WJ uses defense to top Crusaders

Banding together.

In the famous stage and screen musical “The Music Man,” lifelong salesman Harold Hill promises to put together a stellar marching band utilizing a group of boys from the town. After some trials and tribulations (and sour notes) along the way, in the end, the community walks away happy.

On the very day the West Jefferson High School’s Drama Department announces “The Music Man” as its Spring 2018 musical, the Roughriders football squad sort of mirrored that storyline in their season-opening game Friday night against the visiting Columbus Crusaders.

After experiencing some discord early on due to turnovers, West Jefferson was able to find some harmony on both sides of the ball to topple the Crusaders in the end 35-6.

“Early on we had turnovers,” said Roughriders coach Shawn Buescher. “You just can’t turn the ball over and be successful.”

From the beginning, it looked as though it would be easy sailing for West Jefferson as they took the opening kickoff and embarked on an impressive two minute, 66-yard drive. Combining the pass and the run, the drive culminated in a 5-yard run up the middle by Roughrider running back Wyatt Dillion. The Jon Stevenson kick gave the home squad an early 7-0 lead.

The punishment by West Jeff continued from its defensive players as a bone-crushing tackle of Crusader Reginald Pace by Roughrider Zack Graham forced a punt.

In what was supposed to be a short field for the home team, the visitors regained possession after a deflected punt was recovered by the Crusaders.

The Roughriders defense was solid again, forcing another another punt. West Jeff gave it right back, however, as Crusader Caleb Johnson intercepted a Lance Lambert pass and returned it 30 yards for a touchdown. The collective effort of the Roughriders defensive line blocked the extra point try and kept them ahead 14-6.

The woes continued for the home team as they fumbled the kick-off return. The Crusaders were primed to take it in for a go-ahead score, but a fourth down QB sack by Roughriders Jordan South preserved the lead.

Following a sequence of punts back and forth, West Jeff was able to get back on the board late in the second quarter. Lambert completed consecutive passes to Caleb VanHook and Jacob Boyd, but it was the next one that did the most damage. Lambert connected with the speedy Justin Williams from 28-yards out to widen the Roughriders lead going into the break.

In the second half, the West Jeff defense took control — aided by some Crusader mistakes. Several Roughriders stepped up to thwart some quick Crusader runners including Ethan Higgins, Cole Howard, Hunter Braithwaite and Luis Carmona who registered a crucial sack in the third quarter.

During the third stanza, Lambert got his squad into the end zone by air and turf. First it was a 1-yard pass to Higgins and later on the QB took it in himself from a short distance away.

After another long completion to Williams, Lambert ran it in from a yard out to conclude the scoring.

As the season goes on, the WJ coach knows he can use this first contest as a learning experience for all involved.

“Our defense was exceptional, but on offense we didn’t finish drives in the first,” Buescher said. “We finished drives in the second half, and you can see what can happen.”

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Columbus Crusader runner Regional Pace thrown for a loss by West Jefferson Roughrider Zack Graham.
http://www.madison-press.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/37/2017/08/web1_WJCCpiccol.jpgColumbus Crusader runner Regional Pace thrown for a loss by West Jefferson Roughrider Zack Graham. Jeff Gates | For The Madison Press

By Jeff Gates

For The Madison Press

Jeff Gates is a contributing writer for The Madison Press.