Boys Varsity Football · Late surge propels Raiders to division title and #1 seed in playoffs


LANCASTER, OH – Two years ago at Fulton Field in their regular season finale, the Lancaster Gales erupted late in the 4th quarter on their home turf en route to a 42-27 win over Reynoldsburg to drop the Raiders to 6-4, eliminating them from playoff contention before all Week 10 scores went final in 2016. One year later, the Raiders got revenge against the Gales by defeating them 42-34 at home to end their 2017 regular season at 7-3, but ended up ranked 9th in Division I Region 3 and missing the playoffs by the slimmest of margins.

But after their Thursday Night Lights regular season finale on October 25th, 2018, this time, Reynoldsburg had many reasons to be excited after their game against Lancaster.

Trailing only 9-7 in a defensive slugfest with under a minute left in the third quarter, Lancaster (6-4, 4-1) would be stopped on 4th and 1 on the 5 yard line after electing not to attempt what would have been a go-ahead 22-yard field goal. The Raiders (9-1, 4-1) would break a low-scoring contest open two plays later to begin the fourth quarter, as Reynoldsburg quarterback Michael Whatley, who finished with a career-high 261 passing yards, threw a 94-yard touchdown pass to senior receiver Mershawn Rice to put the Burg up by two possessions. Lancaster quarterback Tyler Monk would then throw three of his four total interceptions on the Gales’ final three drives of the game, with Reynoldsburg returning two of them for touchdowns to pull away late for a thrilling 28-7 victory in their regular season finale.

“It means a lot, but we’re not done yet,” said Rice, who also caught and returned one of those late interceptions 98 yards for a Reynoldsburg touchdown to cap off a productive night where he had touchdowns of over 90 yards on both offense and defense.

“We want to be practicing on Thanksgiving. That’s our goal.”

With the regular season now over, Rice is referring to the Raiders’ next goal of winning a Regional Championship and advancing to the Division I State Semifinals, which will begin the day after Turkey Day. While the Raiders need three wins to achieve that goal and continue to focus on one week at a time, they will certainly be riding a wave of confidence and momentum into the postseason after they made history on Thursday Night Lights.

Following their win over Lancaster, the Raiders not only clinched the #1 seed in next week’s Division I Region 2 playoffs after being knocked out of playoff contention in their regular season finale the previous two years in a row; they earned a share of the OCC-Ohio crown with Lancaster for Reynoldsburg’s first division title since sharing one with Whitehall-Yearling and Mount Vernon in 1993. Even more, Reynoldsburg’s 9-1 regular season finish is their best in school history of the playoff era, and best overall since going 10-0 in 1961. The Raiders would also finish #5 in the AP Division I Ohio Football poll to close out the regular season.

After another resilient performance against a division foe with clutch plays down the stretch, Reynoldsburg is continuing to improve when it matters most despite a regular season for the ages, and will look to extend their historic run deep into the month of November and beyond.

FIRST QUARTER

Raiders 6, Gales 0

Lancaster received the opening kickoff at their own 23, and a team very well known for running the ball that has seen a strong passing game in 2018 converted a 3rd and 8 on a 10-yard throw by Monk for a first down. But Reynoldsburg seniors Ke’Shun Moorer and Jay Amburgey both made tackles for 2 and 3-yard losses, respectively, on back to back plays. Senior receiver and defender Camby Goff then intercepted a pass by Monk near midfield to end Lancaster’s opening drive, appeared to return it inside to 5-yard line, but was ruled as stepping out of bounds at the Gales 26 with just under three minutes into the game.

It didn’t really make a difference, as the Burg cashed in anyways.

Senior receiver Princeton Hoskins would catch a 12-yard pass from Whatley to bring up 1st and goal from the 9 for the Raiders. Junior running back Courtland then Bullard barreled his way to the goal line with an 8-yard carry to set up a 1-yard touchdown run by senior running back Guy Cowans-Wright with 7:36 left in the quarter. Although the extra point was no good, the Raiders would lead 6-0 early.

