CLAYTON — Friday’s showdown between Northmont and Centerville featured the top two quarterbacks in the Greater Western Ohio Conference in a key game to determine the fate of the Thunderbolts in their quest to earn a playoff berth.
Northmont quarterback Keaton Kesling, the GWOC’s top passer with 2,466 yards, came through with a big game completing 16 of 28 passes for 291 yards and four touchdowns with one interception.
“Kesling is special. He does things out here that most people don’t see,” said Northmont coach Tony Broering. “He puts the ball where it needs to be. He made a mistake in the second quarter when he threw the interception, but other than that he made some great passes.”
Kesling also recovered an onside kick early in the fourth quarter with the Thunderbolts clinging to a 27-20 lead.
Centerville quarterback Chase Harrison, the GWOC’s No. 2 passer with 2,226 yards, completed 23 of 37 pass attempts for 228 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
Sadly there were very few spectators to witness the performance by the talented athletes on both teams. In the end Northmont came out on top 34-20 to improve to 5-4 overall while the Elks fell to 4-5.
Centerville took a 7-0 lead with 2:38 left in the first quarter on an 11 yard run by Bryce McMahon, who finished the game with 126 yards on 27 carries and two TDs.
After a short kickoff returned to the 42 by Shaun Myers the Thunderbolts tied the game with a seven play drive capped by a 17 yard pass from Kesling to Jazz Keys. Brandon Goodwin’s kick with no time left in the opening quarter tied the game 7-7.
Kesling tossed a 35 yard TD pass to Marcus Allen that got wiped out by a holding penalty with 3:32 left in the first half. On fourth down and five Kesling threw a 30 yard TD pass to Allen and Goodwin’s kick put Northmont up 14-7 with 2:48 left in the first half.
The second half started with Northmont running back Michael Franklin returning a short kickoff into Centerville territory, but a holding penalty moved the ball back to the Thunderbolts’ 40. Four plays later Kesling threw a 31 yard TD pass to Allen. The extra point attempt sailed wide left as Northmont took a 20-7 lead with 10:59 left in the third quarter.
The Elks answered with an 80 yard, 11 play drive capped by a slant pass by Harrison to 6-foot, 5-inch receiver Will Linkhart for a 36 yard TD. Brendan Salo’s kick cut Northmont’s lead to 20-14 with 4:54 left in the third stanza.
Northmont struck again early in the fourth quarter. Centerville shanked a 12 yard punt that went out of bounds at the Northmont 40 yard line. On first down Kesling rolled to the left hash marks and then threw deep along the right sideline to Jazz Keys for a 60 yard TD pass with 10:58 remaining. Goodwin’s kick put Northmont up 27-14.
“That pass to Keys was pretty impressive,” Broering said. “He is a special player. He is fun to coach. I told all the seniors I want to keep winning so I can keep coaching them because I love them and because they are great kids. I hope we can keep it going for a long time.”
Centerville’s next drive was aided by a bad call by the officiating crew. Andrew Knick partially blocked a Centerville punt on fourth down and four at the Elks’ 44. Knick ran into the punter, which is legal after deflecting a kick, but the Thunderbolts were penalized for roughing the kicker giving the Elks a first down at the Northmont 41. Two plays later McMahon scored on a 21 yard run. Knick got revenge by blocking the Elks’ extra point to keep Centerville down 27-20.
Kesling recovered the Elks onside kick attempt on the ensuing kickoff. The teams then exchanged punts. After Centerville’s punt went out of bounds just inside Northmont’s side of the 50 yard line the Thunderbolts delivered the knockout punch. After a one yard loss Franklin ran for 11 yards for a first down at the Elks’ 40. On the next play Franklin (15 carries, 91 yards, one TD) took the handoff and raced 40 yards for the touchdown. Goodwin’s kick made the final tally 34-20.
“Michael really hung in there with us. We kept telling him he was going to pop one and to be patient and keep banging it in there and then he finally got that big one for us,” Broering said.
Northmont has one more hurdle to clear if it hopes to make the playoffs, a big game at Wayne against the Warriors.
“I haven’t look at them yet, but traditionally they have been a big rival and they have given us some problems,” Broering added. “They match up well with us. They have a really good quarterback too (Cam Fancher) like Centerville has, so we’ve got our work cut out for us. We get started preparing for them tomorrow morning and hopefully we can finish out the season the right way.”