Ron Smith, announcer for the Westerville North High School’s football game with Olentangy Orange, looked over and over his pre-game notes and couldn’t find a mention of Jack Applegate’s name anywhere.
Filling in for an injured Graham Starn, Applegate carried the ball nine out of the Pioneers’ last 10 plays. The junior finished with 58 yards rushing, all in the second half, and scored what proved to be the game-winning touchdown in a 24-20 victory over the Warriors.
“You guys didn’t tell me anything about him,” Smith joked with the Pioneers’ coaches in the press box.
“We didn’t know he was going to play,” one of them shot back.
Applegate was part of a second-half resurgence for the Pioneers, who improved to 4-2 overall and 1-0 in the OCC-Buckeye Division while North falls to 3-3 overall and 0-1 in the league. Trailing 14-0 after being held to -8 yards of total offense in the first half, Orange scored 24 unanswered points to take a 10-point lead. After a 30-minute lightning delay, the Pioneers weathered the Warriors’ ill-fated late run.
The victory is Orange’s third consecutive win over Westerville North, also beating the Warriors 35-0 in 2010 and 35-7 in 2011.
“This was a huge game for us,” Applegate said. “When Graham got injured, coaches came up to me and said, ‘It’s your time to step up. You have to do your best.’ I went in there and gave it my all.
“At half time, we were down 14-0 and we were struggling. We went into the locker room and kept our heads held high. We didn’t give up and we put our best effort in the second half.”
Leading that turnaround was Orange quarterback J.D. Dayhuff. Dayhuff was sacked five times for -36 yards in the first half. In the second half, he rushed for 84 yards and two touchdowns and completed one of two passes for 33 yards to fuel the comeback.
Orange opened the second half with a 6 minute, 17 second drive culminating in a 29-yard field goal by Joe Metcalf. After forcing North into a three-and-out on the ensuing possession, Dayhuff led Orange on an eight-play, 54-yard drive for its first touchdown. Dayhuff hit Sam Almond for a 33-yard pick up to the Warriors’ 21. Six plays later, Dayhuff scored on a 3-yard run to cut the led to 14-10.
After forcing North into a second three-and-out, Dayhuff scored on a 52-yard scamper to give Orange a 17-14 lead.
“That’s just who he is,” said Pioneers coach Zebb Schroeder, whose team had only one first down in the first half. “He could get smacked in the mouth one play and he’d play the next play as hard as he can. He throws the ball well and the kid can move. You add all that together and that’s a kid who makes plays in crunch time.”
The defense also responded in the second half after giving up two scores in the first half.
On the first play from scrimmage after surrendering the lead, North quarterback Julian Malone was stripped of the ball by Orange defensive end T.J. Coates, who recovered the fumble at the Warriors’ 25. Orange capitalized on North’s second turnover of the night with Applegate scoring on a 2-yard run with 8:49 left.
The second half was vastly different than the first. Westerville North running back Robert Robinson found ways to burn Orange with his legs and his arm. In their second drive of the game, Robinson broke free on a 22-yard scamper to set up the Warriors at the Orange 3. Fullback Bodi Bien capped off the 85-yard march with a 3-yard plunge to give North a 7-0 lead with 1:20 left in the first quarter.
On the Warriors’ ensuing drive, Robinson hit Brice Beverly for a 47-yard half-back pass to set up North at the 6. Three plays later Warriors’ quarterback Julian Malone scored on a two-yard run to make it 14-0. North threatened to score more points, driving inside the Orange 21 before Zach Harrison scooped up a Robinson fumble with 3:58 left in the first half.
Orange tightened things up in the second half.
“I think they fed off the offense,” Schroeder said. “When the offense was having a little more success, they were right there too. We had some dumb things that kept prolonging drives.”
After a lightning delay, North took advantage of a botched Orange punt that set up the Warriors on the Orange 32. Bien scored on a 17-yard run three plays later. On North’s final drive, Malone hit Beverly for a 16-yard pick up on a fourth-and-10 at its own 18, but Malone had three straight incompletions and was sacked on the Warriors’ final play.
“It was a good lesson for a football team like ours who is figuring out ways to win,” Schroeder said.