West Union quarterback Ryan Rothwell, left, eludes the Southern Buckeye pass rush to fire a 48-yard first quarter touchdown pass to receiver Bryan Vincent, right in action from last Friday’s SOIL contest at Freedom Field.
Third quarter pick six turns the tide for Dragons –
Story and photos by Mark Carpenter –
For the West Union Dragons varsity football squad, the theme for the 2017 season is the “Quest For the Cup”, meaning regular season and playoff titles in the Southern Ohio Independent League. The Dragons took a huge step l towards that goal last Friday night at Freedom Field and remained unbeaten in three outings as they used a big second half to upend the visiting Southern Buckeye Warriors by a final score of 40-14.
In handing the Warriors their first defeat of the season, the Dragons struggled in the first half, leading only 16-14 at the break, but an 85-yard pick six early in the third quarter by Dallas Waldron turned the tide as West Union scored 24 unanswered in the second half to chalk up victory number three.
“What a great high school football game by both teams,” said West Union head coach Scott McFarland. “We knew Southern Buckeye would come to play and we respect the progress they have made as a program.”
“We made a couple of mistakes in the first half that led to scores by them but our guys never flinched and kept playing to take a lead before halftime.”
The Dragons got the scoring underway with three minutes left in the opening period when quarterback Ryan Rothwell eluded the Warrior pass rush and found a wide-open Bryan Vincent for a 48-yard touchdown. Dylan Grooms ran in the two-point try and the home team led 8-0, but it wasn’t long before Southern Buckeye struck back.
On the second play of their next possession, Warriors’ quarterback Alex Bateman threw long in the direction of receiver Mason Gardner, who was blanketed by a pair of Dragon defenders, but somehow the pass snuck through and into Gardner’s grasp, and he took it the rest of the way for a 63-yard scoring strike. The extra point was blocked but the West Union lead was cut to 8-6.
One of those mistakes that Coach McFarland referred to came on the ensuing Dragon possession when Rothwell was again chased from the pocket and ill-advisedly threw one up for grabs and his toss was intercepted by the Warriors’ T.J. Stivers who made a nice return all the way to the West Union 12. On the first play of the second quarter, Bateman found receiver Marcus Hamilton in the corner of the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown. A two-point run by Dylan Lainhart put the Warriors in front 14-8.
After a West Union punt, Southern Buckeye took over on their own 15 and drove deep into West Union territory before making a costly mistake, with Lainhart fumbling and the Dragons’ Vincent recovering at the West Union 26. The Dragons then put together a seven-play, 74-yard drive, culminating in a 36-yard scoring pass from Rothwell to Brandan Cornell. Jordan Hendricks ran in the two-point conversion and at the half, West Union had reclaimed the lead at 16-14.
“At halftime, I told our team that the line of scrimmage would determine the game and challenged our offensive line to go out and dominate the second half and they responded,” said Coach McFarland.
The tide of the game changed early in the second half, in fact on the first Warrior possession. On a third and 20 play from the West Union 15-yard line, Bateman’s pass to the flat was picked off by Waldron, who raced 85 yards untouched to pay dirt. When Mizael Gapi took the two-point try across, the Dragons had extended their lead to 24-14.
“We told our team all week that big time players make big time plays in big time games,” said McFarland. “Dallas’s pick six was a huge play and probably the turning point of the game.”
From that point on, everything went the way of the home team. The Warriors turned the ball over on downs and the Dragons capitalized, going 80 yards in eight plays, all running plays except the final one, which was another touchdown connection from Rothwell to Vincent, this time from seven yards away. The two-point run by Hendricks put the home side firmly in control, up 32-14 late in the third period.
Four minutes into the final quarter, the Dragons added to their lead when Bateman was sacked in his own end zone for a safety, making it 34-14 and to put the final nail in the coffin, Gapi took a handoff to the house from nine yards out for the final points in a 40-14 West Union triumph.
The Dragons will put their unbeaten mark on the line on Friday night at Freedom Field when they will face the North Adams Green Devils in the annual “Victory Bell” contest between the two SOIL rivals. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
“I’m really proud of our team and the improvement we are seeing from week to week,” added Coach McFarland. “Now we get to play for the Victory Bell against North Adams on Friday night. Our players always get excited for that game.”
6 8 0 0 -14
8 8 16 8 -40
WU- Vincent 48-yd. pass from Rothwell (Grooms run)
SB- Gardner 63-yd. pass from Bateman (extra point blocked)
SB- Hamilton 12-yd. pass from Bateman (Lainhart run)
WU- Cornell 36-yd. pass from Rothwell (Hendricks run)
WU- Waldron 85-yd. interception run (Gapi run)
WU- Vincent 7-yd. pass from Rothwell (Hendricks run)
WU- Safety, Bateman tackled in end zone
WU- Gapi 9-yd. run (run failed)