West Holmes took advantage of every opportunity that came its way, and the Knights created a few of their own in rolling over the Big Red of Steubenville 35-7 in the Div. III Region 11 semifinal Saturday at Woody Hayes Quaker Stadium.
The biggest break of the night came on the opening kickoff of the second half that bounced off a Steubenville player and Alex Wengerd recovered at the 28 of the Big Red.
"That was a big play for us. We've preached since we've been in the playoffs that you can't turn the ball over," West Holmes coach Kevin Maltarich said. "And if you get a turnover, you've got to take advantage of it. And our kids did."
On the very next play, Gabe Snyder hit Brady Arnold in stride heading into the end zone for a 21-7 lead and the Knights cruised from there.
"They got down after that and we knew we controlled our destiny from there," Snyder said. "I knew Brady was going to run under that with his speed. Watching him run under that was a great feeling."
Snyder didn't throw often, but when he did, he was effective, connecting on 4-of-7 passes for 54 yards.
He didn't have to throw often, because the ground game did its job, led by Layne Perone. The record-setting running back piled up 127 yards on 19 carries, and two touchdowns.
He gave the Knights a 6-0 lead at 8:09 of the first quarter, busting off a 9-yard run for a score. Logan Gallion's kick sailed wide.
The Big Red bounced right back with a 45-yard scoring strike from Corey Stinson to Kai McClurg to take a 7-6 lead with 4:57 remaining in the opening period.
Following a West Holmes punt and a turnover on downs by the Big Red, the Knights took the lead and never looked back with 5:21 remaining in the first half.
Perone powered in from 15 yards out and holder Arnold threw a two-point conversion to Brock Macaulay for a 14-7 lead that the Knights took into the locker room at the break.
Then came the big momentum swing with the fumbled kickoff.
"They took advantage of their opportunities. They're well coached," venerable Steubenville coach Reno Saccoccia said. "Tonight West Holmes was the better team. We gave them too many opportunities, and they took advantage of whatever we gave them. I thought at halftime we were still in the game. But we had a bad start to the second half, and they took advantage of it. That's what they were supposed to do."
The Knights made it 28-7 on a Garrett Mackey touchdown trot from 7 yards out. Gallion's conversion kick made it 28-7, and Grant Hay capped off the scoring with a 19-yard scoring jaunt with 7:28 remaining in the game.
"Congratulations to West Holmes. They're a good football team," Saccoccia said. "Tonight wasn't our night, but West Holmes was part of our problem."
The Big Red bows out at 9-3. The Knights improve to 11-1 and will face Dover next Saturday, most likely at Fawcet Stadium in Canton.
"People see that name 'Big Red' and the storied history. But our kids don't care about that. They know what they've got to do to win, and they go out and do it," Maltarich said.
The Knights were one play away from a shutout for the sixth time in six weeks according to Maltarich.
"Over the last seven weeks, we're one play or two plays away from having six shutouts. That says a lot about our defense," the coach said. "Right now our defense is playing with a lot of confidence.
"Our defense is playing very well. And so is our offensive line. Those two things are real big if you want to make playoff runs and win championships," Maltarich added. "We've got to continue to get better on both sides of the ball."
The offensive line isn't doing too bad, either. The Knights churned out 265 yards on 45 carries against the Big Red, while holding Steubenville to 97 yards rushing on 31 attempts.
"They had a really fast, strong defensive line. We worked all week on our fan blocks, knowing who to block, when and just work harder than them and hit them harder," offensive lineman Tyler Singleton said.
"Those guys up front don't get enough credit up there," Maltarich said. "Tyler (Singleton)'s been doing that all year for us. That's nothing new for us. I can't say enough about our offensive line and our defense.
"Gabe is something else. He owns that defensive line and he knows all the ins and outs of our offense," Maltarich added. "It's not always throwing the perfect pass, but managing the game and running our offense how it's supposed to be run."
"I love making plays on defense, and I get to make a few on offense as well," Snyder said. "It's a great feeling. I just have to make sure I do my fakes and take care of the ball. Defense is the most fun thing you can do. I love hitting people.
"Every big play is a great experience," Snyder continued.
"We preach 'West Holmes, a team above all, but above all, a team.' I can't say enough about these kids," Maltarich said. "They really came together. We had a focussed week of practice and they weren't going to be denied."