Football: Walnut Ridge, Eastmoor Academy complete strong seasons

Jarrod Ulrey
ThisWeek group

Soaked with water from the postgame celebration, Byron Mattox reflected on how his Walnut Ridge football team navigated one of the most unusual seasons in his 15 years as coach to win the City League championship.

The Scots, like the rest of the teams in the league, had their preseason paused in late August because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic and didn’t play their first game until what was Week 4 of the regular season.

Walnut Ridge won all four of its games in the City tournament, finishing 6-3 with a 14-6 victory over Eastmoor Academy on Nov. 14 at Africentric.

“It was the longest season ever, but this makes it all worth it,” Mattox said. “It was a very weird year and there were times we could have easily shut it down, but these guys finished it up the right way.”

Walnut Ridge players, including Landon Young (center), Jamarius Dinkins (55) and Tywaun Glass celebrate the Scots' 14-6 win over Eastmoor Academy in the City League championship game Nov. 14 at Africentric.

The Scots lost two of their three games before the OHSAA postseason started, including 25-19 in overtime Sept. 24 at home against Eastmoor.

After losing 26-14 to Independence on Oct. 2, 15th-seeded Walnut Ridge avenged the loss Oct. 9 by beating the 18th-seeded 76ers 42-38 in the first round of the Division II, Region 7 playoffs.

Walnut Ridge lost 56-0 to second-seeded Massillon Washington on Oct. 16 then was the third seed for the City playoffs, which began a week later.

A 20-6 victory over second-seeded Marion-Franklin on Nov. 7 in a semifinal gave the Scots an opportunity to avenge their regular-season loss to the top-seeded Warriors.

Senior running back Javarus Leach, a first-team all-district honoree who finished the season with 1,295 yards rushing and 17 total touchdowns, had 37 carries for 183 yards and two scores in the rematch with Eastmoor.

His 2-yard touchdown run with 7 minutes, 1 second left came after senior defensive lineman Jamarius Dinkins picked up a fumble at the Warriors’ 4 two plays earlier.

“It means a lot to us as a senior class,” Leach said. “We’ve been playing a lot of football together since we were freshmen and have just gotten better and better every year. To end the season on a championship note is great. We did a good job playing as a team and leaving it all on the field for our last game.”

Dinkins, a Kentucky recruit who was the district’s Defensive Player of the Year, also was a starter on the offensive line.

Seniors Ras Anderson (OL/DL) and Ja’Quan Whitted (DL/TE) were second-team all-district, senior T’khi Jordan (OL/DL) was special mention all-district and senior Damien Whaley (WR/DB) was honorable mention all-district.

Senior Daaron Brown took over at quarterback during the City playoffs and also played wide receiver and defensive back. He was honorable mention all-district.

Seniors Tywaun Glass (WR/DB), Cross Mack (WR/DB) and Landon Young (WR/DB) also were key players.

The top returnee next season should be junior Antonio Felts, a running back and linebacker who was honorable mention all-district.

Sophomore Carmello Yarbough started at center, and freshman Vari Adams (TE/DL) also contributed.

“We had a lot of seniors,” Mattox said. “Our junior class is kind of light, but our freshman class is going to be solid along with our sophomores. Antonio Felts, a junior, should be the guy (next season).”

Eastmoor's Brandon Lovelace (left) and Malachi Coleman wrap up Walnut Ridge's Javarus Leach during the City final.

Eastmoor finished 5-1 and had a 10-game winning streak snapped with the loss in the City final.

After winning all three of its regular-season games and earning the No. 9 seed for the Division III, Region 11 playoffs, the Warriors were forced to opt out of their second-round game at eighth-seeded Granville because of a COVID-19 issue and had their program paused for 14 days.

Eastmoor returned to action with a 27-0 victory over eighth-seeded Northland on Oct. 30 in the second round of the City playoffs. The Warriors beat fourth-seeded Independence 46-12 on Nov. 7 to reach the title game.

The Warriors lose 12 players to graduation but expect to return most of their key players on offense, including sophomore quarterback Ahmad Armstrong after he was first-team all-district.

Junior running back Cameron Foster and junior wide receivers Tramon Hairston and Isaiah Pressley also are eligible to return, along with juniors Giguere Collier and Jalon Slappy and sophomores Cameron Coleman and Dallas Hodge on the offensive line. Slappy was first-team all-district.

Defensively, junior linebacker Diamonte Salley should lead the way again next season after earning second-team all-district honors.

“We had two weeks where we were shut down and just tried to keep the kids focused on Zoom with coaches meetings and players meetings, but it was tough on everybody mentally," coach Jim Miranda said. "When we started back, we didn’t look as sharp, but that's no excuse. We should not have lost (the City final). Not taking anything away from (Walnut Ridge). We did not do what we were supposed to, but it’s a learning experience and everybody comes back (next season).”

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