DELHI — Win No. 296 of Jim Hoover’s 38-year tenure on Walton’s sidelines came with a twist.
That’s because for perhaps the first time, Section Four’s winningest coach watched his team pile up more passing yards than rushing yards.
Trevor Zandt completed 7 of 15 passes for 243 yards, including three for long touchdowns in the second quarter, and the Warriors held off a Delhi rally to win, 30-28, in summer-like conditions Saturday at Dave Kelly Field.
Zandt also finished with 67 of Walton’s 146 rushing yards and accounted for all five the Warriors’ touchdowns.
Before a predictably large turnout between the Delaware County and Section Four Football Conference Division V rivals, Walton put on an aerial display over the first 6 minutes of the second quarter, the likes of which Warriors fans probably have never witnessed.
Rapid-fire scoring strikes to Austin Kilmer, Jacob Wright and Kilmer again that covered 45, 66 and 52 yards, respectively, turned a 6-0 deficit into an 18-6 lead midway through the second quarter.
“(The receivers) just ran their routes hard, looked for the ball and got it,” said Zandt, a junior who’d thrown for 150 yards through Walton’s first three games. “Everybody knows Walton is running the ball, but we’ve been working on passing all week. We came out, threw the ball and did it well.”
The Bulldogs (1-3, 1-1) opened the scoring with a 12-play, 70-yard drive that included a 23-yard run by Ryan Telian and a 16-yard scamper by Noah Dedominicis on a counter to the right side that brought the ball to Walton’s 16. Four plays later, Brian Ingram scored on a 1-yard run to make it 6-0.
That lead was erased when Zandt found Kilmer way behind Delhi’s secondary for a 45-yard scoring play on the first play of the second quarter. Merrill had to wait for Zandt’s pass on the right side of the field, but he was so open it didn’t matter.
Following a three-and-out, Walton took over at its 37. On a second-and-13 from the 34, Zandt threw his best ball of the day. He rolled right and unleashed a deep pass down the right sideline. When Zandt released the ball, Delhi’s defensive back appeared to be in good position, but Wright sped by him, caught the ball in stride around the 20 and ran untouched for a 66-yard TD.
“I don’t think people understand the way the game is played today,” said Bulldogs coach Dave Kelly, second on Section Four’s coaching list with 270 victories. “You have to have athletes in the secondary at least as good as other people’s athletes in the secondary. We knew were kind of so-so going into the season and we’re paying.”
Another Delhi three-and-out followed as Walton took possession at its 47.
It required one play for the Warriors to take an 18-6 lead. This time, it was what Zandt did before he threw the ball that set it up. From the shotgun, a formation Hoover said he’d never utilized before this season, Zandt sold the play fake beautifully and the Bulldogs bit big-time. Kilmer slipped out of the backfield, got well beyond the secondary, caught Zandt’s lofted throw to the left side and raced the final 30 or so yards into the end zone. That score came with 6:15 left in the second quarter.
“We knew we were going to have trouble going against their big boys up front,” said Hoover, whose team improved to 3-1 overall and 1-1 in division. “They have some studs up there, so our game plan was to try to throw the ball more. It worked. We were doing it because we were concerned. We have a young offensive line and we were concerned about blocking a senior-dominated line that has size.”
Zandt’s numbers in the second quarter read 5-for-9 for 204 yards and three touchdowns.
Arguably, Walton’s biggest drive came to start the second half, and this had more of an old-school Walton approach. The Warriors drained 8:37 off the clock on a 57-yard drive that took 16 plays. Zandt converted two fourth-down runs, the first on a scramble right that went for 2 yards on fourth-and-1, and the second on a keeper right that covered 5 yards on fourth-and-5. That brought the ball to Delhi’s 25.
Then on a third-and-15 from the 30, Zandt hit Wright on a slant. Wright’s catch-and-run went for 27 yards to the Delhi 3. Two plays later, Zandt sneaked in from the 1 to make it 24-6, with 3:23 left in the third quarter.
“We did go at them on that drive,” Hoover said. “I’m very happy with the kids. We finished this week. Last week (a 27-6 loss to Unatego), we were driving and couldn’t finish it. This week, we finished it. We beat a very good football team. I’m glad that fourth quarter ran out.”
