West Union finishes 10-0 with win over Southern Buckeye –
Story and photos by Mark Carpenter –
From the first day of practice on a very hot August day to the season finale on a very cold October night, the goal for the West Union Dragons football squad in 2017 has never wavered. Dubbed as the “Quest For The Cup”, the Dragons had their sights set on an undefeated campaign and a championship in the Southern Ohio Independent League, in the first year that the league has held a conference tournament.
After rolling through an 8-0 regular season and then crushing Peebles in the conference semi-finals, the Dragons headed back to Freedom Field on Saturday night to face the Southern Buckeye Warriors, the only team that had really challenged the West Union squad in the regular season, though the Dragons cam out victorious in both meetings. Now the two teams met for the third time on a crisp October evening with the newly minted Darby-Koehler Trophy on the line for the winner, hardware named after Steve Darby and Bob Koehler for their contributions to football in the area.
As it turned out, the night was a coronation for the Dragons as they took a 14-0 halftime lead, then held off the Warriors in the second half to claim a 28-14 victory and the title of SOIL regular season and tournament champions.
“What a great high school football game tonight from two local teams,” said West Union head coach Scott McFarland. “Both teams played their hearts out which is what you expect in a championship game. This is the goal we worked for all season and our ‘Quest For the Cup’ is now complete.”
“We are so proud to send our seniors out with the first official SOIL championship and the Darby-Koehler Cup.”
The Dragons wasted not time in declaring their intentions on Saturday night as they took the opening kickoff and turned it into a 16-play drive that culminated in a 30-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Ryan Rothwell to wideout Brandan Cornell, a combination that has been nothing short of dynamic all season. The two-point try failed but West Union had an early 6-0 advantage.
The defenses then took over the game, as neither team could muster much offense as the clock moved into the second stanza, A Rothwell interception midway through the second period set up the dragons on the Southern Buckeye 30 and two plays later, halfback Clayton Madden found the end zone from 23 yards out and a two-point run by Mizael Gapi made it 14-0. The Warriors had the last possession of the half but a sack by the Dragons’ Tyler Egnor brought the teams to the intermission with West Union up by 14.
“Our plan coming in was to control the time of possession and minimize mistakes while limiting the big play,” said Coach McFarland. “Our players worked so hard to prepare for this game and executed our game plan very well. Even after the turnovers and mistakes we made, our team never got down and kept playing through it which is a sign of experienced leadership on the field.”
For most of the third quarter, Southern Buckeye won the battle of field position and when a West Union punt traveled just five yards, the Warriors took advantage and in four plays got a touchdown run from fullback Jonathan Hurley and a two-point conversion run from Dylan Lainhart to slice the West Union lead to 14-8 and bring their faithful to their feet with three minutes left in the third quarter.
The hopes of the Warriors leaped even higher when they recovered a fumble on the next West Union possession, but their offense went three and out and punted with the Dragons taking over on their own 20 and then getting the biggest play of the game.
From his own 20, the Dragons’ Rothwell faked a handoff on the jet sweep and kept the ball himself and saw a lot of open field in front of him, racing 80 yard for a touchdown that gave West Union a 20-8 lead with 1:13 left in the third. When Southern Buckeye got the ball back, it was Cornell coming up big on defense, picking off a pass and returning it all the way to the Warrior 30. Five plays later, it was Madden again around the outside and into the end zone from 23 yards out and again Gapi with the two-point run, and the Dragons were smelling a title, leading 28-8 with 10:48 to play.
The Warriors did respond, going on a 13-play, 70-yard drive that ended in a Lainhart touchdown run and a failed two-point try still saw the Dragons on top 28-14.
To make sure that the Cup was going to be in their possession, the Dragons got the ball back with 7:12 to play and held it for 13 plays to run out the clock and set up a celebration that saw Coach McFarland doused with cold water and the trophy presented by former Green Bay Packer Brandon Underwood.
“It has been a special season going 10-0 this year and we are already looking forward to having almost everyone back next year. We owe a big thank you to everyone that has supported football in Adams County, these kids will remember these memories for a lifetime.”