WEEPING WATER – Weeping Water’s ability to remain focused on the task at hand helped the Indians rally past Johnson County Central on Friday night.
The Indians overcame an early 18-8 deficit to win their home opener 60-44. Weeping Water took a 30-26 lead at halftime and doubled the scoring total by the end of the night. The Indians posted 40 or more points for the third time this season.
WWHS head coach Mitchell Shepherd said Johnson County Central took advantage of several defensive breakdowns during the first half. The Indians learned from those lessons and held the Thunderbirds to just 18 points after the break.
“We struggled with our eyes a lot in the early part of the game,” Shepherd said. “We weren’t watching them as closely as we should have been on both sides of the ball. There was some miscommunication out there at the beginning, but I was proud of the guys for being able to iron things out the rest of the way. They played much better after those first couple of minutes, which was good to see.”
Shepherd said the game showcased the team’s overall composure. Weeping Water responded to three straight JCC touchdowns by scoring three times in the final 4:40 of the second quarter. The Indians then found the end zone on their first four trips of the second half to remain in front.
“We’ve got some resilient guys on this team,” Shepherd said. “You’ll never hear me question their effort or intensity, because they know how to keep playing hard. I think that’s one of our biggest strengths for sure.”
Weeping Water (3-0) relied on the running abilities of junior Keegan McDonald to jump ahead at the 2:50 mark of the first quarter. McDonald took advantage of a kickout block by Saylor Rhodes to race 56 yards down the JCC sideline.
The Thunderbirds (1-2) seized energy for the next ten minutes. Trey Holthus scored on a first-and-goal play to make it 8-6, and JCC’s John Duncan set up another scoring drive with an interception at the WWHS 15. The Thunderbirds made it 18-8 after Holthus rolled right and found Cam Schuster wide open behind the defense for a 23-yard touchdown.
Hunter Mortimer reversed the tide with two touchdowns in less than two minutes. He broke through several tackles on a 45-yard scoring sprint to make it 18-14. He then intercepted a screen pass and returned it 37 yards to pay dirt.
The Thunderbirds tried to bring momentum back to their side with a Holthus-to-Schuster scoring connection with 23.3 seconds left. WWHS posted one of the key plays of the night on the final snap of the half. Mortimer threw a pass to Rhodes, who pitched it back to Ethan Essary on a hook-and-ladder sequence. Essary raced 30 yards into the end zone to put the Indians ahead.
McDonald carried the team’s scoring load in the second half. He took an option pitch from Mortimer at the 6-yard line for a touchdown early in the third quarter. He crossed the goal line on runs of 43, 17 and 56 yards after that.
McDonald ended the night with 224 rushing yards and five touchdowns. Mortimer also helped the team’s ground game with 165 yards and one touchdown. Shepherd said both players made good use of strong performances from the offensive line. The Indians used their physical nature up front to control the line of scrimmage as the game went along.
“I think our offensive linemen are beginning to see the potential that they have,” Shepherd said. “It was encouraging to see what they did tonight. We can still get better, but tonight was a good step forward.”
Weeping Water will continue the season Sept. 17 with a road trip to Conestoga. The Cougars will host the Indians in a 7 p.m. district game.
Johnson County Central 0 26 12 6 – 44
Weeping Water 8 22 16 14 – 60
WW – McDonald 56 run (Rhodes pass from Mortimer), 2:50
JCC – Holthus 4 run (run no good), 11:57
JCC – Barras 16 pass from Holthus (run no good), 8:45
JCC – Schuster 23 pass from Holthus (pass no good), 4:54
WW – Mortimer 45 run (pass no good), 4:40
WW – Mortimer 37 interception return (Mortimer run), 3:03
JCC – Schuster 15 pass from Holthus (Duncan pass from Holthus), 0:23
WW – E. Essary 30 pitch from Rhodes on pass from Mortimer (Mortimer run), 0:00
WW – McDonald 6 run (Rhodes run), 8:40
JCC – Jones 20 pass from Holthus (pass no good), 5:51
WW – McDonald 43 run (McDonald run), 4:53
JCC – Holthus 1 run (run no good), 2:41
WW – McDonald 17 run (pass no good), 8:44
JCC – Holthus 45 run (pass no good), 8:29
WW – McDonald 56 run (Mortimer run), 7:27