REYNOLDSBURG — There were a lot of storylines coming into the night of Friday October 6th, as the Raiders faced Gahanna-Lincoln in what was easily the biggest game of the season up to this point. The Raiders allowed a combined 66 points in its last two games after allowing only 29 in its first four games, had a four-game win streak snapped after a 35-7 loss at Pickerington North last Friday, and were sitting at 4-2 and on the outside looking in of a crowded Division 1 Region 3 playoff race.
On the other hand, the Lions were looking for revenge after last year’s season-swinging 25-18 home defeat at the hands of the Raiders, and more importantly, a bounce back win just like the Raiders after losing 45-8 at home last Friday to Pickerington Central despite sitting comfortably in their Division 1 Region 2 playoff race.
But no storyline was bigger than the fact that it was Homecoming Week in Reynoldsburg. From five school days of Spirit Week, NBC4’s Football Friday Nite doing a feature at the football field very early Friday morning, Friday’s pep rallies at both the Summit Road and Livingston Avenue campuses of Reynoldsburg High School (RHS), Homecoming Courts being announced for all four RHS academies at pregame, and leading all the way up to the opening kickoff with undivided attention from the biggest crowd in recent Reynoldsburg Football history, the anticipation of this game was at an all-time high.
And the Raiders certainly lived up to the hype in a thriller that nobody in attendance will be forgetting anytime soon.
With the game tied in the 4th quarter and the visitors on a potential go-ahead scoring drive, junior defender Donovan Hines intercepted a pass near midfield and returned it for a go-ahead touchdown for the Raiders (5-2, 1-1). The Lions (4-3, 0-2) would respond and convert two late 4th downs on what would then be a potential game-tying drive, but senior defender D’Lacy Bass intercepted a 3rd-down pass in the end zone with 30 seconds left for the last of four 4th-quarter turnovers forced by the Raiders defense to preserve a thrilling 21-14 Homecoming victory over the lions.
“It’s a big win with so much on the line”, Raiders head coach Buddy White said after the game of the victory. “The fact that it was Homecoming and last year we got beat 31-0 [by Pickerington North] on Homecoming and I looked up there and I saw that the home side was packed; I haven’t seen that around here in a while. But it was an electric atmosphere and a very intense football game. Both teams played their hearts out and we came up with the big plays when we needed them in the 4th quarter. Our defensive coordinator put together a great game plan and the kids believed in it, and they went out and performed.”
Despite those huge plays by the Raiders defense in the 4th quarter, the game was a meat grinder from the opening kickoff, with the Raiders offense taking the field first and going three-and-out. Both defenses would come up big in the 1st quarter, with both teams stopping each other on 4th down in each others’ territories on each of the ensuing drives. The Lions would use their ground attack for big rushes to again drive deep into Raiders territory, but a pass deflection by Hines on 3rd and long followed by an incomplete pass led to the second 4th-down stop by the Raiders defense of the game with 3:52 left in the 1st quarter and no score.
However, the Raiders offense led by quarterback Justin Henry would come up empty and go three and out at the hands of the Lions defense, and a good return for Gahanna-Lincoln to the Raiders 41 appeared to swing the momentum in their favor. They would respond to the momentum shift, with Lions starting quarterback Mike Lowery faking a handoff and running right up the middle through the Raiders defense for a gain of 28 yards. A few plays later, the Lions would strike first on a 4-yard touchdown run with 58 seconds left in the 1st quarter, but would have its extra point attempt blocked by senior defender Jay Amburgey to take a 6-0 lead over the Raiders.
But the Raiders didn’t panic despite being held scoreless up to this point, and would quickly answer back.
Senior receiver Princeton Hoskins would return the ensuing kickoff to the Lions 45, and he would catch a 12-yard pass on the first play of the next Raiders drive. Then, on the very first play of the 2nd quarter, sophomore running back Courtland Bullard would run all the way to the end zone up the middle through the Lions defense for a 32-yard rushing touchdown to give the Raiders a 7-6 lead after Gabe Philhower’s successful extra point attempt.
Both teams would go three and out on each of their next drives. The Lions would end up punting for a touchback despite making it all the way to the Raiders 37, giving the Raiders the ball at their own 20 with 6:39 left in the 2nd quarter. Henry would complete big passes to receivers Shon Strickland, Mershawn Rice, and Camby Goff, while the Lions would eventually be called for pass interference on third and long to extend the drive. Junior running back Guy Cowans-Wright would rip off an 18-yard run, while Henry would convert a 3rd on 6 on a 14-yard run that resulted in a first and goal from the Lions 6 with 1:48 left in the half.
Already dominating time of possession on the drive and in the first half, the Raiders would continue to hang on to the ball and run out the clock, eventually scoring on a 6-yard touchdown run by Cowans-Wright with 19 seconds left in the half and resulting in a 14-6 halftime lead for the home team.
