Knights get payback on Columbian in hectic playoff win

Knights get payback on Columbian in hectic playoff win

Image Credit: Justin Smith

Nobody had to ask a single West Holmes Knights football player how good Columbian High School was as the two teams collided in a big Div. III regional football tilt at Knights Stadium on Friday, Nov. 5.

That was because this was the same Tornadoes team that dealt the Knights a devastating 34-24 regional loss last season. It also was a team that is very well coached and came in with a terrific game plan to stop the Knights’ top playmaker, Sam Williams-Dixon.

In a wildly entertaining game that went down to the wire, the Knights exacted a bit of revenge in gutting out a 28-25 win to survive and advance.

It wasn’t easy, and it was never pretty, as the Knights hurt themselves on several occasions, but it was a satisfying outcome.

“Survive and advance,” head coach Zach Gardner said. “We didn’t play pretty football at times, but we made plays when we needed to. I’m proud of our kids for fighting to the end. If you look at this game, it was all about us. It was about our execution, our penalties, our turnovers, and that is something we have to clean up. We are fortunate to survive and advance against a team that good.”

The game started out like to heavyweights feeling each other out. The Knights continued to stop themselves with penalties and turnovers while West Holmes linebacker Elisha Baldridge was playing like a man possessed.

The Tornadoes got on the board first but missed the extra point. After trading punts in the second quarter, the Knights drove into Tornadoes’ territory, only to cough up the ball again. This time Columbian cashed in, but the two-point conversion was stopped, and it was 12-0 Tornadoes.

The Knights were reeling, and after quarterback Noah Clark was sacked on consecutive plays, West Holmes had third and 17. The game was teetering on getting away from WHHS, but on third down, Clark stepped up in the pocket and delivered a bullet to Garret Eastep, who made a sliding catch at Columbian’s 35.

“I didn’t give the magnitude of the catch much thought at the time,” Eastep said. “This team is really good in dealing with controversy and challenges, and we’ve been through a lot, and we have had so many guys make big plays.”

With all the big plays, none was larger than that play because it seemed to ignite the Knights, who picked up three third-down conversions, another huge one from Eastep. The drive culminated in a 3-yard Williams-Dixon touchdown up the middle with 25 seconds left in the half, and after getting kicked around, West Holmes trailed just 12-7 at the half.

“I told the guys at the half that this was probably their best half of football this season, so all we had to do was go out, play our game and take care of business,” Eastep said.

West Holmes marched right down the field on the opening drive of the second half, thanks in large part to Williams-Dixon, who spun in from 5 yards out. Nick Ginsburg’s extra point gave WHHS its first lead at 14-12.

West Holmes caught a break on the ensuing drive when Columbian receiver dropped a wide-open pass in the end zone, and West Holmes took over on its own 19.

The teams traded punts and headed to the fourth quarter, where Williams-Dixon uncorked a 69-yard touchdown romp to put the Knights up 21-12. That elation lasted about 10 seconds, the time it took Dawson Yates to rumble 90 yards down the left sideline on the ensuing kick, breaking all kinds of tackles on the way to making it 21-18.

West Holmes was forced to punt but held strong on a fourth-down play by Columbian and took over possession on its own 45.

With time winding down, the Knights had possession and were nursing a three-point lead. West Holmes ran a steady diet of Williams-Dixon, picking up a big first down before it faced third and four from the Columbian 38-yard line.

With everyone expecting a run from the star running back, Gardner instead reached into his bag of plays and dialed up a deep ball to Eastep. Clark delivered a perfect toss, hitting Eastep inside the 3, where the senior completed his huge night by hauling it in.

“That was pretty cool,” Eastep said of the play. “Coach made an amazing call, and hauling that one in was the best feeling.”

One play later Williams-Dixon scored, and Ginsburg’s extra point gave the Knights a 10-point advantage.

Even so, the Tornadoes weren’t finished, scoring quickly to trim the deficit to 28-25, setting up an onside kick that would determine the outcome. The kick was hard, and in a front-line position, Eastep realized what he needed to do. He swiftly stepped aside and turned to block, allowing the ball to reach the second row of Knights. It would be senior cornerback Derrick Patterson who would fall on the ball, securing the win for West Holmes.

“It was coming in hot, and I was hoping I’d be able to just stop it and fall on it,” Patterson said. “It bounced off me and fell right at my feet, and I just jumped on top of it. It felt great to put it away and get this win. We were not going to let this one get away.”

In moving to a school-record 12-0, senior lineman Walker Graham said this felt special, but there is work to be dome.

“We’ve been a strong second-half team all season, and the second half we came out and played West Holmes football,” Graham said. “We capitalized on big plays, and we felt good about where we were at the half because momentum was turning our way. This has been such an exciting time at school and in the community, and we are ready to take the next step.”

Gardner said raising the bar is a team mantra, and he said nothing describes that more than setting the school record for wins in a season.