Rockets down Eagles, 35-21, to clinch NBC title share


PEMBERVILLE — Behind the running of 6-foot, 205 senior back Dalton Witter, Oak Harbor pounded Eastwood’s defense with their ground game, earning a 35-21 Northern Buckeye Conference win at Jerry Rutherford Stadium.

“I thought our kids just played hard,” Oak Harbor coach Mike May said. “It was a battle, it was close at halftime, and I felt like last week (21-0 win over Genoa) our kids came out and we really took it to the line of scrimmage in the second half.

“I’m real proud of our kids. I thought they battled the whole game. It’s just a great high school football game. We feel very lucky. Anytime you come to Eastwood and get a win, it is huge.”

In Oak Harbor’s first season in the NBC, they are undefeated at 9-0 overall and 6-0 in the league and earned a title share with only one league game remaining against Lake.

The only way Eastwood, 7-2 and 5-1, can earn a title share is if the Eagles beat Genoa (7-2, 5-1) on the road in the final week of the regular season next Friday and the Flyers can defeat the Rockets. Plus, there is the possibility that the Eagles and Rockets could meet again in the Division V playoffs.

“I don’t think I’ve seen the best out of these guys yet,” Eastwood coach Sam Cotterman said.

“Fortunately, we have a big one next week that can still propel us into a nice little spot in the playoffs. I still I’m excited to see where these guys could end up.”

May says winning a championship in Oak Harbor’s first season in the NBC is a big deal.

“That was the goal that we’ve talked about ever since we joined the NBC,” May said. “I’m really proud of the fact that we were able to clinch a share of it. We have some work to do obviously in week 10 to go win this thing outright.”

Witter ran for 118 yards on 28 carries and scored three touchdowns, but he didn’t do it with big plays. The Rockets did it by controlling the line of scrimmage and Witter using his own strength to drive through potential tacklers.

As the game wore down, you could see Eastwood’s defense with their hands on their hips. Five Oak Harbor backs ran for 180 yards, giving the Rockets five more minutes of possession time than the Eagles.

“They wore us down, that is for sure,” Cotterman said. “I said all week that up front is their heart and they got us wore down a little bit and then they just grinded us.

“We had some things happen in the first quarter that I thought in the second quarter we had taken care of, but they just kind of stabbed us. We couldn’t sustain drives, which left our defense out their longer, which wore us down, I think.”

When the Rockets were closing a drive, they switched to a no-huddle offense with one play in mind — send Witter off tackle, and he’d either run through people or bounce off them for more yardage. Cotterman said the Eagles knew the no-huddle was coming, but could not slow it down.

“We knew what they were going to do, but at the time they did it we just couldn’t stop it,” Cotterman said.

“We were missing guys and when they were learning forward and getting three or four yards a pop, and then they would just keep doing it all the way down the field.”

But Eastwood never folded, becoming only the second team all season to put up 21 points on the Rockets’ defense. It took a while for Eastwood’s offense to find some breathing space.

Both teams traded punts throughout the first quarter, but Oak Harbor sustained a nine-play, 76-yard drive that led to a nine-yard TD run by Witter with 10:13 remaining in the half.

On the Rockets’ next possession, junior quarterback Michael Lalonde went over top, finding senior playmaker Jaqui Hayward for a 46-yard TD grab, putting Oak Harbor ahead 14-0 less than four minutes later.

However, Eastwood junior quarterback Kadyn Donnell and junior receiver Andre Lewis performed some magic of their own in the final minutes of the half.

Donnell found Lewis cutting across the flats and the speedster took off down the left sideline for a 43-yard gain to the Oak Harbor 18 with just under a minute remaining.

After throwing two incompletions, Donnell threw a high fade to Lewis into the right far corner of the end zone, which Lewis grabbed and planted his foot in bounds for a score. Even though the Eagles failed on the conversion, they were down by just one TD, 14-6, at the half.

May said he didn’t expect anything less from the Eagles.

“We knew Eastwood was going to keep battling,” May said. “They always do — they always have as long as we’ve been playing them.”

On the first play from scrimmage to start the second half, Lalonde sent a short screen to junior tight end Garry Brooks, but somehow Brooks got past the Eastwood defense for a 67-yard TD run.

Eastwood responded with an eight-play drive to the Oak Harbor 21, but on a fourth-down-and-five, senior kicker Noah Haar attempted a 40-yard field goal, but somehow his foot landed too low on the football and his boot went fat and short of the uprights.

The Rockets took full advantage, marching 80 yards on 15 plays with most of the legwork done by Witter and his line, finishing off with Witter’s one yard TD run that put the Rockets up 28-6 with 1:27 remaining in the third.

Donnell and Lewis put together their magic again, connecting on a 20-yard pass, then a 33-yard pass, and then a 14-yard TD pass to Lewis running a quick slant.

Donnell threw a conversion pass to junior Colton Woodward to get the Eagles back on schedule, but they still trailed 28-14 six seconds into the final quarter.

OH’s methodical run game took over again on a 13-play, 65-yard drive with Witter carrying the ball 12 times, resulting in his second one-yard TD run.

Donnell threw a 26-yard TD strike to junior receiver Brock Messinger with 1:58 on the clock to close the scoring.

Oak Harbor finished with 385 yards of total offense while the Eagles had 335, and the Rockets had 19 first downs to Eastwood’s 17.

Donnell completed 18-of-30 passes for 225 yards and all three Eastwood touchdowns, he ran for 62 yards on 17 carries, and Lewis caught seven passes for 146 yards.

Eastwood junior receiver Dayquan Oliver had seven catches for 44 yards, Messinger had two catches for 31 yards, and senior runnning back Caiden Maize had two catches for four yards along with eight carries for 38 yards.

Lalonde completed 13-of-19 passes for 205 yards, including eight to Hayward for 98 yards, two to junior receiver Ethan Stokes for 18 yards, one to Witter for 13 yards, and one to sophomore receiver Wyatt Augsburger for three yards.

Lalonde ran for 29 yards on five carries, Hayward ran for 26 yards on six carries, sophomore running back Travis Bouyer had a carry for four yards, and Augsburger had one carry for three yards.

Eastwood senior linebacker Andrew Badenhop led the Eagles’ defense with 7½ tackles, Lewis had seven tackles, junior defensive lineman Paul Lautzenheiser had 6½ tackles, and Woodward had 4½ tackles.

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