Both teams would go three and out to start the 3rd quarter, but the Lions would respond on their next drive. They would complete passes of 12 and 24 yards with a 20-yard run in between, and would tie the game at 14-14 on a 2-yard touchdown run and successful 2-point conversion with 6:33 left in the 3rd quarter. The Raiders would hang onto the ball for the remainder of the quarter on what appeared to be a promising drive, but a holding call on the Raiders offense pushed them out of Lions territory and resulted in a punt to start the 4th quarter with the game tied.
But there was definitely some magic in the air of Reynoldsburg on Homecoming Night. Magic like no one has ever seen in the form of a dominating 4th-quarter by the Raiders defense, and four turnovers to be exact.
With the game tied and the Lions making it all the way to the Raiders 33, they would fumble on the very next play; the fumble was recovered by Amburgey and returned to the Lions 38 with 10:36 to go in regulation.
“The coaches at halftime just said to keep doing what you are doing,” Amburgey said of the message to him and his fellow Raiders defenders at halftime. “The defense rides together and we work as a team and stopped them.”
As for his fumble recovery? “The quarterback and the running back stood there and looked at me,” Amburgey said of the play leading up to the fumble. “They both dropped the ball and I just picked it up, took off, and ran.”
The fired-up Raiders offense would respond off of the first turnover of the game by driving to the Lions 26 and setting up a 43-yard field goal attempt by Philhower, who kicked four field goals and an extra point in last season’s 25-18 victory at Gahanna-Lincoln. The Lions special teams came up big and blocked his field goal attempt, taking over at their own 23 with 9:04 to go and the game still tied. They would again drive into Raiders territory, but a miscommunication by the Lions quarterback and running back resulted in a fumbled exchange and a recovery by junior linebacker Ke’Shun Moorer at midfield for the Raiders with 7:17 to go.
Again the Raiders would capitalize on the turnover, driving all the way to the Lions 25 with big runs by Cowans-Wright and Henry in the process, and calling timeout facing a 3rd and 2 with 5:54 to go and the game still tied. But the Lions would rush right up the middle off of the timeout for a sack of Henry and a 5-yard loss, and an incomplete 4th-down pass resulted in a turnover on downs deep in Lions territory. The Lions would drive to their own 43 yard line and were facing a 3rd and 9 with 3:35 to go in front of a nervous and packed home crowd.
Enter Donovan Hines of the Raiders defense, who already had a great game up to this point and a very great junior season in general, and scored on a game-changing pick-six to put the Raiders back in front on a play that will be remembered in Reynoldsburg forever.
“He broke a couple of tackles before he broke out into the clear,” coach White said of Hines’ interception. “That was intense. He’s been one of our most consistent players all year and he just goes out and plays football the way it is supposed to be played. I’m really excited for him because that was really cool.”
The Lions would throw a deep pass just past midfield, but Hines was there to pick off the pass for the third turnover forced by the Raiders defense of the final quarter. He would loop around and run near the Raiders sideline, dodging every Gahanna-Lincoln player along the way with the help of a bunch of excited Raiders blockers and returning the interception 52 yards for a touchdown and giving the Raiders a 21-14 lead with 3:12 to go.
“Our coaches just told us to keep grinding and don’t give up,” an understandably exhausted but excited Hines said of his coaches’ words to the Raiders defense before and during the drive. “I just saw [the ball] and hoped [the receiver] dropped it, but it came into my arms.” From that point, he would take it all the way back to the house for the first pick-six of the season for the Raiders defense.
But Gahanna-Lincoln would get the ball right back with a chance to tie the game again, not appearing flustered at all despite three 4th-quarter turnovers at that point. They would catch a break on a pass interference penalty on the Raiders to extend their drive, and Hines would just come up short on another potential game-ending interception on 3rd and 7 to give the Lions another chance on 4th and long from their own 38. They would call timeout and respond with a big 16-yard run to the Raiders 46 for a first down with 1:53 to go.
Junior defender Evan Jenkins would make a tackle for a 10-yard loss for the Lions to push them out of Raiders territory, but would ultimately face another 4th and 7 there after the Raiders called timeout with 1:10 to go. They would again convert on a huge run of 17 yards, putting the ball on the Raiders 25 and eventually facing a 3rd and 10 with under a minute to play and another chance to tie the game.
Raiders defender D’Lacy Bass (pictured) had other ideas on his mind.
With a Lions pass coming his way in the end zone, Bass got in front of the Lions receiver and caught the ball for an interception with 30 seconds to go, sealing the deal for the Raiders in front of a now relieved yet electrified home crowd. The Raiders would run out the clock from there, emerging victorious 21-14 with the entire student section pouring onto the field the moment time expired in regulation.
“[The Lions offense] picked on us all night, but [the coaches] told me it was time to end the game and enough was enough,” Bass said of the message given during the timeout prior to the interception and what would be the Lions’ final play of the game. “I was guarding the back of the end zone and saw the ball come up. I actually thought it was going to go over me, but I just went up, prayed, and came down with it.”
