HUBER HEIGHTS — All of the fans that braved the elements to venture out to Premier Health Field Heidkamp Stadium Friday night were treated to an exciting contest between the Wayne Warriors and the Fairmont Firebirds.
In the end, the Warriors were able to surge late in the fourth quarter and come away with a 49-44 win over the Firebirds.
“I guess if you paid your money for a ticket, you got your ticket’s worth,” said Wayne Coach Jay Minton.
This game was a tale of momentum swings. Wayne won the coin flip, took the ball and wasted no time getting to work. The Warriors quick strike offense engineered a two minute and seventeen second, 65-yard drive capped off by a Rashad McKee to Trevor Bom 10-yard touchdown pass to open the scoring.
After Fairmont’s ensuing drive stalled and it was forced to punt, Wayne’s offense put together another quick drive. This time Wayne took only a minute and forty-seven seconds, ending with a Devin Nelson 3-yard plunge, putting Wayne up 14-0 with 4:28 left in the first quarter.
Wayne stopped Fairmont once again and went back to work. Once again the Warrior offense methodically moved the ball downfield using the no-huddle and a mix of short passes and runs. Devin Nelson found the end zone again on a 9-yard scamper up the middle to put the Warriors up 20-0 after the extra point sailed wide right.
The sparse collection of “Wayniacs” as the radio announcers on 97.3 call Wayne fans, that weathered the rain were rowdy and feeling confident. However, that would change in a hurry.
Momentum, she was quite fickle all night. She swung over to the Fairmont sideline and the second quarter belonged to the Firebirds.
On its first drive of the second quarter, the Firebirds faced a fourth and one from their own 24-yard line and set up in punt formation. The snap went to the up back, who tucked the ball, ran right up the middle and seemed to be stopped short of the first down. The officials gave the first down signal and Fairmont found new life.
Two plays later Fairmont senior running back Jesse Deglow broke through Warrior arm tackles and took it 73-yards to put the Firebirds on the scoreboard and cut the Wayne lead to 20-7.
After a short kick and decent return, Wayne started with good field position, around its 46-yard line. On the first play, McKee was stripped as he went down and the Firebirds were in business at the Wayne 49 yard-line.
Fairmont struck quickly, only taking just over a minute to convert the turnover into an 8-yard Jesse Deglow touchdown and turning it into a one-possession Wayne lead at 20-14.
On the kickoff, Fairmont successfully pulled off an onside kick that went 10-yards yet no Wayne player even tried to recover.
Fairmont took its time, running the play clock down to inside 10 seconds before putting the ball into play. The Firebirds powered the ball down the field and put the ball into the end zone for the third time in the quarter to get its first lead of the game 21-20.
Wayne’s next drive stalled out but Elijah Browns’ long punt put the Firebirds deep in their own territory with around 2 minutes left. Once again Jesse Deglow found daylight and took the ball up the sideline 71-yards for the score and the Firebirds extended their lead 28-20, knowing they would start the second half on offense.
Fairmont opened up the second half the way it ended the first half, using its power running game to gash the Wayne defense and scoring on another Deglow run. The Deglow 4-yard touchdown was the 35th unanswered point by the Firebirds.
“I use the word machine when I talk about them [Fairmont Offense],” Coach Minton said. “They are very well coached. Coach Miller made no bones about it when he came over there, what he was going to do and he’s done it. ”
Deglow was a problem for Wayne, to say the least. The speedy 5-foot, 10-inch senior running back tormented the Wayne defense with 278 yards on the ground and 5 touchdowns.
Coach Minton added, “I met Jesse when he was just a little peanut, running around at church, playing youth football and stuff. Man, he’s really grown into an outstanding football player.”
Then Momentum changed her mind once again and went back to the Wayne sideline. The Wayne offense found the success it had lost after the first quarter, using only three minutes to cut the Fairmont lead to 35-27 on a Devin Nelson 4-yard plunge.
Fairmont had some success on its next drive but had to settle for a field goal after Wayne stopped them 5 yards short of a first down, 38-27 Fairmont.
The Wayne offense continued to ride the momentum, putting together a drive that took just two minutes and ended with McKee scrambling and firing a laser between defenders and finding Steven Victoria from 7 yards out. Wayne’s two-point try brought the Warriors within a field goal 38-35 when McKee found a wide-open freshman tight end Elijah Brown, who stepped into the end zone untouched.
After a Fairmont fumble inside the Wayne 40, Devin Nelson put the Warriors up again, capping the drive off with a 13 yard run through a weary Firebird defense, 42-38 Wayne.
Fairmont fumbled again and the Warriors recovered in Wayne territory, igniting the crowd and sending the Warrior offense back onto the field. Wayne leaned on its running game to drain the clock and move the sticks. It used over 4 minutes to drive 30 yards and extend its lead to two possessions at 49-38 after another Devin Nelson touchdown run. Nelson ended the game with 98 yards and 5 touchdowns.
Fairmont added another touchdown when senior quarterback Braden Miller hit senior wide receiver Ryan Hall on a short pass near the line of scrimmage and he ran 20 yards through Wayne tackles and into the end zone. The two-point try failed when the Fairmont receiver could not haul in the Miller pass, 49-44 Wayne.
Wayne could not run the clock out so it had to punt the ball back to the Firebirds, but a Brown 53 yard punt put the Fairmont inside its 10 with just over a minute left. Another Fairmont fumble recovered by Wayne with 14 seconds put the game in the books, 49-44 Wayne in a nail-biter.
“There’s a lot of things we have to work on. We have to work on our tackling. Our tackling wasn’t very good, our blocking and execution at times,” Minton said.
Wayne (6-2, 3-0) travels to Springfield (7-1, 2-0) in a game that a win clinches the GWOC East for the Warriors. Fairmont (6-2, 1-1) host the winless Centerville Elks.