LANCASTER – Friday’s Ohio Capital Conference-Ohio Division matchup between rivals Newark and Lancaster was all about two teams headed in opposite directions.
The Golden Gales, who have already clinched a playoff berth, not only wanted to keep their momentum going as they head into the postseason, but were also honoring their seniors. The winless Wildcats were hoping to salvage their season.
As it has done all season long, Lancaster’s rushing attack took center stage and was too much for visiting Newark to handle. The Gales jumped out to a 35-0 halftime lead and cruised from there in a 38-7 victory over the Wildcats at Fulton Field.
The Gales improved to 8-2 overall and 5-2 in the OCC-Ohio, and more than likely clinched a home playoff game. The official pairings will be announced Sunday afternoon. It will be Lancaster’s first playoff appearance since 2009.
Lancaster senior Ashton Walker jump-started the Gales when he returned the opening kickoff 97 yards to give Lancaster a quick 7-0 lead.
“It was a great way to start off the game,” Walker said. “My guys put a lot of effort into it and they made it real easy for me, and all I had to do was beat the kicker. I see myself as an energy guy and that helped get us going to start the game.
“Winning these two last two games and the way we did it gives a lot of momentum going into the playoffs.”
Newark coach Mike Kopachy said, “That is certainly not how you want to start off against a playoff team that is ground-and-pound like these guys. We came out excited but that let the air out of the balloon real quick. But we have to be able to respond and that’s something we are going to have to continue to try and pound in our guys’ heads in the offseason.”
Things didn’t get much better for the Wildcats (0-10, 0-7) the rest of the first half. Lancaster’s ground game picked up chunks of yards as the Gales scored four more touchdowns in the first half.
Shea Goss scored on a 22-yard run with 8:44 left in the first quarter to give the Gales a 14-0 lead.
Newark showed some life when it got the ball back, driving to the Gales’ 26-yard line, but the drive stalled and the Wildcats were forced to turn the ball over on downs.
Lancaster responded with an 11-play, 74-yard drive that was capped off by a 2-yard touchdown run by junior quarterback Noah Dryden to push Lancaster’s lead to 21-0 with 10:40 left in the half.
The Gales scored again on their next drive on a Stephen Deluse 2-yard touchdown run. Deluse had a 45-yard run that helped set up the score with 6:13 left in the half.
The Gales scored their final touchdown of the half on a 12-yard touchdown pass from Dryden to senior tight end Isaac Goss with 3:43 left in the half to take a 35-0 lead. Dryden hit Kito Akins with a 32-yard completion earlier in the drive.
“We came out and did exactly what we wanted to do,” Lancaster coach Rob Carpenter said. “I’m just really proud of this team. In the last 20 years that I’ve been around Lancaster football, this team just tied for the third-best overall record being 8-2 and they get the privilege and honor of playing at Fulton Field one more time.”
Lancaster’s Tony Likens pushed the score to 38-0 when he connected on a 33-yard field goal with 4:05 left.
The Wildcats got on the board with nine seconds left in the game when junior quarterback Kaleb Jarrett, who passed for 110 yards, but was victimized by several dropped passes, hit Michael Pound on a 9-yard touchdown pass.
Most of Lancaster’s starters didn’t play in the second half. The Gales rushed for 214 yards on 25 carries in the first half. Fullback Ryan Fitchpatrick led the way with 65 yards on just carries, Shea Goss had 63 yards on nine carries and Tyler Carter added 39 yards on five rushes.
D’ante Woods had a solid game by rushing for 75 yards on 17 carries. Lancaster held eight of its 10 opponents under 100 yards rushing and the Wildcats came close to breaking 100-yard mark with 97 yards rushing.