With its Ohio Heritage Conference North Division championship and playoff hopes on the line against an unbeaten opponent on Senior Night, the West Liberty-Salem High School football team came out swinging.
The Tigers jumped out to a 13-3 first quarter lead against West Jefferson High School at Tiger Stadium on Friday night.
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From that point forward, however, the Roughriders threw one knockout blow after another, scoring 35 straight points.
West Jefferson clinched at least a share of the first OHC North Division title, beating the Tigers 38-13 to improve to 9-0 and 4-0 in the division. The Roughriders can win the championship outright with a victory against Triad (1-8, 0-4 OHC North) next week.
“That’s a big deal,” West Jefferson coach Shawn Buescher said. “We came over here with that goal. We have a lot of respect for their program and what they’ve been able to do in this conference and in the playoffs. We knew this would be a great challenge for us.”
West Jefferson opened the scoring with a 26-yard field goal by Jon Stevenson. On the ensuing kickoff, Tigers senior Tyler Moell returned the ball to the three-yard line, setting up a TD run by junior Major Stratton. On its next possession, Tigers running back Braden Miller scored on a 19-yard run to extend the lead to 10.
However, two second quarter interceptions led to touchdown passes of 24- and 40-yards by Roughriders quarterback Lance Lambert, one to Gabe Jones and the other to Caleb VanHook.
“We talked to our kids about taking their best shot early,” Buescher said. “We knew the situation they were in, wanting to win the league. Obviously, we’re the new guys in the league and their backs were against the wall in terms of making the playoffs. We wanted to handle that adversity and stay the course.”
Roughriders WR Wyatt Dillion scored from 7 yards out with four seconds remaining to make it 24-13 at the half.
“We just made too many mistakes, had too many turnovers,” Tigers coach Dan McGill said. “Sometimes when you play in big games, windows are tighter and sometimes you try to do too much, even when you’re running the ball. My guys played extremely hard. I couldn’t ask them to give me any more effort than they did.”
On the Roughriders first possession in the second half, Jones busted a 73-yard TD run to make it 31-13. Lambert and Jones hooked up on another touchdown pass to make it 38-13.
The big play is what hurt the Tigers defensively, he said.
“We’d do well for several plays and several drives and then, it was a little lack of discipline in some of our coverages,” McGill said. “For the most part I thought our run defense was decent, we just gave up some big pass plays.”
The Tigers (7-2, 3-2 OHC North) travel to Northeastern (1-8, 1-3 OHC North) next week with an outside shot at a playoff berth in Division VI, Region 24 — but they’ve got to take care of business against the Jets, McGill said.
“Their seniors are going to want to win just as bad as our seniors are going to want to go out with a win,” he said. “That’s the only thing we can focus on.”