It was an exclamation point and a huge bounce-back performance for the Raiders defense who gave up a combined 66 points in their past two games at Westerville Central and Pickerington North despite only giving up 29 in their first four games.
“Our guys knew what was up, and I didn’t need a fire and brimstone speech or anything like that,” coach White would go on to say. “I talked to the guys before the game and they knew exactly what they were dealing with, and I have to give our assistant coaches more credit than myself. They made some adjustments and stood in our kids’ heads to make sure they understood what was happening, and I’m sitting over there a nervous wreck. The kids obviously believed in what they were being taught, because they went out and they performed.”
“When we play with great intensity, we’re a pretty good team. Our offense did a good job in the first half, and in the second half, we didn’t have that big turnover to put our defense in a bad situation even though we didn’t score when we had scoring opportunities. They gave the defense a lot of field to work with because we didn’t give up any big plays like we did last week.”
Despite the huge Homecoming win over Gahanna-Lincoln to put the Raiders at 5-2 with home games against division foes Grove City and Lancaster remaining and a road game at arch-rival Pickerington Central in between, coach White and the entire team knows that they have to refocus and take it one week at a time if they want to make the playoffs for the second time in three years and third time in school history.
“The bottom line is that it’s up to us coaches,” White would go on to say about keeping his team focused on Grove City next week. “The kids know what to expect from me, because they know that this game is over with, we have another game, and that I will not let them relax. When we show up for workouts on Monday, we know we have another home game coming up. Grove City has their issues, but Grove City is a very capable team. We can beat ourselves if we are not focused, so we’ll definitely have to focus as we know that every game we play has playoff implications.”
D’Lacy Bass’ game-clinching interception for the Raiders with 30 seconds to go. (Photo taken and provided by Don Wells via Wells Imaging.)
KEY RAIDERS STATS:
-Total Yards: 189 (77 pass, 112 rush)
-Total Yards Allowed: 302 (102 pass, 200 rush)
-Passing: Justin Henry (9/18, 77 YDS)
-Rushing: Guy Cowans-Wright (15 CAR, 54 YDS); Courtland Bullard (9 CAR, 30 YDS, 1 TD); Justin Henry (9 CAR, 25 YDS)
-Receiving: Princeton Hoskins (3 REC, 29 YDS); Mershawn Rice (3 REC, 20 YDS)
-Defense: 4 tackles for loss, 2 fourth-quarter fumble recoveries (Jay Amburgey and Ke’Shun Moorer), 2 fourth-quarter interceptions (52-yard return for touchdown by Donovan Hines, game-ending interception in end zone by D’Lacy Bass).
-Special Teams: Gabe Philhower (3/3 XP, 0/1 FG – blocked 43-yard attempt)
DIVISION STANDINGS + UNOFFICIAL PLAYOFF RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 6:
NOTE: The top 8 teams in each region qualify for the 2017 OHSAA playoffs following Week 10. All OCC-Ohio teams are in Division 1 Region 3 except for Gahanna-Lincoln, which is in Division 1 Region 2. (The +/- number after a team’s Region denotes the change in its Region playoff rankings from the previous week.)
These unofficial playoff standings are compiled regularly by Joe Eitel (joeeitel.com; @JoeEitel).
1. Pickerington North (6-1, 2-0, #3 Region 3, +1)
2. Pickerington Central (6-1, 2-0, #5 Region 3, +0)
3. Reynoldsburg (5-2, 1-1, #8 Region 3, +2)
4. Lancaster (4-3, 1-1, #13 Region 3, +0)
5. Gahanna-Lincoln (4-3, 0-2, #5 Region 2, -1)
6. Grove City (1-6, 0-2, #15 Region 3, +0)
Based on the above information (and courtesy of joeeitel.com), if the season ended today, the Raiders would qualify for the Division 1 Region 3 playoffs as the #8 seed and would travel to face top-seeded and undefeated Centerville (7-0). Checking in at #2 is undefeated Hilliard Bradley (7-0), who would face #7 Northmont (5-2) at home in this situation.
Rounding out the top four are Pickerington North (6-1) and Kettering Fairmont (6-1) at #3 and #4, respectively, who would also both get home games against #6 Wayne (5-2) and #5 Pickerington Central (6-1), respectively.
Friday 10/13: Home vs. Grove City at 7:00pm (L 49-7 vs. Pickerington North in Week 7)
Friday 10/20: Away vs. Pickerington Central at 7:00pm (W 14-13 vs. Lancaster in Week 7)
Friday 10/27: Home vs. Lancaster at 7:00pm (Senior Night)
The Raiders will look to continue their playoff pursuit in Week 8 at home against the Greyhounds with kickoff at 7:00pm on Friday 10/13.
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