By Mark Pinto
MASON, Ohio – Lakota West has made a habit of winning close games and Friday was no different.
The Firebirds spoiled Mason’s homecoming at Dwire Field by defeating the Comets, 37-23, to stay improve to 5-1 and remain unbeaten in GMC play at 3-0.
“Every game is a big game in the GMC,” Lakota West head coach Larry Cox said. “Every week a team is going to fight you tooth and nail.”
Lakota West Firebirds won this game by two touchdowns, but Mason pulled to within seven points with just over six minutes left in the game when senior quarterback Jensen Harris scored on a one-yard touchdown run.
The explosive offense of Lakota West, behind the rushing of senior running back Mikel Horton, senior quarterback Malik Grove and junior running back Kole Gentry, was able to generate a 65-yard drive, which ended on a 7-yard touchdown run by Grove to help secure the win.
It was his fourth rushing touchdown of the night.
“When (Mason) scored we were able take the next drive and score,” Cox said. “The offense kept them on their heels on each possession.”
The Firebirds’ offense combined to rush for 264 yards behind Horton’s 120 yards, Grove’s 85 yards and 59 from Gentry. Gentry, also the team punter, averaged over 43 yards per punt, which helped with the field-position battle.
One of the highlights was Lakota West senior kicker Justin Martin kicking a school-record 51-yard field goal to end the first half, which extended the lead to 13, 23-10. The old record was 48 yards.
Martin was playing with a broken collarbone, which he had surgery on just this past week. He has been kicking on varsity for four years, and his longest field goal going into Friday was 44 yards.
“I was very confident as I have been doing this for four years,” Martin said. “I hit a 50-yard field goal in practice yesterday and tonight I was able to get a great snap by Bryan Kirwen and hold by Blake Darland.”
Lakota West opened up the scoring early with just over two minutes into the game, going 80 yards on nine plays with Grove scoring his first touchdown.
Mason answered on its opening possession, going 42 yards on only six plays, capped off by a Harris touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Tyler Krabbe.
With the Firebirds’ high-tempo offense, it took just under three minutes to go 80 yards for a Horton 8-yard touchdown run that run contributed to the team’s 117 rushing yards in the first quarter. That TD made it 13-7 after the missed extra point.
The Comets cut the deficit to three, 13-10 on a 26-yard field goal by senior kicker Andrew Peck, but a crucial turnover late in the second quarter on a punt return gave Lakota West field position inside the Mason 20 yard line, which eventually setup a 9-yard touchdown run by Grove to make the score 20-10.
In the second half, Mason was able to fight back to within six points in the third quarter on senior running back Matt Stewart’s 3-yard touchdown run, and then to seven points with just under four minutes left in the game, but the Lakota West offense answered each time.
“It starts up front with the offensive line and we are coming together and gelling as a unit,” Cox said. “This is a work in progress but we are starting to find our identity the last few weeks.”
Lakota West will be in another battle-tested conference game on Oct. 11 when the Firebirds host undefeated Fairfield. Mason is at winless Hamilton.