Lakota West had heard all week about Mason’s sturdy defense.
The Comets had limited every opponent to single digits in scoring and were, like the Firebirds, 5-0 in the Greater Miami Conference going into Friday’s matchup at Lakota West.
It wasn’t until the Firebirds learned that Mason had won the pre-game coin flip and elected to receive the opening kickoff – essentially, choosing to test Lakota West’s defense – that they started feeling the heat.
“That set the fire,” senior safety and Ohio State commit Malik Hartford said. “They wanted the ball.”
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The Firebirds' defense, a proud unit that went into the game ranked first in the GMC in average points and passing yards allowed per game, came up with two interceptions, a fumble recovery and a blocked punt on the way to a convincing 37-7 homecoming win.
“That’s what we’ve done all year,” coach Tom Bolden said. “We’ve been making big plays all year.
“We had a lot going on this week,” he added, referring to Homecoming and Friday morning appearance on the NBC “Today” show. “Once we got to the second half, we played like we know we can play.”
Hartford blocked a Mason punt to set up one touchdown and returned an interception for another, all in a span of 50 seconds.
“When you’re going to Ohio State, you’d better make plays like that,” Bolden said.
Mason coach Brian Castner, whose team hadn’t allowed more than nine points in any game and had won five straight, said, “We’re not there yet. We’ll get there. We’ll fix what we need to fix.”
Lakota West senior quarterback Mitch Bolden, the GMC passing yardage leader going into the game with 1,035, weathered five sacks to go 15-of-21 for 340 yards and four touchdowns to four different receivers, leading Lakota West to sole possession of first place as the conference’s only undefeated team.
The Firebirds are scheduled to play at Fairfield on Friday. The Indians, who played at Hamilton on Friday, were undefeated and ranked eighth in the state before losing to Princeton on Sept. 23.
Both teams used big defensive plays to set up scores. The Firebirds’ first touchdown came after an interception by senior defensive back Ben Minich, and the scoring drive included a fake punt from the Firebirds’ 49-yard line and a run for a first down by Minich on a decision he makes on his own.
“He’s athletic enough to make those plays,” Tom Bolden said.
Said Castner, “We weren’t able to get off the field.”
Junior linebacker Kai Woolfork got Mason into position for its only touchdown with an interception at Lakota West’s 30-yard line. Senior Nicholas Sailers converted with a one-yard run.
Lakota West received the second-half kickoff and, after recovering a fumbled handoff on the first play, took a 16-7 lead on Bolden’s eight-yard pass to senior wide receiver Trent Lloyd, who finished with eight catches for 133 yards and led Firebird rushers with 41 yards on eight carries.
The Firebirds took command with their late third-quarter flurry, starting with Hartford’s block of a punt that was recovered by Minich at Mason’s eight-yard line.
“I almost got the first one,” Hartford said. “Then they started blocking down on me. On that one, I thought I saw something and said to (freshman linebacker Cam Thomas) ‘Switch with me,’ and I got it.”
“Watching film all week, we thought we could get one,” Tom Bolden said.
Lakota West took advantage with Mitch Bolden’s nine-yard pass to junior running back Eudes Gonzalez Jr. On Mason’s first play after the kickoff, from the 23-yard line, Hartford jumped an out route and returned the interception for a touchdown.
Firebirds’ senior linebacker Aaron Khayo recovered a Comets fumble on the first play of the fourth quarter and Mitch Bolden got the game to a running clock with a three-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Brennan Remy with 9:13 remaining.
Lakota West 37, Mason 7
Mason 0-7-0-0 – 7Lakota West 3-7-20-7 – 37
L – Bohn 45 field goalL – Burg 22 pass from Bolden (Bohn kick)M – Sailers 1 run (Bunch kick)L – Lloyd 8 pass from Bolden (pass failed)L – Gonzalez 9 pass from Bolden (Bohn kick)L – Hartford interception return (Bohn kick)L – Remy 3 pass from Bolden (Bohn kick)
Records: Mason 5-2 (5-1), Lakota West 7-0 (6-0 GMC).
This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Lakota West football defeats Mason with big plays in GMC matchup