Tygers take over in fourth quarter to hand Knights first loss

By MIKE PLANT Daily Record Sports Writer Published:

For three quarters, the Ohio Cardinal Conference game for first place played out exactly like everyone figured it would.

Mansfield Senior didn't have the ball much, but when the Tygers did, they scored touchdowns with big plays. Meanwhile, host West Holmes chewed up yards, and the clock, with its ball-control rushing attack.

In the fourth quarter, though, Senior turned the tables on the Knights. With the game tied at 21-21, running back Keevon Taylor keyed another big quarter for the Tygers, who scored the first 19 points of the final period and handed West Holmes its first loss of the season, 40-29 at Knights Stadium. 

Taylor, a senior, ran for 122 fourth-quarter yards, including a tiebreaking 17-yard touchdown, as the Tygers (6-1, 4-0) took over sole possession of the top spot in the OCC. He finished with 167 yards on 17 carries, but had just one carry for minus-1 yards in the third quarter.

"I love my offensive line -- when it comes time for the clutch, they block," said Taylor, who picked up a first down on fourth-and-two at the WH 42 to begin the fourth quarter, then ripped off back-to-back dashes of 21 and 17 yards, the second giving the Tygers the lead for good.

After having the ball for almost 10 minutes of the third quarter, West Holmes (6-1, 3-1) went three-and-out on the next possession, with Senior taking over at its 28 with 9:23 to play.

After two Taylor runs for eight yards, Jalen Reese (13-of-24, 188 yards, 3 TDs) hit Deonte Leadingham for 6 yards and a first down.

Taylor swept around right end on the next play and the Knights appeared to have him stopped after a short gain, but he broke free and raced all the way to the WH 15. Two plays later, Reese found Keon Johnson in the left flat, and the shifty Johnson juked one defender, then snuck just inside the pylon for a touchdown to put the Tygers up 33-21 (5:04). Senior sealed the win less than a minute later when a pass intended for Layne Perone was knocked into the air on a big hit, with Jakkar Bishop intercepting and returning it 48 yards down the sideline for another score.

The Knights controlled the ball for over 30:00, but Senior, which scored 22 fourth-quarter points in beating Ashland 29-15 last Friday, had it for more than 7:00 down the stretch. Taylor finished with 167 yards on 17 carries.

"Here's the thing -- we knew they had a lot of guys, seven or eight, going both ways, and we pretty much have one," Senior coach Chioke Bradley said. "So we figured if we could get them deep into the fourth quarter, with a lead, we'd stand a good chance of getting some plays off on the ground. The offensive line has played its butt off all season, and that was one of our plans, to wear them down."

That has been West Holmes' method all season, but the Knights found themselves down 14-0 not even 4:00 into the game.

On Senior's first play from scrimmage, wideout Chek Washington stepped back, took a flare out from Reese, and found Johnson all alone behind the secondary for a 64-yard touchdown.

The Knights went three-and-out on their first possession, and a 7-yard punt set the Tygers up at the WH 38. On third-and-seven at the 24, Chris Diaz ran an out-and-up and outfought a defender for the ball, a touchdown, and a 14-0 lead.

West Holmes finally got untracked after starting at the Senior 19. Brock Macaulay's punt that was downed at the 1 pinned the Tygers back, and Brady Arnold's 18-yard punt return set the Knights up inside the 20, with Garrett Mackey's 4-yard scoring run capping the short drive.

On their next drive, the Knights got a 30-yard run around left end from Luke Ogi to get deep into Tyger territory again, with Perone (23 carries, 150 yards) bouncing a run outside and going 10 yards to tie the game at 14-all at halftime.

West Holmes kept rolling in the third quarter, but one of its four fumbles (two lost) ended its first drive at the Senior 22. But the Knights finally took the lead by marching nearly 5:00 on eight consecutive runs, where on third-and-five, Snyder faked a handoff and tossed a short pass to his tight end, Macaulay, who completed the 39-yard touchdown for a 21-14 advantage.

Just two plays later, though, Reese threw one up to Leadingham, who out-jumped his defender and ran into the end zone for a 59-yard touchdown.

That began the Tygers' run of 26 consecutive points that has them all alone in pursuit of the school's first OCC crown.

"Against a good football team, you can't make mistakes, and we put bullets in our feet all night long," West Holmes coach Kevin Maltarich said. "Penalties, turnovers, missed tackles -- it was all around, and we've got to come back and get better. Football games are won on fundamentals, and we didn't execute.

"Hats off to (Senior), they got scores and stops when they needed to. We knew their line was big and physical and that they had a big back. We knew what we were up against.

"But we live by one rule here, and that's to get better every day," Maltarich added. "We're 0-1 this week, so we'll come back and look at our mistakes, then start over Monday."

Johnson finished with 5 catches for 112 yards for the Tygers, while Diaz, Leadingham and Washington all had three catches apiece as Senior had 407 yards.

West Holmes had 295 of its 334 yards on the ground, as Snyder's TD pass was his lone completion in eight attempts. Perone's yardage put him at 1,025 on the year, while Mackey added 59 yards on 14 carries, Ogi had 48 yards and Grant Hay 46 on 10 tries.

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