PATASKALA – Granville got overwhelmed by a swarm of Hornets on Friday.
Showcasing its multitude of weapons on senior night, Licking Heights flashed diversity and balance in a 41-7 Licking County League Buckeye Division win that set up a showdown at Licking Valley. At stake: a league championship and home playoff game.
“We want to be league champs and have a seventh home game, which is almost unheard of,” said senior center Zach Sims. “We were confident coming in tonight, and it’s been building.”
In the first half alone, six running backs touched the ball and seven players caught passes for the Hornets (8-1, 3-0), which built a 35-0 halftime lead and forced a second-half running clock. Senior quarterback Gabe Caldwell threw for 226 yards in the first half with a pair of touchdowns and finished with 243 yards. Heights also ran for 149 yards, 111 in the first half.
“From the start of the season, we knew it was important to be diverse and get the ball to our athletes in space and let them make plays,” coach Darren Waters said. “The kids have taken to it, and our assistant coaches (Kele Waaland and A.J. Barnes) have done an outstanding job working together to make it go.”
Sims said that at heart, the Hornets are still a ground and pound team.
“But it’s nice to be able to expand and subtract from what we do,” he said. “We can go with a little passing and trust our athletes to make plays, and we don’t have to hold our blocks as long with the running because they’re so quick getting through the holes.”
Heights decided things in about a three-minute span of the first half.
The Hornets mostly pounded the ball on an 84-yard, 15-play drive capped by Joey Harrell’s 3-yard TD run. Nate Thacker, who enjoyed a huge senior night on both sides of the ball, then returned an interception to Granville’s 29-yard line. Landon Pearson then turned a short swing pass from Caldwell into an 18-yard TD and Heights was up 14-0 after one.
It grew to 21-0 early in the second on Harrell’s 14-yard touchdown run. Then, the Hornets took to the air. Caldwell completed eight passes on an 89-yard drive, including a 39-yarder to Brandon Smith and an 8-yard TD to Thacker.
Late in the half, Caldwell found Thacker on a 51-yard pass to the Granville 4. Adrien Hammonds pounded it in on the last play of the half for the 35-0 lead as Cameron Christian kicked his fifth consecutive extra point. He added 33- and 29-yard field goals in the second half.
“When I get the opportunity, I just try to make a play,” said Thacker, who led the Hornets with five receptions for 98 yards. “(The 51-yarder) was a nice pass by Gabe. I just try to keep getting better.”
Granville (4-5, 0-3) averted the shutout, driving 76 yards in 11 plays with freshman quarterback Cameron Crouch hitting Hunter Brown on a 9-yard TD pass with just 7.3 seconds left. Drew Maxwell kicked the PAT. Another freshman, Brandon Haley, led the Blue Aces with 91 yards on 13 carries, including a 25-yard run on the touchdown drive.
“It’s good to have something to build on, and a lot of credit goes to our younger kids and our seniors,” coach J.R. Wait said. “(Heights is) the best team we’ve played all year, and it showed. They are what we thought they would be. They’re every bit as good as advertised. They have a good group of seniors who have done a great job.”
For more photos by Shelby Lum and a video from Dave Weidig, go to NewarkAdvocate.com.