LEXINGTON — The outcome wasn’t what they wanted, but the Lexington Minutemen showed they have a short memory.
Yes, Lex forgot what time kickoff was Friday night, but that 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty — really, delay of game — for not reporting to the field on time became nothing more than a footnote thanks to an inspired effort in a 25-8 loss to Ohio Cardinal Conference-leading Wooster.
The Minutemen (5-2, 2-2 OCC) could have spent the rest of the season feeling sorry for themselves after last week’s 56-10 loss at Madison ended their perfect season. Instead they bounced back with a vengeance.
Led by lineman Dana Shoulders, linebacker TJ Gerhardt and back Cade Stover, the Lex defense held the OCC’s best offense to two touchdowns through three quarters, putting relentless pressure on quarterback Peyton Bennington.
Wooster’s quick-strike ability eventually doomed the Minutemen. The Generals (6-1, 4-0) padded an 11-8 halftime lead on Calvin Blair’s 79-yard catch-and-run in the third quarter and Trey-Quan Mathis’ 51-yard scoring burst early in the fourth.
“The boys came back ready to work (this week),” coach Taylor Gerhardt said. “I’n proud of the effort and intensity, but wegave up too many big plays. That’s not good enough. We couldn’t get our offense going. We need to score more points than that.”
Lex had a couple of scoring opportunities in the second half, but gave it up on downs at the Wooster 28 and turned it over on an interception at the Wooster 30. A third pick by the Generals at the goal line killed a last-ditch effort in the last two minutes.
The game got off to a strange start, with Lex late to its own Homecoming, maybe so AJ Nickoli could have some extra time to stretch in the warmth of the locker room. He certainly ran free and easy during the contest. He finished with seven catches for 153 yards and one TD, backed by Hunter Biddle’s 89 yards on 15 carries.
Wooster, kicking off from the Lex 45 thanks to the pre-game penalty, opted not to try an onside kick. The Generals might have been second-guessing that decision after Nickoli took a slant pass from Joey Vore and raced 65 yards to the 10 before getting dragged down from behind Leon Griffith. The Minutemen tried to punch it in from there but turned it over on downs from the 1.
It wasn’t all for naught, though, because Lex came up with a defensive score when linebackers Zac Cartee and Hunter Biddle collaborated to tackle Tremaine Wilson on second down for a safety.
Lex couldn’t capitalize on excellent field position after the free kick, stalling at the Wooster 24, and fell behind 3-2 in the second quarter on a 19-yard field goal by William Snyder. That drive started on an interception at the Lex 46 by Devon Holmes and was kept alive on a roughing the punter penalty.
But Lex quickly answered. Nickoli caught the ball on another crossing pattern and this time he wouldn’t be caught. His first TD catch of the season carried 68 yards and put the Minutemen back on top 8-3 with 6:42 left in the half.
Wooster carried an 11-8 lead into the break thanks to a perfectly-placed 15-yard pass from Bennington to 6-foot-4 Colt Morgan in the left corner of the end zone on fourth-and-nine.
Lex had a chance to tie it on the last play of the half but Vore’s 35-yard field goal was blocked.
“I love these kids; I tell them that every Friday night before the game,” Gerhardt said. “We just have to figure out how not to give up the big play and get our offense rolling.”
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