DUBLIN — The West Bladen High football family was rocked Friday by the news that one of their varsity players had been found dead earlier in the day, and the team was given a choice to play the game against West Columbus or postpone it.
The Knights chose to play.
“Every one of the boys wanted to play the game for their teammate,” West Bladen coach Russell Dove. “I’m proud of how they handled things.”
Despite the heavy hearts, the Knights took care of business — and they took care of it early by running around, through and over the Vikings en route to a 51-8 halftime lead. After a running clock throughout the second half, West Bladen captured a 57-22 win to improved to 2-0.
The Knights’ ground game gained 449 yards, a large majority of that in the first half.
West Bladen wasted no time getting on the board, starting the game from their own 25 and getting a 19-yard gain on the first play from Malcolm Vaught. Malique McDowell gained 24 and a pass from Colby Lewis to Stefon McDonald gained 16. Vaught picked up another 18 and Kesean Sutton ran 13 yards for the touchdown at the 10:06 mark. Colby McLean’s kick was blocked, but the Knights led 6-0.
After stopping West Columbus, a 40-yard punt gave the Knights possession on their own 20 after a penalty took away a 22-yard return by McDonald. Four runs moved the ball to the Vikings’ 27, where Lewis kept the ball and broke several tackles to find the endzone. De’quan Lennon ran in the two-point conversion and West Bladen led 14-0 at the 5:17 mark.
The Vikings into West Bladen territory, but the drive fizzled on fourth down. The Knights took over on their own 36 and, on the first play, Vaught swept to the right sidelines, side-stepped a tackler and raced 64 yards for a touchdown. The extra point was no good, but the Knights’ lead was 20-0 with 1:42 left in the first quarter.
West Columbus fumbled on its next possession and Stanley Bellamy fell on it at the Vikings’ 37. Lennon picked up 10 yards on the first play, then scampered 27 yards and broke two tackled to find pay dirt. Lewis found McDonald with the two-point conversion pass and West Bladen led 28-0 with 14 seconds left in the quarter.
West Columbus couldn’t get anything going into the early part of the second stanza, and the Knights took over on their own 44. Six rushes later, Vaught scored on a 3-yard run and McLean booted the PAT for a 35-0 lead with 8:39 left in the half.
The Vikings finally got some momentum, running off seven plays and covering 74 yards for a touchdown. The pass for two points was good, and West Columbus was on the board — but still trailing 35-8 with 6:17 left in the half.
West Bladen answered quickly. A 17-yard run by McDowell, a 20-yard run by Sutton and a 13-yard pass from Lewis to McDownald put the ball on the Vikings’ 7. Three plays later, Lewis scored on a keeper and McLean’s kick was good to give West Bladen a 42-8 lead with 3:03 left in the half.
West Columbus, starting at its own 20, quickly went backwards, until a bad snap on a punt allowed Trevor Lesane to tackle the punter in the endzone for a safety and a 44-8 West Bladen lead.
The Knights took the ensuing punt and needed just four plays to cover 48 yards. The touchdown came on a 42-yard pass from Lewis to Vaught with 13 seconds left in the half. McLean’s kick gave the Knights a 51-8 halftime lead.
Neither team could move the ball on their first possessions of the third quatrer, but the Vikings managed to work field position and took their second possession at the West Bladen 36. From there, they needed just three plays — all passes — to find the endzone. The run for two points cut the Vikings’ deficit to 51-16 with 3:24 left in the quarter.
Derrick Grant took the kickoff an raced 89 yards for a West Bladen touchdown — but it was called back on a Knights’ penalty, putting the ball all the way back on the West Bladen 15. But McDowell ran for 46 yards on one carry and three plays later Sutton carried the ball 19 yards for the touchdown. The PAT was no good, but the Knights led, 57-16, with no time left in the third quarter.
West Columbus moved from its own 30 to the Knights’ 31 before getting stopped, and West Bladen took four straight knees to run the clock down to under 1 minute in the game.
The Vikings got a quick score against West Bladen’s second defense, but only cut the final score to 57-22.
“The boys focused and played hard; they didn’t want to be brought down,” Dove said. “These kids are just so resilient with how they’ve handled everything. There’s still a lot of healing to do, but they played their hearts out.”
McDowell led the West Bladen ground game with 191 yards on 14 carries, while Vaught had 141 yards and two rushing touchdowns on seven carries — all in the first half. Vaught also had the 42-yard TD pass reception.
Sutton had 54 yards and two touchdowns on five carries.
Through the air, Lewis was 3-for-5 for 71 yards — all in the first half. McDonald had two catches for 29 yards.