MACEDONIA: After a wild first half that saw 60 combined points and eight lead changes, Wadsworth’s defense and running game did just enough to outlast Nordonia 34-33 on Friday night in a game that could give the Grizzlies a home playoff game next week.
The Grizzlies’ defense struggled to handle the Knights’ no-huddle offense to the tune of 33 points allowed on four touchdowns through the air and two field goals in the first half. The defense then shut the Knights out over the final two quarters, forcing two fumbles, three turnover-on-downs and two three-and-outs in seven Nordonia drives.
“Their tempo hurt us a little bit in the first half,” Wadsworth coach Greg Dennison said. “It’s tough to simulate in practice. We kinda settled down in the second half and started playing the kind of defense we’ve been playing. ... We got more used to the tempo and started making some plays.”
Senior running back Martice Jackson carried the ball 38 times for 207 yards and two touchdowns for Wadsworth (9-1, 6-1). It was senior Scott Campbell, though, who scored the winning touchdown, which came on a 20-yard run up the middle with 9:21 left in the fourth quarter. It was Jackson’s running ability that helped with two big play-action pass plays earlier in the game that led to two touchdowns.
“Everybody knows what we’re gonna do,” Dennison said. “We know he’s gonna get the tough yards.”
Leading 34-33 on what was the ninth lead change of the game, Wadsworth first forced Nordonia’s offense off the field with a three-and-out. On the next possession, the Knights were driving near midfield but faced a fourth-and-1 with five minutes remaining in the game. Nordonia quarterback David Murray took a read-option run to the outside but was met at the line of scrimmage by Wadsworth senior Ryan Looser, whose diving tackle drove Murray back and gave the ball back to the Grizzlies.
“Ryan’s been making plays for us all year,” Dennison said. “He’s been making them on offense, defense, the kicking game. He stepped up and made a big play for us.”
Jackson, with a couple of second-effort runs and broken tackles, moved the chains a few times before Nordonia received one last chance with 1:40 to go. Led by Looser, the Knights never got to midfield before a fourth-and-8 pass fell incomplete.
Wadsworth entered the game ranked No. 9 in Division I, Region I by the OHSAA computer rankings. This win likely gives the Grizzlies a home playoff game next week, as the top eight teams receive a home game. After Wadsworth lost a heartbreaker to Highland 24-23 in the team’s first Suburban League game, Dennison didn’t know which direction the Grizzlies would go for the duration of the season.
“That was a tough loss, the first league game, and we really weren’t sure where we were, how good we were,” he said. “Our kids rebounded and I think that game made us better, really. It made us more resilient.”
Nordonia (8-2, 5-2) has earned a playoff spot but will likely now go on the road in Division II. After starting 8-0, the Knights dropped the final two games of the regular season (Highland, 28-25). Nordonia coach Jeff Fox still sees the chance for a rebound.
“The potential on this team is so scary,” Fox said. “We gotta clean up mistakes. Hopefully, we start to click at the right time because we do have the potential to play with anyone in the state, I really feel that.”
The first mistake came on the first play of the game when Wadsworth, kicking off to the Knights, recovered a kick that Nordonia let go after a couple of odd bounces at the 3-yard line. That led to a Shane Mast 1-yard touchdown run two plays later, and the 60-point half had begun.
For Nordonia, Murray finished the game with 316 passing yards and four touchdowns, two to senior Ty Hampton (99 yards, five catches) and two to junior Alex Alders (84 yards, seven catches).
Ryan Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the high school blog at http://www.ohio.com/preps. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/RyanLewisABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.