Westerners grind out win over Warriors
AKRON -- "Your heart is you."
Akron-Westfield head coach Eric Walkingstick said those words to his team on Wednesday night after the Westerners earned yet another hard-fought win. This time it was a 19-7 result over Prairie Valley in the first round of the playoffs.
"That's their nature," Walkingstick said. "They're really good individuals, but they play together as a team so well. And they don't quit. They don't give up.
"We make mistakes. I'm not going to sit there and say we don't, but the thing that tells the tale of this team is their heart and their desire to be a team, to fight and to never give up."
The first quarter saw a physical battle of field position between A-W (9-1) and Prairie Valley (6-4).
The Westerners looked to have gained the upper-hand late in the quarter Dylan Myers undercut a Prairie Valley receiver's route. Myers' interception gave A-W possession near midfield, but the Warriors forced a three-and-out.
A high punt by Taylor James got caught in the gusting winds and even bounced back into A-W territory until James touched it to down it for a -3-yard punt.
Prairie Valley picked up one first down before Mason Gordon ran wide down the A-W sideline for a 27-yard touchdown early in the second quarter. Cole Black kicked the extra point and the Warriors led 7-0.
The Westerners were quick to respond. Cory Eskra threw a touchdown pass on the first play from scrimmage on the next drive. Chance Hoffman beat his defender on a double move, caught the deep throw by Eskra and ran in for a 67-yard touchdown reception. James kicked the PAT to tie the game at 7-7.
A-W nearly lost opportunities on punts. The Westerners were whistled for roughing the kicker on one possession. James had a punt partially blocked on the next possession, but the ball took an A-W bounce.
The Westerners finally had another opportunity when Prairie Valley quarterback Ryan True attempted an ill-advised throw that was picked off by Cole Oltmanns midway through the second quarter.
James ran to his right on the next play, but then he cutback through the Prairie Valley defense for a 27-yard touchdown run. The Westerners led 13-7 after a failed 2-point try.
Penalties hurt both teams in the second half. A-W was whistled for eight penalties for 60 yards, while the Warriors were penalized nine times for 55 yards.
A 47-yard touchdown run by James was negated by a holding call early in the second half. Walkingstick knew his team needed to take advantage of opportunities against a defense that only allowed 12.1 points per game. Prairie Valley lost just 8-6 to No. 3 West Hancock earlier in the season.
"That's got to tell you something right there," Walkingstick said. "They've got a good defense. They've got a solid defense. We knew going into it that we were going to have to battle and put some things together. And we did.
"We pieced some things together. It wasn't perfect, but, hey, we're still alive in the playoffs. We're still going and that's part of the game right there is getting each game as it comes and staying alive."
The game became a field position battle once again as both teams lost fumbles in the second half. Prairie Valley returned the favor for the holding call on James' long run midway through the final quarter. The Warriors were whistled for a penalty that negated a long pass play that would have put them in the red zone.
The Westerners forced a fumble two plays later and the ball was recovered by Chet Willer at the Prairie Valley 40-yard line. A-W picked up one first down, but faced 4th-and-8 on the next set of downs with just over a minute and a half remaining in the game.
Hoffman then beat his defender again and Eskra found him in the end zone for a 27-yard touchdown pass. The Westerners failed on the extra point and led 19-7 with 1:28 to play.
The Warriors were forced to try to pass on the next possession, but one sack by Kyle Schroeder and two sacks by John Wolthuizen gave possession back to A-W to finish the game.
Prairie Valley was held to 117 rushing yards after averaging 230 yards per game this season. The Warriors were held to 1-for-12 on third downs and 0-for-1 on fourth down.
"The defense did a great job," Walkingstick said. "[Prairie Valley] is such a fast-paced, hard-hitting crew that it is difficult sometimes to try to contain that. The linebackers did a good job, Coach Wolthuizen and the defensive staff did a great job, but they stepped up when they needed to and contained when they needed to.
"[Prairie Valley] is a run-based offense and they did a good job of it. We were able to stop them and do some things and get the victory tonight."
Daniel Beitelspacher made seven solo tackles and assisted on five more. Schroeder made seven solo tackles and three behind the line of scrimmage, including the sack.
James made four solo tackles and assisted on four more. Oltmanns made three solo tackles, four assisted tackles and one interception. Willer and Cody Bosse finished with six and five total tackles, respectively.
James paced the Westerners on offense with 115 rushing yards on 27 carries.
Eskra finished 7-for-13 passing for 141 yards and two touchdowns. Hoffman caught three passes for 108 yards and two touchdowns.
The Westerners will have to go to Britt next Monday for a matchup with No. 3 West Hancock in the second round of the Class A playoffs. West Hancock defeated Woodbury Central 37-20 in their first round game on Wednesday.