XENIA — You couldn’t have scripted a worse start than the one the West Jefferson High School football team experienced in a Division V, Region 20 playoff game against Reading Friday in Xenia.
Less than six minutes into the contest the Roughriders found themselves trailing 21-0.
Luckily for the West Jefferson faithful, high school football games are much longer than six minutes. The Roughriders didn’t panic, didn’t lose focus and surely didn’t stop fighting as they regrouped and came back to score a 35-28 victory and advance to a regional championship game.
“I think we believed in ourselves and stuck to our beliefs, we stayed the course, the kids weren’t freaking out, the coaches weren’t either,” West Jeff coach Shawn Buescher said. “One of our main core values is handling adversity. Our kids handled that to the highest degree today.”
West Jeff took it’s first lead of the game when senior quarterback Lance Lambert hooked up with Caleb Vanhook on an 81-yard bomb with 7:46 to play in the fourth quarter.
Lambert added a 9-yard touchdown run with 5:16 to go to put the Roughriders up 35-21.
“It was all set up through good play action,” Buescher said of the big plays down the field. “We liked our match-ups on the edge and thought we could get some plays down the field. We really liked certain sets and we got the match-ups we wanted and we got the protection we needed.”
Reading opened the scoring in the first quarter by marching the length of the field and scoring on a 31-yard run by Mancini Jackson. On the scoring run the 6-3, 215 pound senior broke free of a would be tackle at the line of scrimmage, spun out of another and out-raced the defense to the end zone and a 7-0 lead following the PAT.
It was just 15 seconds of game time later when Jackson struck again with a big play. He stepped in front of a Lance Lambert screen pass and returned it 32 yards for a touchdown and a 14-0 Blue Devil lead.
On its next possession West Jeff crossed into Reading territory, but Lambert was hit and fumbled turning the ball right back over to the Devils. On the very next play from Reading’s Aydrian Simmons ran untouched through the Roughriders defense for a 53-yard score.
Reading was up 21-0 before fans could get settled into their seats.
The Roughriders had a big hill to climb, but lucky for them they had a lot of time left to make up the difference.
West Jeff put together a 12-play drive that featured running back Ethan Higgins. Higgins capped the drive scoring from 1-yard out and making it 7-0.
The Roughriders came up short on another drive turning the ball over on downs at the Reading 1-yard line.
The squad kept fighting and clawing and got to within seven points at 21-14 when Lambert hooked up with Caleb Vanhook on a 74-yard bomb with 6:32 to play in the second quarter. That was the score at the half.
West Jeff was on the move midway through the third quarter, when Lambert hit Vanhook on another nice pass play. But the wideout was stripped of the ball and the Blue Devils recovered at their own 20-yard line.
West Jeff finally drew even early in the fourth quarter when Higgins raced to the end zone and dove for the pylon on a 4-yard scoring run with 10:11 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Reading got a 6-yard scoring strike to Jackson with 2:21 to play, making it 35-28.
With the win the Roughriders advance to a D-V regional final which will be played Friday.
Reach Chris Miles at 740-852-1616, ext. 1618 or via Twitter @MadPressSports.