CLAYTON — Northmont scored a convincing 42-20 victory Friday over Hilliard Darby in the opening round of the Ohio High School Athletic Association state playoffs.
The Thunderbolts will now advance to face Pickerington Central next Friday at Springfield for a chance to avenge a 41-21 loss to Central in last year’s playoffs. Central defeated Hilliard Bradley 14-13 Friday in its first round playoff game.
“We figured we would face Pickerington Central again,” said Northmont Coach Tony Broering. “We have already started preparing our game plan for them. The boys wanted to get a rematch with them after last year. The difference is this year’s game will be on turf instead of mud, so we are excited about that.”
A fumble on Northmont’s first play from scrimmage on a botched hand-off was recovered by Darby linebacker Andrew Konkus at the one yard line. On the next play quarterback Jack Stultz crashed into the end zone to give the Panthers a 7-0 lead with 4:48 left in the first quarter.
It didn’t take the Thunderbolts long to tie the game. After the ensuing kickoff running back Michael Franklin (20 carries, 96 yards, 2 TDs) broke off a 58 yard touchdown on Northmont’s third play from scrimmage. Brandon Goodwin’s point after knotted the score 7-7.
The defense came up with a big play to set up the next score. On second down and eight at the Darby 35 Christian Cvetnic intercepted a tipped pass to give the Thunderbolts the ball at the Panthers’ 38 yard line.
Miles Johnson (20-23, 318 yards, 3 TDs) fired a pass to Jazz Keys (five receptions, 140 yards) on the first play for a first down at the 10. Franklin picked up five yards and then scored on a five yard run and Goodwin’s kick put Northmont up 14-7 with 1:43 left in the opening quarter.
Darby responded with a 13 play, 65 yard drive that featured a fake punt that picked up a first down with the drive ending with Stultz scoring a on a six yard quarterback keeper. Jacob Mowell’s kick tied the game 14-14 with 6:18 remaining in the first half.
Both teams exchanged punts but Darby’s punt on fourth and four at its 34 got shanked left and went out of bounds resulting in a 13 yard kick. Northmont took advantage of the short field.
Johnson threw an 11 yard pass to Drake Hickman (seven receptions, 118 yards, 2 TDs) for a first down at the 36. Johnson then hit Keys with a 14 yard completion for a first down at the 22. Franklin ran for a seven yard gain and two plays later Johnson hit Keys for an 11 yard completion for a first and goal at the four. On third and goal from the five Johnson fired a 5 yard touchdown pass to Hickman with 40 seconds left in the first half. Goodwin’s kick put Northmont up 21-14 at halftime.
The Thunderbolts high-powered offense picked up where it left off in the first half. After Cvetnic returned the kickoff to the 45 a penalty for an illegal block in the back moved Northmont back to its own 14 yard line. Johnson scrambled for a nine-and-a-half yard gain on first down and then threw a pass to Jason Kohr for a first down at the 31. Johnson then hit Keys with a 16 yard completion for another first down at the 47.
On a pass to Michael Franklin a penalty set up a second down and 21. Johnson responded by throwing a deep pass to Hickman for a first and goal at Hilliard Darby five yard line. Two plays later Johnson tossed a five yard touchdown to Hickman and Goodwin’s kick boosted the lead to 28-14 with 8:58 left in the third quarter.
Darby’s ground based attack enabled the Panthers to dominate time of possession 27:58 to 14:30, but without an effective aerial attack that proved costly.
“That is what they do. They just run the ball on option plays,” Broering said. “They ran it even with a minute and 22 seconds left. I don’t know.”
The Panthers ran the ball on third down and 10, gained two yards and were forced to punt. Grant Hollinger’s punt pinned Northmont at its own four yard line, but the Thunderbolts potent passing attack would strike again.
Johnson fired a pass to Justin Golson for a first down at the 21 and on second down and eight Johnson connected with Hickman for 15 yards for a first down at the 36. From there Johnson tossed a pass to Keys for a 64 yard touchdown with 3:04 left in the third quarter. Goodwin’s kick increased the Thunderbolts’ lead to 35-14.
On Darby’s next possession things got a little ugly. The Panthers put together an 11 play, 63 yard scoring drive capped by a 4 yard run by Stultz with 10:35 left in the game. On the drive Northmont got slapped with three personal fouls. Darby missed the point after making the score 35-20.
Northmont answered with an eight play, 65 yard drive capped by a 3 yard touchdown run by Jestin Jacobs. On the drive Johnson completed passes of 11 yards and 6 yards to Golson and a pass to Hickman at the Darby 13 that resulted in a fumble. Hickman managed to recover his fumble and a penalty moved the ball half the distance to the goal. Three plays later Jacobs scored on a 3 yard run and Goodwin’s kick made the final tally 42-20.
Northmont amassed 436 yards in total offense thanks in large part to Johnson’s stellar passing performance.
“The offense was very good after that first problem on our first snap,” Broering said. “It was just a misread, but after that they were on fire. Drake Hickman and Miles Johnson and all those guys did a great job.”
Heading into the rematch with Pickerington Central the coaching staff plans to study game film and make sure everybody is healthy.
“This was a hard hitting game tonight and a couple of our guys got dinged up pretty bad,” Broering added.
Ron Nunnari can be reached at 684-9124, via email Rnunnari@aimmediamidwest.com or on Twitter @Englewood_Ind