* * *
HOWARD — Perhaps last Friday’s 21-20 win by the East Knox Bulldogs, over Crestview will go down as one of the most exciting games in the history of the Bulldogs’ football program. It was a heart-stopping, back-and-forth, big-play, action-packed struggle. It was the Bulldogs’ biggest test of the season and they passed. Along the way, they showed that they could beat adversity, regroup and come back.
“One of the best games I’ve ever been part of,” East Knox coach Cody Reese “That’s the first time we have been down all season. We fought hard and overcame a lot of adversity. Our guys stuck together and played hard throughout the game. I was very pleased to see that.”
The Crestview game was, however, influenced by errors on both sides. Reese knows, going forward, the Bulldogs must do a better job of controlling the football.
“We had two red zone turnovers last Friday, and a missed field goal in the red zone as well,” Reese said. “We need to make sure that we do score on those. We need to make sure that we finish drives and stay mentally tough throughout the game.”
The OHSAA Division VI Region 22 semifinals will put the third-seeded Bulldogs (11-0) up against the second-seeded Seneca East Tigers (10-1) at Ohio Health Stadium, on the campus of Marion Harding High School on Friday at 7 p.m. The Tigers may be the toughest team that the Bulldogs have faced this season.
Seneca East has a spread offense with Chase Foos at quarterback (150-of-231, 2,198 yards, 23 TDs, 10 interceptions). His favorite targets are Tigers’ receivers Jake Seisel (36 receptions, 552 yards), Mason Foos (30 for 365), Elijah Riggs (17 for 326) and Blaine Cunningham (19 for 308).
The Tigers have run the ball for 225.5 yards per game, with Skyler Walker accounting for nearly a third of that (76.7 yards/game). Seneca East likes to rotate their stable of running backs throughout the game. Walker has over seven yards per carry this season, but he gets plenty of opportunity to rest. Riggs has 28 carries for 249 yards and QB Foos has run the ball 75 times for 386 yards. Along with them are Jesse Beckman (36 for 243) and Alec Gomez (33 for 267).
The Tigers can also bring in a 240-pound running back (normally a guard) Dustin Smith, who is an effective ball-carrier in short-yardage, goal-line situations. Smith scored a 5-yard touchdown last week. He has managed 58 yards on six carries this season. All of that will be running into a Bulldogs’ defense that only allowed 253 total yards last Friday.
“They’ve got a good quarterback who is a good runner and thrower,” Reese said. “He does a good job of extending plays. He also has a lot of good weapons around him. His receivers, offensive line and the backs are good, too. We just have to make sure we stay disciplined. We can’t miss tackles. We have to make sure we create turnovers as well, to try to slow down that offense of theirs, which is pretty good.”
The Bulldogs’ defense is led by Dawson David, who came through with a dramatic blocked kick in the fourth quarter that proved to be the decisive play of last Friday’s game. The Bulldogs also got an interception from Shane Knepp.
Of course, the Tigers will have to find a way to stop East Knox running back Caleb Gallwitz, who ran the ball for 213 yards on 27 carries last week. That included a pair of touchdown runs, one of which went for 84 yards. Gallwitz scored another touchdown on a 32-yard pass from Bulldogs’ quarterback Kadden Lester (18-of-30, one touchdown, one interception).
Lester has plenty of options in the East Knox spread with targets like Gage Steinmetz, who caught six passes last week. Teammate David Kannday added five receptions and Weston Melick had a pair. The Bulldogs’ offense rolled up 411 total yards last week.
Seneca East, who defeated Norwayne, 14-2, in their first-round playoff game, got a shutout from its defense. The Tigers got an interception from Riggs (46 tackles) to set up a short TD run from Kane Lynch (170 yards, 22 carries in 2019) in the third quarter. Leading the defense is 211-pound middle linebacker Pat Snook with 95 tackles this year. Along with him are Logan Hicks with 63 tackles and Wyatt Sanders with 52.
“When we come out, we have to take care of the football,” Reese said. “We have to make sure that we execute. When we are given opportunities to get points, we better make sure we get those points. On defense, we’ve got to make sure that we don’t have missed tackles. They run a spread like we do, and anytime you miss a tackle, they could come up with a big play.”
As the Bulldogs have shown all year, they can also come up with big plays. Can any be as big as Dawson David’s blocked kick? Perhaps, so.
“Our guys know if they don’t go, we’re done,” Reese said. “We just have to make sure that we execute at a high-level and take advantage of every opportunity we’re given on Friday night.”
The rest of this article is available to our subscribers.
Do your part to support local journalism
Subscribe to our e-edition to read this and many other articles written by your neighbors.