GAHANNA, OH – After an emotional home win against Pickerington North in Week 6, in which the Raiders rallied from a 24-7 fourth-quarter deficit with 26 straight points in a 33-31 victory to remain undefeated, the Raiders traveled to heavily battle-tested Gahanna-Lincoln on the night of Friday October 5th, 2018 for their Week 7 contest. While both defenses stole the show and ultimately only gave up a combined 332 total yards, the Raiders found themselves scoreless on offense and down 10-0 in the 4th quarter, but again staged a late rally in an attempt to remain undefeated.
This time, Reynoldsburg unfortunately came up just short.
In a defensive division slugfest, Gahanna-Lincoln (4-3, 1-1) broke a scoreless tie in the second quarter on a drive off of an interception by starting quarterback Michael Whatley of the Raiders (6-1, 1-1). After the Lions kicked a field goal in the third quarter to extend their lead to 10-0, freshman quarterback Dijon Jennings would replace Whatley on Reynoldsburg’s next drive. He would eventually lead the Raiders on a 6-play, 89-yard scoring drive in the 4th quarter to get the Raiders on the board and cut the Lions’ lead to three on a 5-yard touchdown run by Dez Cooper with 7:01 to go, but Reynoldsburg would not score again, eventually falling by a score of 10-7 for their first loss of the 2018 season.
“We just didn’t execute well,” Raiders head coach Buddy White said after the game. “The defense played well the whole game, but if you don’t execute well against a team like Gahanna-Lincoln, this is the result you are going to get.”
Reynoldsburg held Gahanna-Lincoln to 136 total yards of offense (45 pass, 91 rush) to bounce back from the 458 total yards they allowed the previous week to Pickerington North. But while they ultimately outgained the Lions and won the time of possession battle by a margin of 27:40 to 20:20, a Raiders offense that averaged 369.3 total yards per game in their first six contests only netted 196 total yards of offense (112 pass, 84 rush) in Week 7: their lowest total yardage in any game of 2018.
But Reynoldsburg’s defense kept them in the game throughout the entire night, and it was a chess match every step of the way.
Raiders 0, Lions 0
The Raiders received the opening kickoff and got off to a good start on offense, as junior running back Courtland Bullard rushed for 10 yards and senior receiver Mershawn Rice caught a 17-yard pass on the first two plays from scrimmage from Whatley. Reynoldsburg would come up empty after that and were forced to punt, but the Lions would go three and out on their opening drive capped off by a shared sack by linebackers Myles Carter and Jay Amburgey.
Both teams would each go three and out on their next drives, and while Reynoldsburg started with their best field position of the night at that point, the Raiders would find themselves in early trouble as a pass by a scrambling Whatley appearing to sail out of bounds was intercepted right by the Reynoldsburg sideline at the Raiders 49, where Gahanna-Lincoln would take over with 2:30 left in the opening quarter.
The Lions would convert a 19-yard pass on 3rd and 7 in heavy traffic to advance to the Raiders 18 to end the period with the game still scoreless.
Raiders 0, Lions 7
Gahanna-Lincoln would ultimately cash in on Whatley’s interception, and would open the second quarter with a run of 8 yards and a 10-yard touchdown run to take a 7-0 lead over the Burg with 11:13 left in the period. Their 49-yard drive off of Reynoldsburg’s turnover took 3:42 off the clock between the first and second quarters.
The Raiders would take over at their own 27 after the Lions’ touchdown, and after a false start on Reynoldsburg, Whatley would complete a 15-yard pass to Princeton Hoskins to advance to the Raiders 37 just over a minute into their drive. While they punted on 4th and 5 three plays later, a roughing the kicker penalty by Gahanna-Lincoln extended Reynoldsburg’s drive and enabled them to cross into Lions territory for the first time as a result. But Whatley would be sacked twice on the next three plays, and the Raiders would come up empty despite a drive that took just over five minutes off of the clock, and Reynoldsburg still trailed 7-0 halfway into the second quarter.
Both offenses would stall on their remaining drives of the period and neither would advance into the opposing team’s territory, and the Raiders would trail 7-0 at the break.
Raiders 0, Lions 10
Gahanna-Lincoln would receive the opening kickoff of the second half, get a first down, but again come up empty despite advancing to the Raiders 49. On Reynoldsburg’s first drive of the second half and facing 3rd and 3 from the Raiders 20, Whatley would be sacked for the fourth time of the night for a 7-yard loss, and the ensuing punt was blocked with 7:53 left in the third quarter. The Lions would take over at the Raiders 27, but would be held to a 28-yard field goal with 5:21 left in the period.
With the Raiders now down 10-0, Whatley being 4-for-10 for 40 yards with an interception in the air and sacked four times, Jennings would come in at quarterback where he would remain for the rest of the game.
