DRESDEN – The Watkins Memorial football senior class this past season might have been overlooked at younger levels.
A small but powerful class, however, forced fans and opponents to take notice this past fall. The Warriors’ 8-3 finish represented the program’s best season since 2006, and they also made the program’s first Division II playoff appearance since that season.
Four players from the class received one more chance to play together this past Friday as a part of the Licking County All-Star team. Licking County fell 21-6 to Muskingum Valley in the game played at Tri-Valley.
“There were guys that we would have never talked to — guys from Licking Heights, guys from Newark Catholic — from all over the county,” Watkins graduate Taven Jenkins said. “It was a good experience and a pleasure playing with them.”
Ford took one snap at quarterback and ran for a short gain, and he and Jenkins spent the rest of the game at receiver. Ford caught one pass from Licking Valley’s Tyler Nethers.
Jenkins was a part of an unforgettable play on special teams. With Muskingum Valley’s Olajuwon Pettiford headed for the end zone on a punt return, he stuck the ball out in celebration about the 5-yard line, and Newark’s Kam Hicks came from behind, cut his arm and forced a fumble that Jenkins recovered near the goal line.
Ford joked the play should be submitted to SportsCenter for its Not Top 10 segment.
“The play’s not over until the whistle blows,” said Jenkins, who is playing this fall at Marietta College. “We just kept fighting. … (Pettiford) is definitely going to remember that.”
Cameron Smith and Nathan Miller contributed to a defense that got better as the game progressed. Muskingum Valley’s nine second-half points were set up by bad snaps. The first came on a punt and resulted in a safety, and the second came on a shotgun play and led to a short touchdown drive.
Licking County scored early in the third quarter to cut its deficit to 13-6. On the next series, Smith pulled down quarterback Collin Russell for a big loss. A third-down pass then fell incomplete to force a punt.
“You are with the best players from Licking County, so it was a competition every day,” said Ford, who is playing this fall at Wittenberg University. “It just gives us a little bit of an example of how hard we have to work because we are going to that next level and just to show how much we will have to push.”
The Warriors left behind a large junior class that is ready to fill the leadership void in August. Watkins should have another outstanding season and could have a large All-Star contingent when the game returns to White Field in Newark.
“(Senior season) is just one thing that we will remember for the rest of our lives,” Jenkins said. “We will never forget that, and we will definitely be rooting on the next Warrior teams to make history.”
The graduated Warriors will be watching.
“We keep reminding them we didn’t get far enough,” Ford said. “We will catch as many games as we can because we want them to work hard. I am going to be checking the scores every Friday night after the games just to make sure they are getting the job done on the field.”