Third quarter explosion lifts West Jeff
By Jeff Gates
The Madison Press
Schools of rocks.
On both the West Jefferson and London High School campuses stand a giant boulder, in part representing the stalwart athletic traditions that the institutions both cherish.
It is symbolic in many ways as a natural friendly rivalry has existed between the two schools that are just a stone’s throw away from each other.
With a unique opportunity like this on the gridiron — pitting friends against friends — both teams knew they couldn’t take any chances that presented themselves for granite (rock-related pun intended).
The defenses came to play early as the team’s waged an epic battle on the field, with turnovers playing a huge part in the outcome
In the end, it was West Jeff’s ability to convert on a London first half miscue — and a monumental third quarter barrage — that propelled the home Roughriders to a 42-21 victory Friday on Kile Field.
Turnovers have been a bug-a-boo for both teams all season, but although London came away with a pair of drive-killing interceptions, it was WJ that was able to capitalize on a fumble recovery to break a scoreless tie in the first half.
“We did some nice things early, but we weren’t able to finish.” said London coach Kyle Cutler. “You just have to say they were better.”
Roughrider Trevor Ferguson took it over from five yards out midway through the second quarter. This followed just five plays after Ferguson himself recovered a London fumble.
The first half could have been more lucrative for West Jefferson, however, if not for a pair of touchdown-saving tackles by London.
First, Red Raider Kenyon Brown showed his agility by being the last line of defense during an interception return by WJ’s Ethan Higgins.
Right before the half, London’s Jordan Cain tracked down Roughrider runner Earl Braithwaite after a 60-plus yard gain.
The home squad could not score on either of those drives, and the young Red Raiders defense drew kudos from the West Jefferson coach.
“Coach Cutler does a nice job of preparing his players,” said Roughriders skipper Shawn Buescher. “They were able to do some nice things.”
With London touting a star in running back Michael Johnson, West Jeff knew it had its work cut out for itself. The Roughriders were up to the task as Ferguson, Braithwaite, Gunnar Doran, Jake Burns, Kyle Cook and others all converged on the Red Raider runner all night.
“Defensively I thought we did a great job against a great running back,” Buescher said of his defense’s effort. “We were unhappy with how we played last week, so we wanted to play better.”
Holding a slim 7-0 lead at the at the break, West Jefferson came out rolling in the third quarter, tallying three touchdowns in the stanza to put the game out of reach.
First, WJ quarterback Lance Lambert hit a wide open Ian Langermeier for a 28-yard score.
Then, following a tremendous punt by London’s Zane Foucht, a 30 yard Conor Powell run set up a short TD surge by Ferguson. Two minutes later, Roughrider Higgins scampered through the middle for a 29 yard score to make a once-close contest one-sided.
“There was a blown coverage, and the defense was on the field a long time which is not a good remedy for success,” Cutler said of the pivotal third quarter. “They executed so well in the second half.”
In the final stanza, the crowd was treated to a demonstration why Braithwaite and Johnson are the two best runners around.
“They are two great running backs and two great kids,” Buescher said. “Both communities need to enjoy their talents for one more week.”
Like a pair of prize fighters, the backs traded jabs in the fourth. First Johnson went in from 14 yards out. Then, Braithwaite broke through the middle to hit paydirt from 40 yards out. Not to be outdone, Johnson took a handoff, went wide left and sprinted 71 yards for a touchdown.
Throwing his hat in the ring was West Jeff’s Powell, who added a 47 yard scoring run of his own, breaking numerous tackles along the way.
Closing out the game’s scoring was London’s Josh Handley with a short run in the final two minutes.
Powell swatted away the final Red Raider pass to put an exclamation point on the contest as time expired.
West Jeff finishes their season at Madison-Plains, while London wraps it up by hosting Columbus Academy.
Jeff Gates is a contributing writer for The Madison Press.