DELPHOS — A pair of former Northwest Conference opponents locked horns Saturday night at Stadium Park. Paulding entered the contest looking to eclipse its 2022 season win total, while the Wildcats were searching for their first win.
A fast start and dominating night by Jacob Fife put Paulding in front from start to finish in a 56-25 victory.
The opening drive saw the visiting Panthers march right down the field with a methodical 11-play drive. Senior quarterback Jacob Fife connected with sophomore Blake Rhonehouse on a 5-yard touchdown pass, Fife found senior Caleb Larson on the two-point conversion and Paulding led 8-0.
Paulding’s defense started strong forcing the Jefferson offense to five consecutive three-and-outs to begin the game. That allowed the Panther offense many opportunities to add to the lead.
“We believe in our defense. That is the core of our team.” Paulding head coach Jim Menzie said. “We were able to control the tempo of the game defensively and it allowed us to make plays offensively.”
Fife led Paulding to the end zone when play resumed in the second quarter, senior running back Kobe Foor slipped out of the backfield and hauled in the screen pass and set sail for the end zone. Foor’s 36-yard reception, capped off by Larson’s two-point reception increased Paulding’s lead to 16.
Menzie said. “Koby (Foor) is the heart and soul of our team. When he takes off our guys kind of grab his shirt tail and follow suite. Koby played his heart out tonight.”
Foor continued to do damage on the following Paulding possession after Fife hooked up with Rhonehouse down the sideline for a 45-yard reception. Foor found pay dirt on a four-yard carry to put Jefferson on their heels.
Jacob Fife had found his groove in the second frame, starting the quarter 4 for 4 with 179 yards through the air and had his Panthers knocking on the door again. Fife fired a pass near the end zone and sophomore Luke Rode stepped in front of the pass for a 95-yard return to set Jefferson up inside the Panther five-yard line.
Boston Reynolds put Jefferson on the board after slipping through the line on a 2-yard run.
“We were in cover zero and Rode jumped it perfectly. I thought he was going to be able to score, but we were able to finish that drive.” Jefferson head coach Damon Ulm said.
The Fife to Rhonehouse connection remained strong late in the quarter. Rhonehouse reeled in Fife’s 60-yard pass to answer the Jefferson touchdown moments before.
Delphos Jefferson made the best of the ensuing kickoff return, senior Tyler Wilkins found a gaping hole in the return team and sprinted 75 yards to the house to give the hosts the momentum before halftime.
That momentum carried into the second half and the Wildcats fed off it. After being held to ten yards of offense and zero first downs in the first half, Jefferson got the ball rolling with a 17-yard reception by sophomore Lucas Millmine and a twenty-one-yard touchdown run by Luke Rode.
Ulm said. “We got a great return to set up our first possession in the second half and that gave us a great spark. We built confidence and were able to show what we could do when we play our style of football.”
Paulding had difficulty retrieving the following kickoff allowing Jefferson to pounce and send their offensive unit back onto the field.
The spark plug for Jefferson had become Luke Rode, as Rode was working his squad down the field and took a hard hit near his sideline and did not return to the contest. The Wildcats continued to show grit and finished the scoring drive, Karder Agner replaced Rode as the spark plug bouncing off tackles and diving into the pylon making the score 32-25 in favor of Paulding.
“Karder (Agner) is an athlete and one of the kids learning and playing multiple positions.” Ulm had to say. “Karder stepped in and made plays to finish the drive and get us into the end zone.”
With 4:58 to play in the third stanza the Paulding offense finally took the field, desperately needing a positive drive to kill the Jefferson momentum. Kobe Foor found the end zone for a third time after scoring from one yard out. The Panthers struck again moments later, this time it was Jacob Fife sprinting in from two yards out to stretch their lead to twenty-three.
“We practice adversity. Even when things go right in practice the guys know they must be accountable and buckle down.” Menzie said. “Adversity will always be there, and we won that battle tonight.”
After forcing Jefferson into a three-and-out it took Paulding just one play to find pay dirt once again. Caleb Larson went untouched 66 yards down the Wildcat sideline to make it 56-25 and turning on the running clock.
Menzie said. “When Larson can get out in space and show his skills it allows him to make plays. We are heading into conference play above .500 and that has our confidence where it needs to be.”
Paulding will play host to Ayersville next Friday night to begin play in the Green Meadows Conference. Delphos Jefferson opens Northwest Conference play at Bluffton.
Score by quarters:
Paulding 8 24 8 16 – 56
Jefferson 0 12 13 0 – 25
P – Blake Rhonehouse 5 yard pass from Jacob Fife (Larson 2 point conv.)
P – Koby Foor 36 yard pass from Jacob Fife (Larson 2 point conv.)
P – Koby Foor 4 yard run (Rhonehouse 2 point conv.)
D – Boston Reynolds 2 yard run (EXP No Good)
P – Blake Rhonehouse 60 yard pass from Jacob Fife (Foor 2 point conv.)
D – Tyler Wilkins 75 yard kick off return (EXP No Good)
D – Luke Rode 21 yard run (Hurles EXP Good)
D – Karder Agner 10 yard run (EXP No Good)
P – Koby Foor 1 yard run (Foor 2 point conv.)
P – Jacob Fife 2 yard run (Foor 2 point conv.)
P – Caleb Larson 66 yard run (Foor 2 point conv.)
14 First downs 5
470 Total yardage 134
265 Rushing yardage 109
205 Passing yardage 25
8-19-1 Passing (Com-Att-Int) 2-9-0
2-1 Fumbles-Lost 0-0
2 Punts-Average 6
6-53 Penalties-Yards 4-40
Passing: Paulding – Jacob Fife 8-19-205; Jefferson – Luke Rode 2-9-25.
Rushing: Paulding – Koby Foor 13-84; Jefferson- Boston Reynolds 7-11.
Receiving: Paulding – Blake Shonehouse 5-131; Jefferson- Dean Trentman 10-76.
Nate Stidham wrote this story for LimaOhio.com. Reach The Lima News sports department at 567-242-0451.