line to trim the Quakers’ lead to 42-17 to begin the fourth period. New Philadelphia responded when May fired a strike to Jent Joseph that went for a 36-yard score, and the lead was back to 32.

Chaney would flash that All-Ohio speed late in the game when he took a Cline pass and tore through the Quakers’ defense for a 72-yard touchdown, but that would end the scoring for the night.

Crowthers would go for 170 yards on the ground and three scores, and the senior said he felt he needed to redeem himself after being taken out of the game in week one after taking a penalty for starting a fracas in the win over Claymont.

“I had a lot of aggression coming into this game and plenty to prove,” Crowthers said. “My offensive line did a really nice job of creating some big running lanes for me.”

For the Quakers the win was another step in returning to the same status they ended the season on last year.

“This group has big expectations, and we know we still have things to work on, but we have a lot of experience back and kids who can play,” Dennison said.

West Holmes is in a very different place, and Gardner said getting to where the Quakers are currently is his team’s ambition.

“The disappointing thing for me right now is that I don’t think our kids realize how good of a football team they can be,” Gardner said. “That’s a mentality that we need to fix. We have to learn to believe in ourselves. Right now it’s like we are waiting for something to go wrong. But these kids will keep fighting, and we will get this program back to where it belongs.”

Dennison agreed with that assessment.

“They are getting better every week, and if those kids (West Holmes) keep buying into what Zac is doing, they are going to be a very good football team,” Dennison said.

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