“We had to just change the narrative a little bit,” White said of the quarterback change. “We had to do something a little bit different and we did. We got some results, but just not enough to win the game.”
Nonetheless, Jennings was determined to climb the Raiders out of 10-0 the hole they were in, and made the most out of his opportunity in a hostile environment.
Jennings’ first play from scrimmage was a 6-yard run after a false start penalty; the Raiders would ultimately go three and out and fumble on the punt to give the Lions back the ball at the Raiders 30 with 3:05 left in the period. But on Gahanna-Lincoln’s first play of their ensuing drive, senior defensive back and receiver Camby Goff would intercept a deep pass at the Raiders 10 and return the ball 30 yards to the Raiders 40. Senior running back J’Vonte Edwards would further swing momentum in the Burg’s favor, ripping off a 22-yard run to get Reynoldsburg to the Lions 33 with 1:54 left in the period.
A holding call on the Raiders and a fumble on the snap would push them back about 10 yards, and the Raiders would ultimately come up empty, giving the Lions the ball back to end the period with Reynoldsburg still scoreless and down 10-0.
Raiders 7, Lions 10
On their first drive of the final period, the Lions surprisingly threw the ball on third and long given how much time they had already been milking from the clock, but the pass was dropped in Raiders territory to stop the clock. This would force a punt by Gahanna-Lincoln to give the Raiders the ball back at their own 11 with 9:11 to go. Jennings would throw a deep pass in tight coverage that would ultimately fall incomplete, but a pass interference play on Gahanna-Lincoln would extend the Raiders’ drive. It appeared the Raiders would come up empty on 3rd on 1 with 7:58 to go, but an inadvertent whistle and a Lions penalty moved the chains to give the Burg another chance.
Jennings took advantage of it and went off.
He did not seem phased by what had been a ferocious Lions defense and secondary, throwing deep balls in tight coverage on the money and completing passes of 22 yards and 39 yards to receivers Andree’ Mock and Camby Goff respectively on back-to-back plays to get all the way to the Lions 5. This would set up Cooper’s 5-yard touchdown run to get the Raiders on the board and cut Gahanna-Lincoln’s lead to 10-7 with 7:01 to go. The Raiders defense would force a three and out their next time on the field, and a penalty on Gahanna-Lincoln on the ensuing punt would give Jennings and the offense the ball back at their own 36 with 5:21 left in the game.
“All I was thinking was ‘just win’,” Jennings said after the game of his mindset entering the game in the second half along with the aforementioned scoring drive. “It felt great just to fight through adversity and get something going for the team.”
Just like that, Reynoldsburg was down by only three and seemingly in position for another magical 4th-quarter comeback.
“[Dijon Jennings] wasn’t scared,” coach White would say of the freshman quarterback’s play. “He came in and did the best that that he could and showed poise. He’s going to be a fine quarterback.”
Jennings would again go deep for his receivers in tight coverage, but while two longs passes fell incomplete, the Lions were called for pass interference after the second incompletion to move the chains. Jennings would continue to march the Raiders down into Gahanna-Lincoln territory, eventually completing a clutch screen pass for 12 yards on 3rd and 4 under heavy pressure to junior running back Courtland Bullard to advance the ball to the Lions 36 with 3:58 to go. The Raiders would get as far as the Lions 34 and would call their first timeout of the half with 2:53 to go facing 4th and 8, but a deep pass to senior receiver Mershawn Rice fell incomplete near the pylon in the front right corner the end zone.
Another promising drive instead resulted in a turnover on downs to keep the score at 10-7 in favor of Gahanna-Lincoln, but Reynoldsburg did not quit.
The Raiders defense would get their most critical stop of the night, forcing a three and out and utilizing their remaining timeouts to give Reynoldsburg the ball back with 1:33 to go at their own 19. Needing at least a field goal to tie the game or a touchdown to take a late lead, the magic would ultimately run out for the Raiders. Jennings would be sacked on the first play of the drive, complete a pass for no gain, and throw two incomplete passes to turn the ball over on downs with 0:32 to go, enabling Gahanna-Lincoln to run out the clock to seal the 10-7 upset over the Raiders and hand Reynoldsburg its first loss of 2018.
But despite a crushing blow to their undefeated season, the Raiders are looking at the big picture and know they have to quickly refocus on next week’s road contest at Grove City, as they still control their destiny for a playoff berth and even at least a share of the division title.
“We got goals that we have set to win a Regional Championship,” White would go on to say. “Our goals are still in sight. We have to have a great week of practice so we can play better football. We have to be getting better and better, and we can’t have a hangover from this game into next week.”
DIVISION OUTLOOK AND PLAYOFF PICTURE:
So what does this loss mean for the Burg? While it is obviously heartbreaking to be denied a chance at an undefeated regular season given their historic start to 2018, as their head coach stated, the Raiders’ goals are still in sight.
