OUTRIGHT champions and IN the playoffs!
By JON KLEINKNECHT
Inquirer Sports Editor
ONTARIO — “We’re gonna make some new goals,” a beaming head coach Chris Hawkins said Friday night after watching his Galion Tigers defeat the Ontario Warriors 15–6 here at Copeland Field.
Hawkins said the top two goals every season for his teams are to win an outright league title and make the playoffs. In beating the Warriors, the Orange-and-Blue wrapped up an uncontested North Central Conference championship and punched their ticket to the Division IV playoffs.
The Tigers finished the regular season with a nine-game winning streak after falling 14–7 in the non-conference, season-opener to Mansfield. The locals ranked fourth in Region 14 entering yesterday’s contest. The top eight teams in the region after last night’s games move on to the playoffs, with the top four hosting games next Friday. Although as of this writing, it was uncertain if the Tigers will play a home game, it is certain they advance to the tournament.
By losing to the Tigers, the Warriors finish the season 6–4 overall and 5–2 in the NCC. Had they won, they would’ve finished as co-champions with the Orange-and-Blue and would have had a chance of making the playoffs.
However … the Tigers weren’t in a sharing mood.
Time and time again the Orange-and-Blue made defensive stands against the threatening-to-score Warriors. On the first possession of the game, the hosts drove 60 yards in seven plays, only to turn the ball over to Galion on a fumble at the 1-yard line.
With 4:21 remaining in the opening period, the Tigers began what would be a 15-plays, 77-yard touchdown march that cleared nearly 7:30 off the clock and culminated at the 8:58 mark of the second quarter with a 1-yard keeper by quarterback Dareian Watkins. David Nay — who carried the ball on 12 consecutive plays covering 52 yards in the drive — followed Watkins’ score with a 2-point run to make it 8–0.
Ontario cut the gap to 8–6 2:41 into the second half on a 58-yard touchdown run by Jordan Campbell. The ensuing pass for two points failed.
Like a championship boxer who was punched in the mouth, the Tigers responded to Ontario’s shot with one of their own.
After Nay returned a kickoff 22 yards to the Tigers’ 41, he carried the ball for gains of 19 and 5 yards on Galion’s first two plays. Watkins then broke free on a 36-yard TD keeper. A Connor Kempf extra point kick followed, putting the winners up by nine points.
“When we answered that score, that was the game,” Hawkins said. “When they made it 8–6, we answered. Connor kicked the extra point and knowing we were up by nine instead of eight was huge.”
Ontario threatened to score early in the fourth period. A fourth-and-goal-to-go at the 17 play was a 16-yard completion. However, the receiver fumbled the ball at the Galion 1-yard line and was recovered and returned by the Tigers to the 10.
Six minutes later, the Orange-and-Blue defense came through big again. After recovering a Galion fumble at the Tigers’ 2, the Warriors ran four plays that totaled minus-16 yards and included a pair of incomplete passes, the second on fourth-and-goal at the 21.
The hosts got the ball back one last time with 1:59 to play. They took the ball down to the Orange-and-Blue’s 21, but the game ended with an incomplete pass.
“Our defense just played extremely well,” Hawkins stated. “I said that’d be the strength of our team.”
The 17-year head coach then commented about the horrendous field conditions. The second half was played in what could best be described as a mud pit because of a non-stop heavy rainfall that began before the game started and continued even when it was done.
“I’ve never played in conditions like this,” he said while shaking his head. “We just gutted it out. Our kids were running on fumes. We played hard. We made a lot of mistakes, but we played hard and overcame our mistakes.”
Statistically, the Tigers had 159 yards in total offense, all rushing. They carried the ball 42 times and were zero-for-2 passing. The Warriors netted 140 yards on the ground on 40 attempts and completed 4-of-10 throws for 53 stripes.
Nay had 111 yards rushing on 26 carries for the champions. Watkins added 45 on 11 rushes, Austin Chaplin picked up a blocked punt and ran for 5 yards, and Austin Prosser had minus-2 stripes on 4 carries.
Save Campbell’s 58-yard scoring burst, the Tigers did a phenomenal job on containing the star of the Warriors. He entered the night as the top rusher and scorer in the NCC with 1,702 yards and 198 points. He finished with 82 yards on 17 carries, meaning he totaled only 24 markers on his 16 non-touchdown runs versus the winners.
TIGER BITES: The Tigers improve to 3–0-2 all-time against the Warriors. Ontario will play in the Northern Ohio League next year and drop off of Galion’s schedule. … Ontario had the ball inside Galion’s 25-yard line on 6 series. … The “Orange Crush” has held 8 of 10 opponents to 14 points or less and allowed just 20 points in the last 18 quarters.