There’s no hesitation from coach Weston Schartz when the West football team finds itself in a short-yardage situation.
It is captivating to watch the big No. 45 trot on the field, as junior Tyrell Saunders lines up in the backfield and prepares his 240-pound frame to bowl over some hapless defender.
Andover Central just happened to be the latest victim of the wrecking ball, as Saunders scored three times in West’s 34-13 victory at Northwest on Friday.
West, at 5-3, clinched its first winning regular season since 2001 and is one win away from securing its first berth in the state playoffs since 2002.
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“He’s a big kid that runs hard,” Schartz said. “It’s nice to know they’re going to go backwards.”
Saunders delivered on that promise, as six of his first seven carries ended in either a West first down or touchdown.
When Andover Central needed a defensive stand, it couldn’t find a way to stop Saunders before he rammed his way forward for the required yardage.
“He’s a full-grown man,” Andover Central coach Tom Audley said. “And they had several of them. They kept cycling in big bodies. They made us one-dimensional. It was like we were playing with one hand tied behind our back.”
The Jaguars (3-5, 1-1 in 5A-District 6) had 19 of their 23 rushes go for 2 yards or less, forcing quarterback Blake Meier to look exclusively through the air to move the ball.
Andover Central had brief success, stringing together two touchdown drives — both capped by 5-yard touchdown passes to Zach Lock — to cut West’s lead to 27-13.
But West shook its lethargy in the second half when Trevon Mitchell intercepted Meier for the second time in the game and then sprinted 83 yards untouched up the middle of the field on the very next play for the game-clinching touchdown.
“This is a huge win for the community,” said Mitchell, who finished with 194 yards and two touchdowns. “We had to make sure they knew West High ain’t just going to back down from nobody.”
West, which also had quarterback D.J. Jones rush for 135 yards, finished with 406 yards on the ground.
Now the Pioneers control their fate and can clinch a berth with a victory over Arkansas City, while Andover Central needs to defeat Kapaun Mount Carmel and win by at least 11 points to qualify.
“We had the best week of practice this week since I’ve been here,” Schartz said. “On Tuesday, I looked at (assistant) coach (Idris) Elias and I said, ‘We’ve turned the corner.’”
But with players like Saunders, why worry about turning the corner when lowering a shoulder and bursting forward will do just fine?
“I do kind of like to hit people,” Saunders admitted. “When I line up to get the first down, I know in my heart that I’m going to get it.”
W—Saunders 1 run (Daignault kick)
W—Saunders 1 run (Daignault kick)
W—Mitchell 27 run (Daignault kick)
W—Saunders 3 run (Daignault kick failed)
AC—Lock 5 pass from Meier (Peckham kick)
AC—Lock 5 pass from Meier (Meier run failed)
W—Mitchell 83 run (Daignault kick)
Rushing—Andover Central, Lock 1-14, Milner 13-12, Stamp 3-0, Meier 6-(-28); West, Mitchell 19-194, Jones 18-135, Saunders 12-60, Reed 5-17.
Passing—Andover Central, Meier 16-30-3-195; West, Jones 3-6-0-42.
Receiving—Andover Central, Harris 4-79, Banwart 2-45, Lock 4-42, Milner 2-18, Smith 1-9, Kirkhart 1-4, Stamp 2-(-2); West, Mitchell 1-28, Henriquez 1-9, Malcolm 1-5.