Lancaster would then take over at their own 20, but would convert four straight third downs on a drive that would ultimately extend into the second quarter. Three of these four first downs were on passing plays of 10, 13, and 14 yards by Monk, but with Lancaster comfortably in the red zone on the final play of the quarter, Moorer would burst up the middle for a huge tackle for loss to bring up 3rd and 8 from the Raiders 17 to end the period.

SECOND QUARTER

Raiders 6, Gales 7

Monk would throw for the Gales for a fourth time on third down to open the second quarter after a couple of laterals in the backfield, but what ended up being a trick play by Lancaster was ultimately sniffed out and well-covered by Reynoldsburg’s secondary to force a 34-yard field goal attempt by Lancaster. But the Gales’ kick was short and no good, ending their drive with no points despite taking 7:46 off of the clock total in a time spanning the first and second quarters.

Both teams would come up empty on their next two drives each despite the Raiders advancing as far as the Gales 30; Whatley would get good deep looks to his Raiders receivers on a couple of plays in between that were either broken up or just out of reach by a matter of inches.

Reynoldsburg’s next drive would appear to begin at the Gales 46 after Lancaster was forced to punt from its own end zone with 3:43 to play in the half, but a personal foul on the Raiders would push them back to their own 42 yard line. Whatley would again go deep for a receiver on third and long, this time to Rice, but what would have likely been a touchdown pass went just over Rice’s fingertips and hit the ground at about the Gales 15 to force a Raiders punt.

Lancaster would take over after a drive that took only 17 seconds off of the clock even after the Raiders punted the ball away. They would start at their own 28 yard line with 3:26 to play in the half, advance 20 yards after a defensive hold on the Raiders, and Monk would throw a 16-yard pass to Gales receiver Max Hamilton to comfortably advance into Raiders territory only one minute into their drive. The Raiders would then be called for roughing the passer to bring up a first down for Lancaster at the Raiders 26 with 1:56 to go in the half, and Monk would drop a perfect 23-yard pass to Hamilton near the visiting sideline and corner of the end zone despite good coverage by the Raiders secondary.

Two plays later, Gales senior running back Alex Widener plowed his way into the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown run, and the ensuing extra point put Lancaster up 7-6 with 0:59 to play in the half, which would be the score going into the locker room.

Despite trailing going into the locker room and being held scoreless since their opening drive, the Raiders definitely went into the locker room with confidence given how their defense held Lancaster and their high-powered offense to only those seven points at the break.

“We just needed to regroup,” Raiders head coach Buddy White said of the Raiders’ first-half performance. “We were dropping passes and having very untimely penalties that started hurting us. [Lancaster] has a good quarterback and good receivers, but we knew that coming in. That made them a lot more dangerous, because we always knew they could run the ball. We were very confident that we could beat them, but we also knew that we could beat ourselves. And some of the things that we were doing could have cost us the game, but we regrouped and our kids responded.”

In fact, little did anyone watching at Fulton Field or on television know that this would be Lancaster’s only points of the contest.

THIRD QUARTER

Raiders 9, Gales 7

Reynoldsburg would receive the ball at their own 20 to open the second half, and would advance to their own 35 after a 15-yard run for a first down by Bullard on the first play of the third quarter. Another deep ball by Whatley would fall just out of reach of receiver Camby Goff at about the Gales 28 on the next play, but he would catch a 14-yard pass to bring up 4th and 1 from the Raiders 44 after a Reynoldsburg timeout with 9:50 left in the quarter.

Cowans-Wright would fight for and get that very huge yard to move the chains on fourth down, and Whatley would then begin a burst of well-overdue big catches to eventually put the Burg back in front.

He would throw a 15-yard pass to junior receiver Shon Strickland a play later to advance into Gales territory. A holding penalty after a dropped pass in the end zone pushed the Raiders back to midfield, but Rice would catch a 25-yard reception from Whatley to cut the distance from the line of scrimmage to the end zone in half with just over eight minutes to go in the period. Whatley would then convert a 3rd and 6 to Goff for a first down and advance to the Gales 11 a minute later, but would come up just a few yards short of the goal line three plays later. But with 5:26 left in the quarter, Raiders kicker Cocy Goff would successfully kick a 20-yard field goal right down the middle of the uprights to help Reynoldsburg retake a 9-7 lead.