Delhi’s comeback started with a 67-yard drive. The powerful Ingram had runs of 11 and 13 yards off the right side, and quarterback Conner Gioffe broke off a 28-yard run after getting a Walton defender to bite on fake option pitch.
Gioffe did another excellent job of selling a fake on the next play, which resulted in a touchdown. It initially looked like a run to right side, but Gioffe kept it and threw back across the field, hitting Jesse Lilholt in stride on a 10-yard TD on the final play of the third quarter. Gioffe scored on the two-point run to make it 24-14.
Yet another big play by Zandt appeared to put this one away. On the third play of the fourth quarter, Zandt turned a broken play into a touchdown. He looked to pass and then started to his right. He cut up field, made a sharp turn left and continued across the field. Zandt then slipped a tackle attempt around the 10 and continued into the end zone. The 45-yard scoring play made it 30-14, but Walton failed on the two-point attempt — as it did on all five of its touchdowns — leaving it a two-possession game.
A 69-yard Delhi drive ensued. Dedominicis, who finished with a game-high 110 rushing yards and 45 receiving yards, started it with a 19-yard run.
On a fourth-and-5 from Walton’s 45, Gioffe threw a perfect pass to Dedominicis near the right sideline that went for 15 yards. Another 15 yards were tacked on for a late hit on Gioffe.
Another fourth-down conversion, this one coming on an 11-yard keeper by Gioffe off the right side, set up Delhi at Walton’s 2. Ingram bulled in off left tackle on the next play and Gioffe hit a wide open Telian on the two-point pass as Delhi closed to 30-22 with 5:57 left.
Walton’s next drive went nowhere and included two incompletions, giving Delhi the ball back at its 20 with 4:46 to go.
Dedominicis then made three huge plays. First, he took an option pitch from Gioffe and went 13 yards off the left side. Following an 8-yard run by Ingram, Gioffe found Dedominicis near the right sideline for an 11-yard gain to Walton’s 48. One play later, Dedominicis raced through a huge hole in the middle and went 41 yards to the Warriors’ 2. Ingram scored standing up from 4 yards off right tackle one play later, leaving Delhi a successful conversion from tying the score with 2:09 left.
But Gioffe was pressured immediately, moved to his left and threw off-balance. Walton’s Colin Adam broke it up in the middle of the end zone.
“Up front, we were able to keep our composure running the option,” Kelly said of his team’s comeback. “Our linemen kept working and that’s a credit to them. And we ran the quarterback a little more, which was helpful.”
Blake Hitt recovered the onsides kick for Walton, which received a 9-yard run from Kilmer on a fourth-and-2 with about 30 seconds left to seal it.
“These guys are a good football team,” Hoover said of Delhi. “They’re not just going to roll over. It’s hard to defend a good fullback, a good pitch man and a good quarterback. They had all three. The quarterback had a good game against us.”
Walton 30, Delhi 28
Walton 0 18 6 6 – 30
Delhi 6 0 8 14 – 28
D – Brian Ingram 1 run (run failed), 1:30
W – Austin Kilmer 45 pass from Trevor Zandt (fun failed), 11:51
W – Jacob Wright 66 pass from Trevor Zandt (pass failed), 8:30
W – Austin Kilmer 53 pass from Trevor Zandt (run failed), 6:15
W – Trevor Zandt 1 run (run failed), 3:23
D – Jesse Lilholt 10 pass from Conner Gioffe (Conner Gioffe run), :00
W – Trevor Zandt 45 run (run failed), 10:08
D – Brian Ingram 2 run (Ryan Telian pass from Conner Gioffe), 5:57
D – Brian Ingram 4 run (pass failed), 2:09
Walton rushing: Trevor Zandt 9-67, Christian Rutherford 6-27, Austin Kilmer 7-21, Derek Mead 4-19, Quinn Harby 7-15, Colin Adam 1-(-3).
Delhi rushing: Noah Dedominicis 13-110, Brian Ingram 9-53, Conner Gioffe 8-48, Ryan Telian 7-34, Trey Mostert 1-5, Nick Marino 2-(-3).
Walton passing: Trevor Zandt 7-for-15, 243 yards.
Delhi passing: Conner Gioffe 6-for-11, 62 yards.
Walton receiving: Jacob Wright 4-119, Austin Kilmer 3-124.
Delhi receiving: Noah Dedominicis 4-45, Jesse Lilholt 2-17.
Rob Centorani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-432-1000, ext. 209.