The Northwestern High School football had already experienced two heartbreaking losses in the waning moments of games against Shawnee and Indian Lake earlier this season.
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The Wariors weren’t going to let it happen a third time.
Northwestern’s defense stopped Kenton Ridge on fourth down four times in the second half — including once inside the 5-yard line — to earn a 21-14 win on Friday night at Taylor Field in a Central Buckeye Conference crossover division game.
“It’s a monumental win for the program,” second-year coach Shane Carter said. “It’s the night I’m the most proud of this program in my short tenure here.”
The victory assured the Warriors (6-3) of their first winning season since 2015. With a victory over Graham next week, the Warriors can clinch a share of the CBC Mad River Division title.
Northwestern senior Eli Berner had 113 yards rushing on 26 carries, including two first-quarter scores.
Warriors quarterback Chris Hart went 5-for-9 for 144 yards and a touchdown. Senior wide receiver Landon Burns caught four of those passes for 139 yards, including a 51-yard TD to give the Warriors a 21-0 lead in the second quarter.
The Cougars (5-4) crept back into the game with a 26-yard TD pass from quarterback Dylan Lemen to Andrew Good. They capitalized on an interception and scored on a 4-yard run by Lemen with 20 seconds remaining in the first half.
The second half was a different ball game as rain poured onto the field. The Cougars had the ball inside the Warriors’ 5 in the third quarter, but were stopped on fourth down.
In his last home game, Warriors senior Nathan Snyder saved his best game for last. The defensive lineman had 12 tackles and four sacks, including three big stops during the game-saving, goal-line stand.
“It’s the greatest feeling,” he said. “I’ve never felt anything like this before.”
The Warriors moved Berner to quarterback in the second half. He mostly ran the ball on read options, helping Northwestern milk the clock. The Cougars had one final possession in the final minute, but were unable to move the ball into Warriors territory.
“We didn’t take advantage of our opportunities,” said Kenton Ridge coach Joel Marratta. “It’s disappointing for our kids. They had all the opportunities in the world to get a win and just didn’t get it done.”
Northwestern has a chance to make history next week with a win at Graham. The Warriors haven’t won a league championship in more than five decades.
“Defense, effort, tenacity — all the things we’ve worked toward in the offseason was displayed in the fourth quarter,” Carter said. “(Berner) couldn’t walk, Nathan Dewey could barely walk. I told them when you leave everything on the field and you can’t walk off the field, that’s when you know you’ve played your best game. We finally got there.”