But with their playoff hopes on the line, Lancaster would try to respond.

After the Gales got the ball back on their own 20, Monk would run 15 yards on the Gales’ first play of the ensuing drive for a first down. Three plays later, he would convert another third down in the air with a 37-yard pass in tight coverage to junior receiver Casey Finck (7 REC, 101 YDS) to put the ball on the Raiders 25 with 3:45 left in the quarter. Lancaster would then keep the ball on the ground for rushes of 8 yards and 3 yards to move the chains one more time, but would be called for a holding penalty to keep the ball at the Raiders 23 a couple of minutes later.

Monk would then connect with Finck again for a gain of 17 yards to bring up 3rd and 2 from the Raiders 6 with a minute left in the period, but Lancaster would only rush for one yard and would be just short of the marker to bring up 4th and 1 from the Raiders 5 with 0:28 left in the period. The Gales would then call timeout, appearing to draw up a play going for the end zone instead of settling for what would have been a go-ahead 22-yard field goal attempt, leading to one of the biggest fourth downs of the season for the Raiders defense.

Reynoldsburg made the Gales regret that decision.

Lancaster would be stuffed short of the marker and turn the ball over on downs on the Raiders 5, keeping the game score at 9-7 in favor of the Raiders to end the quarter.

“Time to get low and just don’t give them anywhere to run,” White said to his defense during the timeout. “And that’s what we did; they tried to run it right up the gut on us and it didn’t work, because our kids are very strong, stout, and they got lower than they did. And the low man wins.”

FOURTH QUARTER

Raiders 28, Gales 7

On the first play of the fourth quarter, Whatley would toss a strike to a wide-open Rice at about midfield, and he would run uncontested through Lancaster’s defense for a 94-yard touchdown reception to put Reynoldsburg up 16-7 with 11:48 to go.

“The defense has been showing up all year, and we had to show up for them,” said Whatley after the game of the team’s fourth-down stop and his ensuing touchdown pass. “I threw the ball up to [Mershawn Rice] and he made a play.”

Whatley would finish with a career-high 261 passing yards even despite a handful of missed opportunities by the offense, but he would continue to stay focused throughout the entire contest. And at the end of the night, he finished with his best offensive performance to date that could not have come at a better time for the Raiders.

Fired up by the long touchdown pass, the Raiders defense would respond by forcing their first three and out of the game. But while they took about two and a half minutes off the clock on their next drive, a bad snap by Reynoldsburg on a punt in their own territory resulted in the Gales taking over at the Raiders 32 with 8:55 to go trailing by nine. The Raiders would then be called for defensive holding to push Lancaster into the red zone just under a minute later and give them a first down.

But the Raiders defense would again come up big when it mattered most.

Senior defensive back Evan Jenkins would then intercept a pass by Monk, return it to the Raiders 39, and would give Reynoldsburg the ball back with 7:40 to go. Whatley would then pick up where he left off, throwing a 27-yard pass to Hoskins and hitting Strickland in the end zone for what would have been another Reynoldsburg touchdown, but a holding call on the Raiders wiped those seven points off of the scoreboard. This would eventually lead to Reynoldsburg going for it on 4th down from the Gales 30, but a pass by Whatley to Hoskins up the middle for what would have been an uncontested run into the end zone fell just out of reach to give Lancaster back the ball with 6:10 to go.

Lancaster would drive all the way down to the Raiders 30, but Moorer would run past all of the Gales’ offensive linemen in the backfield and sack Monk for a 15-yard loss with 4:35 to go to bring up 4th and 25 for the Gales from their own 45. And fresh off of a long touchdown reception earlier in the quarter, Rice would intercept a desperation pass by Monk just short of the end zone, break a few tackles at about the 20-yard line, and run uncontested the other way 98 yards for a touchdown to extend Reynoldsburg’s lead to 22-7 with 4:11 to go despite the missed extra point.

