A final score of 42-7 does not indicate a high school football game that turned on one play but Friday’s Talawanda loss to Northwest certainly comes close.
The Braves trailed 14-0 and had the ball third-and-goal at the Northwest 7 yard line, threatening to cut that lead in half when sophomore quarterback Connor Scott tried to make it happen for his Talawanda team with a pass into the endzone. Unfortunately for the Braves, Northwest’s Dominick Williams was standing between the quarterback and receiver, picking off the ball at the goalline.
Williams returned the ball 100 yards for the first of his three touchdowns on the evening and the Knights led 21-0 instead of just by one score. That came with 10:09 left in the first half.
Northwest went on to the 42-7 final score even though Talawanda came back for a touchdown with 1:05 to go in the half as junior Dakota Byrd scored from 1-yard out, capping a drive which started on the Northwest 45 following a punt return by sophomore Andrew Wilson.
The Knights negated that score, however, when Williams scored on a 40-yard pass from quarterback Cory Roberson with 46 seconds remaining in the half. Talawanda tried an on-side kick following their touchdown, but Northwest recovered and scored in two plays to take a 28-7 halftime lead.
Northwest added two more scores in the fourth quarter, one of them on a Williams 65-yard pass reception.
“Turnovers hurt us tonight. They came at the most inopportune times. It’s something we have to work on. To Conner’s credit, he made mistakes trying to make plays,” Talawanda coach J.D. Vonderheide said. “The defense played well down the stretch. It took a while, but in the second half, at times they played really, really good. We moved the ball up and down the field and stalled in the fourth quarter.”
Talawanda had the advantage in time of possession for the game, 28:21 to 19:39 but Northwest dominated the rest of the offensive statistics with a 360 to 150 edge in total yardage and a 6-3 edge in third-down conversions.
“I’m pleased with the effort,” Vonderheide said. “We’ll get them. They’ll come back ready to work (Saturday). We’ll see. We have two weeks on the road and then two at home to close the season.”
The third quarter was scoreless as the teams traded possessions and Talawanda’s defense had its finest moment in the quarter after Northwest took the opening kickoff of the second half and want down the field. The Knights’ Jason Phillips took the ball on second-and-goal at the 7 yard line and crossed the goalline, but it was called back on a penalty, setting up another try at the 12. But they were pushed back to the 14.
On third down, Roberson was sacked at the 25-yard-line and a Northwest fieldgoal attempt missed and Talawanda took over. The rest of the quarter was a battle for field position, with Talawanda having the advantage most of the time, but unable to generate enough offense to get points out of it.
The Knights added a 65-yard pass play for a score to Williams in the fourth quarter and then a final tally with 23 seconds remaining in the game on an 8-yard run by Tristin Snow.
The game completed a three-week series of games against the top teams in the Southwest Ohio Conference. Northwest, Harrison and Mount Healthy were Talawanda’s opponents in those last three games and are all 3-0 in SWOC play. Two of them—Northwest and Mount Healthy are undefeated overall, at 6-0.
“Those were the toughest three teams in the league,” Vonderheide said. “(Northwest coach) Chad (Murphy) has done a great job with their group.”
While Talawanda has scored more points than all of last year and allowed fewer and Vonderheide is seeing weekly improvement in his team, he said the losing still hurts and a win would be a tonic for everyone.
“My heart gets ripped out of me each time,” he said.
A team with an 0-6 record cannot look at any upcoming opponent as a probable win but after facing three strong league contenders to open SWOC play, the Braves hope to take that improvement to the next level and hope for a victory.
Talawanda plays on the road for the next two weeks, at Little Miami next week and at Edgewood in two weeks. They will close out the season at home against Wilmington on Oct. 19 and Ross on Oct. 26.