How does it feel?
That was the question West Jessamine coach Graham Heasley asked of his team following its 21-20 win over Rowan County on Friday night.
Their response came as a cheer and cry of celebration.
“It feels really good. I feel so good for the kids,” Heasley said. “We’ve struggled so much to get over that hump of getting a win and just gaining a little bit of confidence. I think tonight helped a lot toward that.”
West’s narrow win came a week after a collapse at Mercer County and for a few minutes it looked as if the Colts were heading down the same track again.
“(I was thinking) can we just make that last stop?” Heasley said. “Can we find that extra little something in the tank to make the play?”
As West and Rowan opened the fourth quarter, the Colts held a 21-7 lead, but the Vikings were knocking at the door with the ball on West’s 2-yard line.
The Vikings scored on the first play of the fourth quarter to cut the lead to 21-14.
West was able to take four minutes off the clock with its ensuing possession but left valuable points on the field as a 25-yard touchdown run by Devin Taylor was called back by a holding penalty. On top of the holding penalty, West was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct and now faced a second-and-34 from midfield. Taylor was tackled for a loss of 10 yards on the next play to bring up third-and-44. The Colts could not gain the needed yards on third down and punted to the 32 with 7:49 remaining in the game.
Rowan covered 68 yards in eight plays — all of which were runs.
The Vikings scored from 7 yards out to make it 21-20 with 3:59 remaining.
Instead of attempting to tie the game with the extra point, Rowan elected to go for a 2-point conversion. On a carry up the middle, West was able to stuff the run and hold out the Vikings.
“Luke Davis pops through there and slows that big kid down, and the other guys came and finished him off,” Heasley said. “Nobody stood there and watched; they all came flying and we had a bunch of guys on the ball.”
West picked up three first downs on the ensuing possession — enough to bleed the clock dry and walk away with the win.
Rowan took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter after blocking a punt and returning the loose ball for touchdown. West tied the game 7-7 on a 41-yard pass play from Ryan Horne to Carter Hahn to open the second quarter.
West nearly scored on its next possession, but a big run by Taylor concluded with a fumble inside the 15. The ball spilled into the end zone for a touchback, killing the drive.
Horne hit Hahn again late in the second quarter to take a 14-7 lead. Horne found his receiver uncovered on the left side for a 2-yard scoring play.
“When you run the ball as successfully as we do, people start to creep up, and that gives us opportunities (with the pass),” Heasley said.
West’s defense was much improved from the previous four outings. It allowed a season-low 20 points and went three quarters without allowing an offensive score. Greg Sholar intercepted a Rowan pass at the end of the first half. The Vikings were held to 42 yards through the air, but rushed for 202.
“The defense was outstanding. Everything they (Rowan) got we essentially gave them,” Heasley said.
Rowan’s passing game took a major hit late in the second quarter. While scrambling, Rowan quarterback
Justin Graham took a devastating hit from West’s Robby Irgang. Graham did not return to the game.
West Jessamine rushed for 409 yards, 290 of which came on the legs of Taylor — a season-high for the junior. He carried the ball 28 times.
“Devin’s a load and everyone’s kind of realized that; they know he’s going to get the ball,” Heasley said. “Our offensive line does a tremendous job of opening up holes for him.”
Horne ran for 77 yards on 10 carries and threw for 50 yards, completing 3-of-4 passes. Hahn had all three receptions.
Cody Anderson picked up 42 yards on 9 rushes. Heasley said Anderson did a good job of breaking runs up the middle when the defense was keyed in on Taylor.
“We did what we do offensively — except for the penalties and fumbles — which is control the ball, move the ball and try to eat clock,” Heasley said. “We did a pretty good job of that. We just have to eliminate the penalties and fumbles.”
The Colts’ offense turned the ball over three times, all via fumble.
West Jessamine opens district play Friday at Franklin County (5-0). The Colts lost to Franklin 55-29 a year ago.