Wolves (2-1) Pacers (2-1)
The Worthington Kilbourne High School football team hopes that its 28-23 victory over Hamilton Township on Sept. 13 will be the turning point.
The Wolves, who finished 3-7 the past two seasons, opened with a 22-21 loss to Dublin Scioto on Aug. 30 in the Battle of Hard Road, as the Irish rallied to score a touchdown and two-point conversion with 23.2 seconds remaining.
"It was like dejú vú," coach Vince Trombetti said. "After losing so many close ones last year, you just were left thinking, 'Oh no, here we go again.' We just have had trouble finishing out close games."
Kilbourne outscored its opponents 205-196 last season but lost three games by three points or fewer and one by seven points.
So when Hamilton Township began its final possession from its own 23-yard line trailing by five points with 1 minute, 50 seconds remaining, one had to wonder if the Wolves would hang on.
Consecutive pass plays by the Rangers moved the ball to midfield, which is where Scioto began its final drive in the opener.
"We were in the huddle and we were saying we weren't going to allow that to happen again," senior outside linebacker Taylor Wilson said. "We knew we had to make plays. Everyone wants to make the plays, but we can only do it together. We have to trust our teammates. Everyone just dug deeper, did their part and we did it together."
"We have a lot of seniors and we worked too hard to be the class that turns the program around," senior slotback and cornerback Chandler Bridges said. "We have too much experience and we had to put it all on the line. We need to build our focus and play the entire game like that."
Senior offensive tackle Alex Meehan was called upon to play defensive end on the final drive in an effort to apply more pressure on Hamilton Township's quarterback and the strategy worked, as he sacked Dante White on first down near midfield.
White, who completed 21 of 51 passes for 420 yards, threw an incomplete pass on second down and was sacked again by defensive end Mason Rigio on third down, leaving the Rangers to face fourth-and-20.
Defensive back Seth Hill then broke up White's pass attempt on fourth down with 26 seconds left, sealing the win for the Wolves.
"Although we're 2-1, I still have a bad taste in my mouth," Trombetti said. "However, I was pleased that the guys stepped up in the end and maybe we can turn that page now. The (defensive) line finally got pressure on the last drive and the (defensive backs) were breaking better on the ball. I would've loved to see that the entire game."
Bridges said he can see a difference in the team's confidence level this season.
"We go harder in practices and we're more confident. Even though we let the Scioto game get away from us, I think we want it more this year."
During the summer, Trombetti took his players to Camp Mary Orton, where they took part in team-building activities.
"We did a team exercise where the first 80 percent was easy, but the last 20 percent was difficult," Wilson said. "We learned how to beat the system in the first two tests, but when the third test got tougher, everyone wanted to change what we were doing. What we learned was that the system we were using works if you maintain it. We just had to focus and execute.
"Those are the key words, simple as it is, for us this year. We have to focus and execute. If we're on the same page and everyone is doing their role, we'll be successful."
The Wolves open OCC-Capital Division play Friday, Sept. 20, at Delaware. The Pacers also are 2-1.
"They run the triple-option offense like us with mid-line stuff," Trombetti said. "It's a big switch from last week. We've only allowed 103 yards rushing in three games and it's an average of 1.2 yards per rush. We've got to avoid the big play, though. That's been our weak link."