Big Walnut defeated Westerville South 24-17 for their first win of the season, as well as a very exciting game.
The homecoming crowd was fired up as the two teams sparred on the first couple drives. Towards the end of a scoreless first quarter, they had something to cheer about when Wildcats quarterback Trent Burke was pressured by Kaleb Kocak and threw an interception that Jackson Seiple returned 18 yards. Running backs David Hunt and Evan Garcia squirted through South defenders for first downs, leading to quarterback Tyler H. Ronk finding a wide-open Kobe Swackhammer in the end zone for a 6-yard touchdown pass on fourth down. Tyler Shuster added the extra point for a 7-0 lead with 11:15 in the second quarter.
South’s Rahshan Gordon had a long kickoff return, but on the next play, senior two-way player Aaron Granger was injured. This may have been the most important play of the game, because the versatile cornerback limped off and didn’t return for the half, and saw limited action in the second before removing his pads. Brad Robbins booted a 42-yard field goal to put South on the board.
Robbins, who had enough leg to kick all touchbacks after scores, had the ball snapped over his head during a punt attempt from his end zone, resulting in a Big Walnut safety. The half ended 9-3.
A Hunt fumble from a bad handoff exchange in the third didn’t lead to any South points, as a Robbins field goal went just wide. However, Hunt atoned for the miscue with a great 71-yard dash up the middle for a touchdown. The tandem of Garcia (85 yards on 14 rushes) and Hunt (210 yards on 28 attempts) accounted for 295 of Big Walnut’s 371 total yards.
It was Big Walnut up 16-3, leading some to wonder, could this be the Eagles’ first win?
But not so fast. Burke hit Gordon on a short pass, who scampered 69 yards for the touchdown. It was now 16-10. A Big Walnut drive stalled with a lateral out of bounds and a quarterback sack. The ensuing punt return had Dominique Long making long strides up the middle for a 74-yard touchdown. With 4 minutes to go in the third, South was suddenly leading, 17-16.
A determined Big Walnut came back with a long drive punctuated by hard running from Hunt and Garcia, and Tyler H. Ronk (7 of 10 passing for 82 yards) hitting Tyler A. Ronk (no relation) on two completions, the latter an 11-yard touchdown. Garcia took the direct snap in for a two-point conversion. It was Big Walnut 24-17 with just over 5 minutes to go.
The Eagles stiffened on defense, forcing a punt from the Wildcats. Some thought Walnut would run out the clock, but South got the ball with a little time left and no timeouts. Each play as time wound down, it seemed like South turned the ball over, but the referees said they retained possession while going down the field deep in Walnut territory. Finally, the defense forced a fumble and Swackhammer recovered it, sealing the victory. South fell to 0-5.
Time expired, and there was pandemonium, with cheering students rushing onto the field and the victory bell ringing.
Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0906 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.