By Bill Bray
TOLEDO – Toledo Whitmer used a pair of kickoff returns in the second half to steal the momentum and sprint away with a 49-14 TRAC win over Fremont Ross.
For the second straight week, after a first half of good steady football, a team blew up in the second half against the Little Giants. At the break, the score was 14-7 in favor of the Panthers. Then came the third quarter. Whitmer had deferred possession to the second half, and it proved costly for the Little Giants. D’Andre Cartlidge stood at his own four-yard line gathering in Johan Silver’s kickoff. Cartlidge made a few moves and was off to the races with a 96-yard kickoff return for the Whitmer touchdown. “Their special teams stole our momentum in the second half”. Ross coach Chad Long said. Whitmer scored 28 third-quarter points and the rout was on.
Ross scored on their first possession of the game as Kaden Holmes passed his way down the field then ran the final 18 yards for the score. Johan Silver was good on his PAT and Ross had their only lead of the game at 7-0 with 9:10 remaining in the first quarter.
Whitmer answered right back with a drive of their own that ended with a two-yard run by running back Jaylen Young. Rayan Farhan added the extra point, and the game was tied up with 6:24 left in the quarter.
Whitmer got one more trip to paydirt before the end of the first half when Whitmer’s defensive tackle looking quarterback, Kevin Hornbeak, sneaked in from one yard out. Farhan was good again with the extra point kick and with 18 seconds left in the first half the Panthers took the lead 14-7 at the break.
It was a great TRAC battle up to the is point with both teams performing to a high caliber. Then the second half opening kickoff happened. “Special teams’ touchdowns are killing us,” coach Chad Long said. “We even switched our kickoff team, but we have kids running down, undisciplined and breaking down. It is something we must look at and see what we have to do to get better. It’s like if we don’t kick it in the endzone then we have a big return on us. Johan (Silver) puts it down to the one and if I am on special teams player that is what I want to have happen. But we need guys that are going to show heart and make plays on the ball.”
Again, it was a momentum breaker for the second straight week for a Ross team that has experienced some real growing pains. With the purple and white confidence running on near empty, Whitmer scored on their next possession on a 10-yard Taron Crawford run at the 6:26 mark of the third period. Farhan again nailed the extra point and Whitmer was putting this game away with a 28-7 advantage.
When it appeared as if all hope was lost, Holmes fired a 52-yard bomb to Elijah Simms for a Ross score with 4:12 left in the third period. Silver tacked on the extra point and the Giants looked as if they would scratch and claw their way back into the battle. The score read Whitmer 28, Ross 14.
On the ensuing kickoff however, another special team blunder for Fremont. Silver had a short kickoff to the 37-yard line of Whitmer. Jayden Gibson picked up the bouncing ball and travelled to the right side of the Ross kickoff team and sprinted away for a 63-yard touchdown run. Farhan was good with the point and Whitmer was rolling 35-14. “Two kickoff returns, one on a little dinker sky kick and sure enough their Gibson kid picks it up and runs it in for a touchdown it’s unbelievable,” a dejected Chad Long said. ““It’s not what we practice at all. The kids just must make plays on special teams. It was crucial tonight.”
Whitmer added yet another score with 31 seconds remaining in the third quarter as Hornbeak completed another deep pass to Cartlidge for 43 yards. This score put Whitmer way out of reach 42-14.
Ross did come back with one more consolation touchdown as Holmes found Simms again for an eight-yard touchdown. With 8:49 left in the game, Silver tacked on the PAT and Ross made it a 42-21 game.
Whitmer scored one more before the final buzzer as Crawford scored his second touchdown of the night on a two-yard run with 1:31 left to make the final 49-21.
Now with the team reeling from two straight losses, it’s time for the playoffs and the Little Giants are part of them for the second straight season. “Well, the last two weeks we didn’t lose to splotches,” Long said. “Central and Whitmer are two great programs. We will continue coaching and motivating because our offense has been sputtering the last couple of weeks, actually the last three or four weeks. It’s uncharacteristic of our offense to do that. So, we must find ways to get points on the board. We’ll be back on the drawing board trying to figure things out. “
Statistically, Ross’s Holmes continues to be the main offensive weapon for his team. Holmes completed 13 of 24 passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns and one interception. Holmes also led the Ross rushing attack picking up 94 yards on 16 carries and one touchdown. Meanwhile Whitmer had two ball carriers over 100 yards. Whitmer’s beefy quarterback Kevin Hornbeak finished with 173 yards on 19 carries and one score. Jaylen Young added 122 yards on 17 carries and a score.
Receiving, Fremont’s Elijah Simms was the leader with three receptions for 71 yards and two touchdowns. D’Andre Cartlidge had one catch for 43 yards and one touchdown to lead Whitmer.
On a bright note, it is preliminarily projected that Ross will get to host a playoff game. It is believed that seventh seeded Ross will host 10th seeded North Royalton in a Division II region 6 game. The date and time for the two 7-3 teams are yet to be determined. North Royalton is on a two-game win streak having beaten Wadsworth (28-10) and Brecksville (15-13).
DIVISION II, REGION 6
Highland vs Waite
Avon vs St francis
Central vs Lakewood
Barberton vs north olmstead
Avon Lake vs St Johns
Olmstead Falls vs Valley Forge
North Royalton vs FREMONT ROSS
Anthony Wayne vs Rhodes