Spartans 35, Knights 9
Difference maker: West Hall’s defense. The Spartans’ five fumble recoveries set up the offense inside the red zone four times and even delivered a defensive touchdown.
Stat that matters: 5 for 5. West Hall recovered five Johnson fumbles in the first half and converted each one into a touchdown to build a 35-2 lead going into the second half.
Turning point: West Hall’s Ashun Favorite recovered Johnson’s second lost fumble at the Knights’ 6-yard line late in the second quarter. The play led to a Kwon Williams touchdown that padded West Hall’s lead to 14-2, the first of 28 consecutive points for the Spartans.
Next up: West Hall travels to Chestatee on Friday for the second of three consecutive county rivalry games to open the season. Johnson will look to get back in the win column on the road against Banks County in Homer.
West Hall had a simple formula for success against Johnson: translate turnovers into touchdowns.
The Spartans were relentlessly efficient at it.
West Hall recovered five fumbles by the Knights in the first half, including four during a five-minute span in the second quarter, and converted all five into touchdowns to win the 22nd annual Battle of Oakwood 35-9 on Friday at Spartan Field. West Hall has now won the last three installments in the series.
“We wanted to try to put them in situations where they put the ball on the (ground),” West Hall coach Tony Lotti said. “They did, and what was important was to capitalize on those mistakes. I was very pleased with how we did that.”
The Spartans offense never had far to go to convert Johnson’s turnovers into points. West Hall (1-0) recovered four fumbles inside the Johnson 20-yard line. The lone fumble recovery outside that area was returned 36 yards for a defensive touchdown by senior linebacker Tyquan Statham.
Senior running back Kwon Williams punched in three of the Spartans’ touchdowns despite being held to 35 rushing yards. West Hall tallied only 73 total yards on the ground.
Williams’ first score came shortly after teammate Ashun Favorite recovered a fumble at the Johnson 6-yard line late in the second quarter, when the Spartans were still clinging to a 7-2 lead.
That was the beginning of nightmarish five-minute span for Johnson (1-1), which actually outgained West Hall 188-124 in total offense.
Williams carried the ball twice on the ensuing drive and punched it into the end zone from 5 yards on his second try. The extra point boosted West Hall’s lead to 14-2.
“To me it’s the biggest game of the season,” Williams said, “and we came out with another win.”
West Hall recovered another Johnson fumble inside the 20-yard line just three plays into the ensuing series.
Williams tacked on his second touchdown courtesy of a 10-yard run on fourth-and-1 to extend the lead to 21-2.
Johnson fumbled the ball at the 36-yard line three plays into the next series, and this time Statham picked it up and took it to the end zone for a touchdown to make the score 28-2.
West Hall’s Michael Kidd picked up the fifth and final Johnson fumble on the first play of the next series.
West Hall quarterback Jacob Satterfield (4-of-11 passing, 51 yards) then completed a 16-yard pass to Tristian Hester down to the 1-yard line, and Williams plowed into the end zone for a third time with 17 seconds remaining in the half.
“We had four turnovers in a five-minute span,” Johnson coach Jason Roquemore said. “You just can’t do those things.
“It’s disappointing because I felt like we had a good plan and I felt like, you know, especially in the second half we tweaked some things. We didn’t turn the ball over and we were able to sustain some drives and do some things.”
Johnson controlled possession much of the second half behind junior running back Ethan Emmett (22 carries, 97 rushing yards), who found holes in the middle of the West Hall defense time after time in the final two quarters.
His gains eventually helped set up a 36-yard touchdown pass from Johnson freshman quarterback Sam Corbett to wide-open receiver Orion Pittman in the end zone with 3:14 left in the game.
“We played our assignments all the first half and for whatever reason (stopped after halftime),” Lotti said. “That’s the teaching point I’m going to be using: You’ve got to do what we coach you to do to the best of your ability and not go outside of that.
“The second half I’m far from pleased with our performance on everything, but like I said, it was the first game. It’s a big win for our community to keep this thing rolling and I’m happy for everybody here. We’ll go back to work and see if we can’t fix the mistakes on Monday.”
West Hall also experienced struggles at the beginning the game.
The Spartans found themselves in great field position at the Johnson 19 early in the first quarter, after a high snap prevented the Knights from getting a punt away at the end of their first series. That turned into a rare missed opportunity for West Hall, which fumbled the ball right back to the Knights on the first play of the drive.
The Spartans picked up their first fumble recovery three plays into the ensuing Johnson drive, and Satterfield capped a 10-yard scoring drive with a 2-yard keeper run into the end zone on third down.
The Knights appeared to regain some momentum on the Spartans’ next series by stopping Williams in the end zone for a safety, but it didn’t carry over to the offense.