By Greg Shoemaker
LIBERTY TWP., Ohio – The setting couldn’t have been more ideal for the 2013 regular finale.
The weather was surprisingly pleasant for Nov. 1, the rivalry passionately heated on both sides and the Hawks Nest was packed with boisterous fans and bombing bands as Lakota West edged Lakota East, 34-27 on Friday.
Lakota East (5-5, 3-4) desperately needed a victory in front of its home faithful versus Lakota West (9-1, 7-0) to keep their slim playoff hopes alive. It was a tall order as the Thunderhawks, who trail in this series 9-6 had never beaten their rival on their home turf.
The Firebirds were out for revenge as the Thunderhawks took them down a year ago, eliminating Lakota West from the post-season. The Firebirds watched in agony as Lakota East celebrated, advancing to Week 11 for the first time in school history.
With all that motivation in place, Lakota West quarterback Malik Grove played a nearly perfect game. The senior was calm cool and collected going 12-for-13 for 154 yards including a perfect 9 of 9 for 91 yards in the first half.
Grove was like a maestro guiding his team play after play without a huddle. After halftime his second touchdown run of the night with just under seven minutes left in the contest gave the Firebirds a 14-point cushion and allow them to close out Lakota East.
Grove finished with 98 yards on the ground. His two rushing scores give him 16 in the last eight weeks with at least two in six of those tilts.
Mikel Horton did everything in his power to help classmate Grove and the cause. Horton ran for 138 yards and two touchdowns. It was his fifth straight game with more than 115 yards rushing and it pushed his season total to 1,075 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Lakota East moved the ball on offense but two untimely turnovers made a huge difference in the outcome. The Thunderhawks made a goal-line stand after Lakota West took the ball 79 yards down field on a tedious and long opening drive of the contest.
Lakota East would fumble just a few plays later as Emmanuel Tshabola recovered it for West and took it six yards for a touchdown.
A third-quarter interception enabled the Firebirds to build a cushion that Lakota East just couldn’t overcome in the end.
The Thunderhawks ran for 318 yards. David Chenault had 115 yards and two touchdowns rushing. Bobby Brown belted out a team high 120 yards on the ground with a TD receiving in the loss.
The victory gives Lakota West a share of the GMC title with Colerain, which also went 7-0 in league play. The two teams did not meet this season.
The Firebirds move on to play next Saturday night in the playoffs against an opponent to be announced on Sunday.
Kicker Justin Martin and Horton became the first two players in the history of this rivalry to play in it four years in a row.
Martin scored points in four tilts for Lakota West. Horton played in the games as a freshman and a sophomore at Lakota East, and this was the first time he had been on the winning team.