Despite the 10-7 loss by Reynoldsburg (6-1, 1-1) at Gahanna-Lincoln (4-3, 1-1), the Raiders still control their own destiny for at least a share of the OCC-Ohio division title: a crown the Raiders have not won since 1993. Lancaster (4-3, 2-0) rallied from 13 points down with just over three minutes to go to shock Pickerington Central (6-1, 1-1) with a 31-30 home victory and handed the defending state champion and OCC-Ohio champion Tigers their first loss of the season. Pickerington North (5-2, 1-1) bounced back from last week’s loss at Reynoldsburg with a 42-10 win over Grove City (0-7, 0-2). In other words, at 1-1 in the division, the Raiders are only one game behind current division leader Lancaster (who will play the Burg in the final week of the regular season), and are in a four-way tie for second place in the division as of the end of Week 7.
Even more, the Raiders still most importantly control their own destiny to make the postseason for the first time since 2015. Per Joe Eitel’s unofficial computer rankings as of 10/6/2018, Reynoldsburg dropped out of the top spot and fell one spot to #2 in Division I Region 2: their playoff region.
Gahanna-Lincoln jumped up one spot to #3, but secured the biggest increase in computer average (points) with their win over the Raiders. Dublin Coffman took the top spot at #1 for the first time this season, and Westerville Central rounded out the top four teams in Region 2 after Week 7 with their 48-12 win over Westerville North.
Below are the unofficial rankings of teams in Reynoldsburg’s playoff region, along with the teams’ corresponding records and computer averages compiled by Joe Eitel, and their change in ranking from the previous week.
The Top 8 teams after the regular season (Week 10) will qualify for the playoffs, and the Top 4 teams would open up the playoffs on their home field.
1. Dublin Coffman (7-0, 21.2571) (+1)
2. Reynoldsburg (6-1, 19.0357)* (-1)
3. Gahanna-Lincoln (4-3, 14.1429)* (+1)
4. Westerville Central (4-3, 11.8286) (+2)
5. Olentangy Liberty (4-3, 11.4429) (0)
6. Delaware Hayes (5-2, 9.8857) (-3)
7. Toledo Whitmer (5-2, 9.5102) (+1)
8. Marysville (4-3, 8.3786) (not in Top 8 previous week)
9. Olentangy Orange (4-3, 8.3500- first team out) (-2)
Should the Raiders qualify for the playoffs in 2018, they would play their postseason opener on the night of Friday November 2nd, 2018. If the season ended today, 2nd-seeded Reynoldsburg would open the playoffs at home against 7th-seeded Toledo Whitmer.
*Gahanna-Lincoln and Reynoldsburg are the only two OCC-Ohio division members in this playoff region. All others are in Division I Region 3.
AP POLL (10/8/2018):
Gahanna-Lincoln came into the contest with a 3-3 record, but their three losses were all against teams ranked in the AP Top 10 of the Ohio Division I Football Poll (Cincinnati Elder, Dublin Coffman, Pickerington Central). Their win against the Raiders in Week 7 was therefore the Lions’ first win against an AP Top 10 team this season, as the Raiders entered Week 7 at #4.
Reynoldsburg barely fell out of the Top 10 after their loss to Gahanna-Lincoln even despite losses by three other ranked teams (#3 Pickerington Central, #6 Solon, #8 Springfield from Week 7) along with the Lions’ incredible strength of schedule as mentioned above.
Dublin Coffman, who is currently the top-seeded team in Reynoldsburg’s playoff region, won 27-9 at Central Crossing to move to 7-0 and jumped to #4 in the poll.
KEY RAIDERS STATS (WEEK 7):
Total Yards: 196 (112 pass, 84 rush)
Total Yards Allowed: 136 (45 pass, 91 rush)
Passing: Dijon Jennings (5/11, 72 YDS); Michael Whatley (4/10, 40 YDS, 1 INT)
Rushing: J’Vonte Edwards (9 CAR, 53 YDS); Courtland Bullard (4 CAR, 20 YDS); Guy Cowans-Wright (7 CAR, 12 YDS); Dez Cooper (1 CAR, 5 YDS, 1 TD);
Receiving: Andree’ Mock (1 REC, 39 YDS); Camby Goff (1 REC, 21 YDS)
Defense: 2 sacks, 2 tackles for loss, 1 interception (Camby Goff)
Special Teams: Cocy Goff (1/1 XP)
The Raiders (6-1, 1-1) will look to get back to work and try to bounce back at Grove City (0-7, 0-2) in Week 8, who will be coming off a 42-10 defeat at Pickerington North in Week 7.
Kickoff at the Greyhounds is at 7:00pm on Friday 10/12/2018 at Grove City High School.
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