The decades-long rivalry between Northeastern and Kenton Ridge saw two firsts on Friday night.
For the first time, the game was played at a neutral site. It also won’t count in the standings.
Regardless of the location, the Cougars and the Jets offenses put on a show. Kenton Ridge beat Northeastern 41-20 in a jamboree game Friday night, the final preseason tune-up before the lights come on for good next weekend. The varsity portion ended 28-20 as many of the starters from each team were pulled midway through the third quarter.
After a storm pounded Springfield earlier in the day, the district began looking for a different venue, Northeastern superintendent John Kronour said. After a quick phone call to Springfield superintendent Bob Hill, he was able to secure the turf field at Evans Stadium.
“A lot of schools couldn’t go tonight,” said first-year Northeastern coach Jake Buchholtz. “We were very fortunate that our administration reached out (to Springfield). It was the first time our kids had ever played on turf. It was a new experience for them.”
On the opening drive, Kenton Ridge junior quarterback Dylan Lemen hit classmate Drew Miller on a 15-yard touchdown pass to give the Cougars a 7-0 lead.
The Jets responded as senior Mac Davis found Max Queen from 13 yards out to tie the game.
Kenton Ridge quickly regained the lead on a 7-yard TD run by Lemen. On the next possession, the Jets drove to midfield but couldn’t convert on third-and-long. A bad snap forced the punter Queen to run after the ball and once he recovered his punt was blocked by a host of Cougars. Two plays later, Lemen hit No. 9 on a 28-yard TD strike to give the Cougars a 21-7 lead to end the first quarter.
“The offensive coaches were pleased, but we’ve got a lot to work on,” Cougars coach Joel Marratta said after the game.
Less than a minute later, what looked like simple option play between Mac Davis and Jake Nichols turned into points for the Jets. Nichols took the option pitch from Davis, then pulled up to throw, hitting Max Queen on a 67-yard touchdown to pull the Jets within one score at 21-14.
Forty seconds later, KR’s Lemen hit senior Andrew Good on a 56-yard bomb to extend the lead back to 14 points.
On its next possession, NE’s Davis again found Queen on an 8-yard strike with 7:48 left in the first half to make it 28-20.
After forcing KR to punt, the Jets drove the ball down the field for nearly six minutes. With a minute remaining, Northeastern drove the ball inside the Cougars’ 10-yard line, but a Davis’ pass was intercepted to end the drive.
Buchholtz, a Kenton Ridge graduate, was proud of the way his team bounced back after being down multiple times in the first half.
“A big thing for us is fighting through adversity,” he said. “This is exactly what you want out of a scrimmage. It’s not necessarily how it finishes, but it’s how your teams responds. After being on staff for a few years, we responded differently than I’ve seen. The kids fought to the very end. … I think we surprised a lot people in the stands tonight.”
The Cougars beat Northeastern 48-13 in Week 1 last season in what could be the last time the two intra-district football squads play in a game that counts.
While the game always drew a huge gate, Kronour said, the district’s athletic council decided the contest caused animosity amongst the two high schools. Kronour’s goal since joining the district in 2015 has been to bring the district together, he said.
“I understood it when we were in the same league,” Kronour said. “From my standpoint, we were trying to make our district cohesive and come together as one. This jamboree game gives us a chance to play, but not be for such high stakes. … I’d like to see us do more things together.”
Next week, the games count. Kenton Ridge will host Mechanicsburg at Richard L. Phillips Field. Northeastern will travel to Worthington Christian. Both games will kickoff at 7 p.m.