“As soon as I saw [Lancaster quarterback Tyler Monk] throw the ball in the air, I knew I had him,” Rice said of his pick-six. “As soon as I caught it, I ran [backwards] into the [Reynoldsburg] end zone. But I was like ‘Well, I had to make a play’, and the blocks lined up perfectly. I made some people miss, and it was just off to the races.”

And with their first OCC-Ohio title in 25 years in sight, the Raiders ended their historic regular season with an exclamation point.

With Lancaster again driving and trying to play catch-up, junior defensive back Breyon Eddings would intercept Monk’s pass near the Raiders sideline: Monk’s fourth and final interception of the night. Eddings would run past the Gales offense, break the one tackle he needed to break, and run 63 yards to the house with 2:45 to go; the visiting Raiders would eventually run out the clock with a 28-7 win at Fulton Field and as co-champions of the OCC-Ohio with the Gales.

At that moment, the Raiders knew that they could officially look towards the playoffs with the regular season ending on the highest of notes.

“We have some momentum going,” White would go on to say. “We just have to make sure we do a good job of preparing, and we will. These kids are locked in, and they know what we are up against. but the new season starts on Saturday [October 27th]; When they come in [for practice] Saturday, we’ll talk about this game a little bit and then we are out of here. Then it’s time to get onto whoever we will be playing.”

KEY RAIDERS STATS (WEEK 10):

Total Yards: 328 (261 pass, 67 rush)

Total Yards Allowed: 292 (183 pass, 109 rush)

Passing: Michael Whatley (14/24, 261 YDS, 1 TD)

Rushing: Courtland Bullard (7 CAR, 40 YDS); Guy Cowans-Wright (8 CAR, 26 YDS, 1 TD)

Receiving: Mershawn Rice (3 REC, 124 YDS, 1 TD); Princeton Hoskins (4 REC, 63 YDS); Camby Goff (4 REC, 40 YDS); Shon Strickland (2 REC, 29 YDS); James Dean (1 REC, 5 YDS)

Defense: 3 sacks, 5 tackles for loss, 4 interceptions, 2 touchdowns (Mershawn Rice: 98 YD interception return for TD; Breyon Eddings: 60 YD interception return for TD)

Special Teams: Cocy Goff (1/4 XP, 1/1 FG); Emmanuel Crawford (3 PUNTS, AVG 34 YDS)

NEXT UP + DIVISION 1 REGION 2 PLAYOFF PREVIEW:

For the first time since 2015 and third time in school history, there will be a Week 11 for Reynoldsburg. The Raiders (9-1) will begin the 2018 postseason at home as the #1 seed for the first time in school history against #8 seed Toledo Start (6-4) in the OHSAA Division I Region 2 playoff bracket shown below.

Here is some information about particularly the Spartans, along with some key comparisons between them and the Raiders.

BRIEF OVERVIEW: Hailing from Lucas County in Northwest Ohio close to the border of Ohio and Michigan and the western portion of Toledo, the Spartans will make a 155-mile journey southeast to Livingston Avenue to face the Burg as the least team making it into their playoff bracket. Part of Toledo Public Schools, Start High School first opened in 1962 and was named after former Toledo mayor Roy C. Start (1877-1956), who served at this leadership position from 1936-40 and also founded the West Toledo YMCA, which is located next to the high school building.

HOW THEY GOT TO THE PLAYOFFS: Champions of the six-team Toledo City League (consisting of Bowsher, Rogers, Scott, Start, Waite, and Woodward) for the fourth straight season and currently riding a 20-game win streak in their division, the Spartans will be making their second trip to the playoffs in the last four seasons. While they struggled outside of their division to begin 2018, the Spartans’ strong performance in their league was the difference in their run to the playoffs.

