PATASKALA — The Licking Heights football team had an opportunity to open eyes in Division II, Region 7 when Tri-Valley visited last Friday.
The Hornets (1-1) unfortunately did not give themselves a chance. Six turnovers left them one step behind in a 27-21 loss despite out gaining the Scotties by more than 100 yards.
“I wish I had the magic bullet for that because I would have fired it a lot sooner or earlier in the game,” Heights coach Kele Waaland said. “That’s a recipe not to win. For us, it’s about correcting where we went wrong and where we go sideways to try to play at our optimal level.”
Heights gets an immediate shot at redemption Friday with a trip to Bellefontaine. A victory against another perennial playoff team would give the Hornets an early boost in that race for a Division II playoff spot after they had to make hay in October last season.
Check out the Licking County 2022 football season schedule
Bellefontaine (1-1) fell 31-21 last week to Coldwater, the 2021 Division VI state runner-up. The Chieftains are led by sophomore quarterback Tavien St. Clair, who already has multiple scholarship offers from Power 5 schools, including Florida.
“We don’t even know what their school colors are until we watch the film,” said Waaland, whose team had played New Albany in Week 3 since 2015, but the Eagles have soared to become one of the top Division I programs in the state. “I don’t mind a long road trip every now and then that can be a galvanizing experience. It’s not wildly far, but it’s a good team, a good program. They are definitely going to provide some challenges we haven’t seen yet.”
Heights moved into Tri-Valley territory on three of its first four possessions, but the Hornets never capitalized. The Scotties did and led 21-0 before the first of two touchdown runs for Heights sophomore Reese Powell.
The Hornets pulled within 21-14 on Powell’s second score late in the third quarter, but the Scotties answered with two back-breaking drives. Max Lyall threw his third scoring pass of the game on a fourth-and-14 play, and the Scotties converted two third-and-longs on their final drive before the Hornets regained possession with less than a minute left.
“It’s a combination of a lot of things like Tri-Valley being really aggressive and taking the ball away,” Waaland said. “A combination of us not valuing it as much as we probably should. There are always some circumstances involved with fumbles. We had an opportunity to make an interception early in the game that might have changed the tide.”
The Heights offensive line led by seniors Bobby Ruh, Andrew Schmitz and Logan Keller opened holes for a running game that piled up 317 rushing yards, led by seniors Deuce Caldwell’s 165. He also threw for 159 yards, completing passes to seven different receivers, including a scoring pass to sophomore Jake Lopinto.
The numerous mistakes, however, will stick with Heights until they return to the field Friday.
“There is a certain level of program that we want to be,” Waaland said. “If we want to be that level, we are going to have beat good teams. When we are making our schedule, we are always trying to find competition that gives us a challenge and gives us a measuring stick of where we’re at. “