West Holmes' punter Brock Macaulay waited and waited. With no defenders coming after him, the 6-foot-6 punter rumbled for a 24-yard run to pick up a key fourth-down conversion on the opening drive and the Knights' bruising ground attack took it from there.
The wait is now over.
Using the blueprint that has worked all season, the Knights dominated the line of scrimmage and time of possession for a 21-7 win over Lexington. Going into Friday's game, the Knights (7-1, 4-1 Ohio Cardinal Conference) were second in the Div. III, Region 11 OHSAA computer rankings and mathematically needed one win in their final three contests to clinch a playoff spot. With the victory over the Minutemen (5-3, 3-2 OCC), the Knights are virtually assured of their first playoff trip since 2000.
"I'm happy for the kids -- this is what they've been working for," said third-year West Holmes coach Kevin Maltarich, who has turned around a program that won just one game in his first year in 2010. The last time the Knights made the postseason, they were coached by Kevin's father, Bob Maltarich.
The turning point of the night actually came on the fourth play of the game. After West Holmes' offense went three-and-out on the opening drive, Macaulay went back to punt and fielded a low snap. When the senior picked up the ball and turned his eyes downfield, he realized he had as much green space in front of him as a city park.
"The snap was little off so I didn't catch it clean," said Macaulay, who has verbally committed to play tight end at Kent State next fall. "I looked up and everybody had their backs turned. I hesitated, made sure no one turned around and I took off."
"If that's not a bad snap, I kick that ball," said Macaulay. "It's luck of the draw, but it kept that drive going."
"Plays like that turn the tide early," said Lexington coach Dan Studer.
Macaulay's 24-yard run gave the Knights a first down near midfield and set the tone for not only the remainder of drive, but the rest of the night. From there, West Holmes ran 12 more plays, 10 of which were on the ground -- capped by a 1-yard touchdown run by running back Layne Perone. The 16-play drive put West Holmes up 7-0 and took s7 1/2- minutes off the clock before the Lexington offense even had a chance to take the field.
Maltarich said that every week the goal is to establish the line of scrimmage because the Knights' game plan is based off their ball-control offense.
"It frustrates (the opposition) and keeps them off the field," the coach said. "It helps us sustain drives and controls the tempo of the game."
After a three-and-out by the Lexington offense, the West Holmes offense went back to work and used a seven-play drive, highlighted by a 44-yard pass from quarterback Gabe Snyder to wideout Brady Arnold, to drive inside the Minutemen's 5-yard line. This time Perone was stopped on fourth down, but the Knights' attack again kept Lexington's offense on the sideline for nearly all of the first 12 minutes. With just over two minutes left in the second quarter, after a West Holmes punt, Lexington took over at its 33. Trent Richwine completed an 8-yard slant to Bryan Truax, who promptly flipped the ball to Brandon Henderson, who sprinted down the left sideline for 53 yards on a hook-and-ladder. The linebacker Perone, though, chased down the running back and forced a fumble at the 6-yard line and the ball was recovered by Arnold.
Maltarich said his team is primed for its first playoff trip in a dozen years because it has made momentum-changing plays all year long.
"The reason we've had success is they've made heads-up plays," said Maltarich.
Down 7-0 at the break, Lexington was set to get the ball first in the second half. However, a high kick by Logan Galion was recovered by the Knights at the opposing 38-yard line. West Holmes promptly marched down the field in 11 plays and Perone, who finished with 170 yards on 32 carries, put the exclamation point on the drive with his second 1-yard scoring plunge of the night. Later on, with four minutes left in the fourth quarter, after a 1-yard score by Grant Hay, the Knights pulled the same trick again, this time recovering a short kick that had deflected off a Lexington blocker.
The Minutemen averted the shutout when Hunt, the hulking 6-1, 230-pound running back and linebacker, recovered a West Holmes fumble with 1:16 left and ran it 77 yards for the score.
With games left against two squads (Wooster and Clear Fork) at the bottom of the OCC, the Knights have an excellent chance to run the table and host a first-round playoff game.
"We made a goal to make the playoffs," said Macaulay. "Each week, we know that we need to work hard to achieve that goal and bring the football tradition back to the community."