POINTS SCORED AND POINTS ALLOWED: Toledo Start averaged 19.2 points per game and allowed an average of 15.5 points per game overall, but were much better in the second half of the regular season. The Spartans began their 2018 season 1-4 with a point differential of -38 in their first five games, including a 30-0 home loss against a Findlay team who most notably took both Hilliard Bradley and Upper Arlington to overtime in their first games of the season. (Reynoldsburg defeated Upper Arlington 17-14 in Week 1.)

But Toledo Start will be coming to the Burg riding a five-game winning streak. Though all of their wins in this streak were against these other five Toledo City League teams who finished with a combined record of 19-30 (.388), the Spartans’ point differential was +75 in games against these teams while winning by a combined margin of 118-43 against them with two shutouts in the process.

Reynoldsburg averaged 30.8 points per game in the regular season and their allowed an average of 10.3 points per game; this number of points allowed by the Raiders defense is technically single digits when you do not include defensive points scored by Reynoldsburg’s opponents. The Raiders went 4-1 in their final five games of the regular season in the OCC-Ohio; they won these league games by a combined margin of 135-76 with a point differential of +59; three of these six league teams, including Reynoldsburg, will be playing in the 2018 postseason.

OPPONENTS WHO ALSO MADE THE PLAYOFFS: Reynoldsburg went 1-1 against teams who qualified for the postseason, and both of these games were against division rivals. This includes their only loss of 2018 at Gahanna-Lincoln (5-5) by a score of 10-7 in Week 7, and a 24-21 win over defending state champion Pickerington Central (8-2) in Week 9.

Toledo Start also had two opponents also make the postseason, but went 0-2 against these teams: a season-opening 27-24 loss at Clyde (7-3) and a 28-14 loss against Columbian (8-2) in Week 4.

STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE: Opponents of the Raiders finished with a combined regular season record of 50-50 (.500 winning percentage), including a record of 0-10 by Grove City, while opponents of the Spartans finished with a combined record of 45-54 (.455 winning percentage). But perhaps even more importantly, five out of the Raiders’ nine wins came against teams who finished their regular seasons with winning records (6-4 or better) as opposed to only one of the six wins for the Spartans. Reynoldsburg went 5-0 against these opponents, while Toledo Start went 1-2 against opponents with winning records. Both of these two losses by the Spartans were against the teams mentioned above that qualified for the postseason.

OVERALL REGION 2 OUTLOOK: How do these numbers stack up against the remaining six teams in the Division 1 Region 2 playoff bracket?

Below are these eight teams, their regular season records, their overall combined winning percentages of the opponents they faced (i.e. strength of schedule), their records against teams with six wins or better (i.e. against teams who finished with more wins than losses in the 2018 regular season), and their records against OHSAA playoff teams respectively. For example, #1 Reynoldsburg finished with a 8-2 regular season record; the Raiders’ opponents finished with a combined 50-50 (.500) record. Reynoldsburg also went 5-0 against teams with winning records and 1-1 against teams who also made the 2018 postseason anywhere in the state of Ohio.

#1- Reynoldsburg (8-2 – 50-50 / .500 – 5-0 – 1-1)

#2- Dublin Coffman (9-1 – 49-51 / .490 – 1-1 – 2-1)

#3- Toledo Whitmer (8-2 – 45-55 / .450 – 1-2 – 1-1)

#4- Olentangy Liberty (6-4 – 56-44 / .560 – 0-4 – 2-2)

#5- Gahanna-Lincoln (5-5 – 61-39 / .610 – 2-5 – 2-3)

#6- Olentangy Orange (7-3 – 38-62 / .380 – 1-1 – 2-1)

#7- Westerville Central (5-5 – 53-47 / .530 – 2-3 – 2-3)

#8- Toledo Start (6-4 – 45-54 / .455 – 1-2 – 0-2)

But all of these stats will be thrown out in Week 11, as the paths of the Raiders and Spartans will collide to open the 2018 postseason; a loss means an end to one of these team’s seasons. Kickoff against the Spartans is at 7:00pm tonight (Friday 11/2/2018) at Raider Stadium on the Livingston Avenue Campus of Reynoldsburg High School.

Tickets will be available for $9 (cash only) at the stadium gates starting a 5:45pm.

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