Many looked at the West Jefferson High School football schedule at the beginning of the season and saw two games that would be challenging, neither one of those was a Week 6 date at Fairbanks.
The host Panthers (2-4) gave West Jeff all types of problems Friday, but it was the Roughriders which was able to find themselves in the second half and pull away for a much-tougher-than-expected 48-27 victory.
The series of the game was a momentum-saving goal line stand by the Roughriders defense with less than a minute to go in the first half.
Fairbanks had a first-and-goal at the West Jeff 2-yard line, but the ’Riders defense triggered by the interior lineman got four straight stops on run plays, preserving a 27-21 lead heading into the half.
“That was a big stop, we thought they’d come out and play us tough and they did,” West Jeff coach Shawn Buescher said. “Offensively that’s a team that can be very explosive. I don’t think we handled things well in the first half, but that stop right before the half was huge.
“We were able to go into the half and calm everybody down and we came out in the second half and physically took over the game.”
The Roughriders (6-0) defense carried the load in the second half allowing just one Panthers score.
WJHS’ Ethan Higgins scored a pair of touchdowns in the second half from 1 and 4 yards away. The other score was a 20-yard scoring run from quarterback Lance Lambert.
West Jefferson looked as if it would waltz to its sixth straight win when it jumped out to an early lead.
Higgins scored on a 1-yard run with 6:34 to go in the first quarter, a successful PAT by Justin Williams made it 7-0.
On the ensuing Fairbanks possession, WJ’s Caleb VanHook ripped the ball out the hands of a Fairbanks ball carrier and raced 40 yards for a touchdown. The strip and score and the following PAT made it 14-0 ’Riders with 5:49 to go in the opening stanza.
The home team answered with a sustained drive that resulted with a 34-yard touchdown pass, cutting the West Jeff lead to 14-7.
West Jeff got a 2-yard scoring run on the second play of the second quarter, but the pesky Panthers answered by returning the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown, making it 21-14.
West Jeff’s Lance Lambert hooked up with Williams on a 33-yard scoring strike with 7:45 to go in the second quarter, but a missed PAT by Williams made it 27-14.
The Panthers got another score to make it 27-21 but couldn’t punch it in late in the half.
With the win the Roughriders can now focus on one of the biggest games of the season, a home date with neighboring Mechanicsburg Friday.
Reach Chris Miles at 740-852-1616, ext. 1618 or via Twitter @MadPressSports.