Edgewood coach Olajuwan Cooper believes in his players and he proved it in the final moments of the Warriors’ 15-14 season-opening win over visiting Conneaut on Thursday.
After Seth Enos scored on a six-yard touchdown run to pull the Warriors to within 14-13 with less than a minute to play, Cooper never hesitated in attempting the two-point conversion to pull ahead for good.
“I just felt like that was a great opportunity to show my kids how much belief I have in them,” Cooper said. “As a coach and as a man, I was willing to live with the results either way, but I really didn’t think there would be a greater opportunity than right now to show my kids that the work they put in during the offseason and leading up to this game had prepared us for this moment. I had the utmost confidence in them to get it done at a critical time because we challenged them all throughout the offseason and they were prepared for that situation.”
Conneaut, who whipped Edgewood last season, 41-6, struck first when Wyatt Payne scored on a four-yard run in the second quarter.
The Warriors were struggling to mount a consistent offensive attack, so Jacob Ernst took matters into his own hands and picked off a rare Conneaut pass and returned it 70 yards for a game-tying touchdown.
“We knew we could be aggressive attacking because passing is not really what Conneaut wants to do,” Cooper said. “They want to line up and run the ball, so anytime we got into a passing situation it would be in our favor. Jacob did a great job of being around the ball and once he gets the ball in his hands, he just has a nose for the end zone. This is his time to break out. He’s worked hard and he just makes plays”
Payne scored again in the third quarter to give the Spartans a 14-7 lead.
The Spartans ran for 205 yards with Payne leading the attack with 111. Zach Rice added 84, but the Warriors were focused on stopping Rice after he had a big game against them last season.
“We know the other teams are going to score periodically but we have to make sure they earn their touchdowns,” Cooper said. “I thought we did a good job of making sure they didn’t get chunk plays and one of our biggest goals, because we have so much respect for Zach Rice, who had four touchdowns and for over 200 yards last year, so we wanted to make a conscious effort to stop him. They ran for over 200 yards but it was all one-sided because they didn’t have any passing yards, so that worked in our favor.”
Conneaut’s offense self-imploded in the fourth quarter with back-to-back fumbled snaps and then failed to convert on fourth down.
That opened the door for the Warriors to put together one last offensive drive.
Enos finished off that drive with his first touchdown of the night and Cooper and his coaching staff was ready to roll the dice with a two-point conversion.
“When we were driving, I was pretty confident we were going to score,” Cooper said. “I told my offensive coordinator that when we scored he had to have the best two-point conversion play ready because we’re going for it. We weren’t playing for a tie or overtime.”
Quarterback Tony Hall, who started several games last year, locked in on his most experienced receiver, Christian Cunningham, who made a play on a one-on-one situation and pulled down the ball to give the Warriors a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
“Tony did a heck of a job getting the ball in there and then Christian made an amazing catch to secure the ball,” Cooper said. “That was just experience. Christian is our most experienced guy and in those moments you want to bank on experience. The offensive line did a great job up front to hold up and Tony made a great throw.”
Conneaut started its final possession in Edgewood territory but the Warriors held on for the win.
Hall threw for 85 yards and Zeke Lucas led the rushing attack with 58 yards.
Edgewood travels to Grand Valley on Friday.