WESTERVILLE — In a battle of two unbeaten teams, a rough offensive performance proved too much for Delaware Hayes to overcome on Friday as the Westerville North Warriors claimed a 14-7 win over the Pacers.
North quarterback Ronald Jackson’s touchdown pass to Brian Robinson early in the third quarter gave North its first lead of the game, and Hayes was shut out in the second half en route to its first loss of the season.
Hayes managed just 190 yards of offense in the game, including only 37 yards rushing. Quarterback Jake Lowman completed 17 of his 31 attempts for 153 yards and one costly interception. Gavin Brinkmoeller was Hayes’ leading rusher with 19 yards on seven carries.
Despite Hayes’ offensive struggles, a valiant effort by its defense kept the Pacers in the game until the final whistle. North was limited to just 223 yards of offense. Jackson rushed nine times for 81 yards to go along with 78 yards and a touchdown through the air. He also threw two interceptions.
North (5-0) appeared on the verge of taking an early lead on the game’s opening possession after a 33-yard carry by Jonathan Stevens moved the ball to the Hayes 17. Two players later, Jackson was intercepted by Hayes defensive back Chase Radabaugh to thwart the scoring opportunity.
Aided by five North penalties and a key 14-yard completion from Lowman to Austin Koslow on third down, Hayes cashed in on its first possession of the game. Josh Russell capped off the nearly nine-minute drive with a short touchdown run, pushing Hayes ahead 7-0 with 42 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
Another promising North drive once again ended in a Jackson interception early in the second quarter. After moving inside the Hayes 30, defensive back Justin Matthews came away with a pass bobbled by North receiver Vari Adams, turning the ball back over to the Hayes offense.
In a sign of things to come, Hayes was unable to do anything with the turnover, punting the ball back to North with great field position at its own 42 late in the first half.
Five plays later, Jackson’s 18-yard option keeper got North on the board and leveled the score at 7-7 heading into the halftime break.
Disaster struck for Hayes on the opening drive of the second half when North’s Javier Matthews stepped in front of an ill-advised Lowman pass for an interception. Matthews returned the interception all the way to the Hayes 9 before finally being brought down, and the turnover would prove to be a pivotal moment in the game.
Three plays and a Hayes offside penalty later, Jackson found Robinson in the back of the end zone for a 5-yard touchdown to give North its first lead of the game at 14-7.
The struggles continued for the Hayes offense throughout the second half as any type of rhythm remained elusive. A once-promising ensuing drive following the North touchdown ultimately stalled inside North territory after a false start penalty on first down put the Hayes offense off schedule.
North continued to chew at the clock through much of the second half as time became increasingly problematic for Hayes. A massive gamble by the North coaching staff nearly let Hayes off the hook with less than four minutes remaining in the game.
Facing a 4th and 1 at its own 33, North attempted to fake a punt but was stuffed well short of the first down marker, turning the ball back over to the Hayes offense with its best starting field position of the game.
As was the case for most of the evening, however, Hayes couldn’t muster a drive. Lowman’s fourth-down pass was just out of the reach of Jaliq Wilson in the end zone, turning the ball back over to North with just over two minutes to play.
Hayes would get one more opportunity to extend the game after its defense forced a quick punt, but Lowman was sacked by North’s Braylon Nowlin on the second play of the drive. Without any timeouts remaining, the clock ticked below 10 seconds before being stopped by an incomplete pass.
One final heave toward the end zone by Lowman fell harmlessly to the turf as the final seconds ticked off the clock, dropping Hayes to 4-1 on the season.
Asked about his offense’s struggles following the game, Hayes head coach Ryan Montgomery said his team expected the North defense to be fast and physical and didn’t handle it well enough.
“We have to do a better job of communicating on those,” Montgomery said. “We let a few inside pressures get going. They have great edge guys who get after the quarterback. I thought Jake (Lowman) did a great job of stepping up (in the pocket), and we started to solve some of those (pressures) in the second half. We just have to sustain drives. We didn’t do that in the first half when our defense got turnovers for us.”
Despite the loss, Montgomery said every goal his team has set out to accomplish remains in front of it heading into the halfway point of the regular season.
“We’re 4-1,” he said. “We’re going to get on to Worthington Kilbourne next week. We have a great challenge ahead with them, and we’re going to get our guys prepared. There’s a lot of stuff to clean up, but I think this team is still extremely dangerous. And there’s still a lot to play for moving forward.”
Montgomery added, “We have a great group of seniors. They do a great job of leading … They’re going to make sure these guys are ready to go because it’s really important to them. Nothing is lost in this season just from one game, and they understand that. We’re going to dive into the film, correct our mistakes, and get right back after it next week.”
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.