Knights, Bulldogs a win away from first trip to Final Four

Knights, Bulldogs a win away from first trip to Final Four

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And then there were two.

West Holmes and Dalton are the last two teams from the Wayne-Holmes area left in the OHSAA football playoffs.

The Knights and Bulldogs have a lot more in common than just that. They’re both in the regional finals for the fourth time and vying for the first Final Four trip in the history of their respective programs.

Second-seeded West Holmes (13-0) will play No. 8 Parma Heights Holy Name (7-5) at Canal Fulton Northwest’s Smilek Stadium in the Div. III, Region 10 title game on Nov. 19 at 7 p.m.

“It would mean everything to win this game,” said fifth-year West Holmes coach Zach Gardner, whose school also reached a regional final in 2012 (48-13 loss to Dover), 2000 (41-34 loss to Canton CC) and 1992 (33-6 loss to Lima Bath). “Our team motto ever since last season ended has been ‘Raise the bar.’

“What that really means is that we want to win the first regional championship in program history, and we want to win the state championship. It’s what the kids have been working for ever since the Tiffin Columbian game (34-24 loss in regional semis) was over last year.”

No. 4 Dalton (11-2) will take on No. 3 Warren John F Kennedy (9-2) in the Div. VII, Region 25 final at Marlington Stadium on Nov. 20. It’s a rematch of a semifinal match-up last year, which the Eagles won 28-18.

“We have had a lot of really good football players and coaches come through Dalton,” said fifth-year Bulldogs coach Broc Dial, whose school also reached the Elite 8 in 2017 (42-41 loss to Cuyahoga Heights), 2002 and 1992. “If we are able to win this game, I think it will be a culmination of the hard work and tradition established by those teams that have come before us. It’s been a total team effort to get this far, and our players really want to win this game.”

Knights' time

West Holmes routed Rocky River 51-28 in the regional semifinals.

Sophomore Sam Williams-Dixon continued his remarkable season, catching six passes for 178 yards and a pair of scores. He also added 17 carries for 51 yards and one TD.

Junior quarterback Mason Wolfe was 16-for-21 passing for 355 yards and four TDs. Wolfe was making his first varsity start after senior standout Noah Clark went down with an injury the previous week.

“It’s not the best spot for a kid to make his first varsity start in a regional semifinal game,” Gardner said, “but Mason has worked very hard, like all of our players. He was ready when it was his time. With the kind of work ethic and skill he has, it was not a surprise to see him play so well.”

Gardner said Wolfe and Clark could both see action against Holy Name. Clark, who saw his lone action when he came in to take a snap in victory formation last week, has passed for 2,657 yards, 26 TDs and just five interceptions this season.

“We are keeping (the specifics on Clark’s injury) close to the vest,” Gardner said. “Our culture is absolutely phenomenal, and Noah has been great helping Mason.”

Williams-Dixon’s 33 total touchdowns are one away from tying Layne Perone’s school record of 34 TDs in 2012. The Knights’ 515 total points rank just behind the 1999 team’s 520 points.

Williams-Dixon and Garrett Eastep have 49 receptions apiece to lead the Knights, going for 887 yards and 796, respectively. Elisha Baldridge, Bret Shearer and Blake McCombs are the top tacklers while Tucker Kaufman has eight interceptions.

Holy Name defeated Parma Padua 28-21 and features a strong running game.

Unsung hero

Senior wide receiver-cornerback Sawyer Pritt doesn’t get the attention of some of the Knights’ biggest names, but Gardner said he’s been a huge part of their success.

“When Kyle Maltarich got hurt earlier this season, it kind of changed our offense, but Sawyer stepped up and has done a great job as a receiver and blocker,” Gardner said. “He’s also done a really good job at cornerback. I’m really proud of the team player that he is.”

Dawgs dominating

Dalton’s Jaden Schlabach and Jaiden Malone have been featured more than ever in the playoffs and have made the extra touches count.

The duo led an impressive 42-23 rout of top-seeded Lucas in the semifinals.

Schlabach has rushed for 640 yards and nine TDs in three playoff games while Malone has 14 catches for 443 yards and seven TDs.

That gives Schlabach 144 rushes for 1,557 yards and 22 TDs overall. Malone has 69 receptions for 1,129 yards and 14 TDs.

Quarterback Ethan Stutz has passed for 2,157 yards, 23 TDs and just five interceptions. Tate Geiser has added 862 yards rushing and 17 TDs and leads the defense in tackles while Owen Beatty has 46 catches for 471 yards and six TDs.

“It was a total team effort against Lucas,” Dial said. “Obviously, Jaden and Jaiden played really well again and so did the rest of our team. I’m really proud of how disciplined everyone was, and the execution was pretty good for all four quarters.”

Warren JFK knocked Dalton out of the playoffs last year, and the WCAL champion Bulldogs would love nothing more than to turn the tables on Saturday.

“It will be two pretty similar teams,” Dial said. “Both teams have athletic playmakers and can also play physical football. They are more spread on offense than us and on defense give a lot of different looks.”

WCAL Final Four teams

Only eight WCAL football teams have ever reached the Final Four: Norwayne (2011 first, 2012), Smithville (2002 second, 2004, 1984) and Waynedale (1997, 1995, 1985).

Aaron Dorksen can be emailed at Follow him on Twitter at @AaronDorksen.