Hilliard Davidson running back E.J. Jennings was easy to spot following a pivotal Ohio Capital Conference Central Division victory last night.
Following a performance in which he carried 45 times for 254 yards and four touchdowns in the Wildcats’ 28-7 dismantling of Olentangy Liberty, Jennings’ white jersey was the filthiest.
“To put it mildly, E.J. is having a really good stretch,” Davidson coach Brian White said after the Wildcats completed a second straight game without attempting a pass. Jennings ran for a school-record 310 yards and six TDs a week ago in a rout of Upper Arlington.
“Along with a lot of his teammates, I think E.J. just figured out how to practice hard and he’s reaping the benefits. It isn’t all him, obviously. He’s getting some great blocking from his linemen, receivers and fullbacks. We’re finally getting in a groove.”
Davidson (6-2, 4-1) went three and out in its first three series in falling behind pass-happy Liberty 7-0 in the first quarter. Then it all came together for the Wildcats.
“I’m not really sure that we made any big adjustments,” Jennings said. “We just started running right at them and playing plain old Hilliard Davidson football. I’m just doing what Coach White tells me to do.”
To be specific, Jennings ran the ball on all 11 plays of a 91-yard scoring drive, capped by a 2-yard touchdown plunge to even the score at 7-7.
“The number of carries doesn’t bother me because coach keeps us in great shape,” said Jennings, a 5-foot-11, 214-pounder, who spun and muscled his way for many tough yards. “I got a full workload tonight, and any running back likes that.”
Liberty (6-2, 4-1) responded with an impressive drive. But on third-and-goal at the 5-yard line, quarterback Joey Longhino was belted on his blind side by Alex Backenstore, forcing a fumble that teammate Cody Fravel recovered.
Backenstore said he focused squarely on Longhino’s left (throwing) shoulder and got to him just in time.
“Morrice (Brewer) took out the guy who was supposed to block me and I had an open path to the quarterback,” said Backenstore, who made a handful of big plays.
White called it “the biggest play of the game in terms of shifting the momentum.”
The Wildcats used it to their advantage, mounting a 10-play, 81-yard scoring drive in which they never reached third down. Jennings scored on an 8-yard sweep with just 30 seconds left in the half.
Jennings had 171 yards on 26 carries by halftime.
While Liberty tightened its run defense considerably in the second half, Davidson’s defense made the plays necessary to salt away the victory, which kept it in contention for the Division I playoffs.
Markus Bailey intercepted Longhino deep in Patriots territory on the first play of the fourth quarter, and Jennings scored on a 1-yard plunge two plays later to make it 21-7.
Bailey added a second interception near the sideline at the 6:35 mark, and the Wildcats cashed in as Jennings scored his fourth TD, this one from 10 yards.
Following a fourth turnover by Liberty, Davidson took as knee on the Patriots 1 as time expired.
Davidson rushed for 359 yards on 61 attempts and limited Liberty — which came in averaging more than 430 yards — to 172. Time of possession was 34 minutes to 14 in favor of the Wildcats.
“The key was we had to change things up on defense and not let them get comfortable in their short passing game,” White said.
OL -- Davies 3 run (Vucelich kick)
HD -- Jennings 2 run (Johns kick)
HD -- Jennings 8 run (Johns kick)
HD -- Jennings 1 run (Johns kick)
HD -- Jennings 10 run (Johns kick)