High School Football: Behind ‘nasty’ defense, Lakota East advances

Lakota East’s Josh Thornhill was part of a 320-yard rushing effort Friday night in the Thunderhawks' playoff win over Sycamore. Thornhill also recovered a fumble. FILE PHOTO

Thunderhawks top Sycamore 28-10 to set up second-round matchup vs. Lakota West

LIBERTY TWP. -- For the most part, Lakota East’s defense wasn’t noticeably much different in Friday’s Division I, Region 4 first-round high school football game against Sycamore than the unit that showed up for the 2020 season’s first game between the two teams, back in their seasonopener.

The Thunderhawks did come up big where it counted the most – on the scoreboard. After surrendering 34 points in a three-point loss at Sycamore on Aug. 28, Lakota East shut out the Aviators in the second half on the way to a 28-10 win at Lakota East.

“The defense played great,” said junior running back Charlie Kenrich, who scored two touchdowns. “Shutting them out in the second half – they got nasty.”

“Our coaches and players did a great job,” 11th-year Lakota East coach Rick Haynes said. “(The Aviators) have some good players.”

Sycamore converted just two of eight third downs into first downs and neither of its two fourth-down attempts. Lakota East senior running-back/defensive back Josh Thornhill recovered an Aviators' fumble on the first play of the fourth quarter that senior defensive end/running back Jordell Smith converted with a three-yard touchdown run for the final score with 8:34 left in the game.

Junior defensive end Nate Rosario and senior linebacker Justin Katrona led the defensive effort. Each finished with seven unassisted tackles. Senior defensive back Bryce Bontrager added six solo stops and an assisted tackle.

Smith also scored two touchdowns, the Thunderhawks didn’t commit a turnover and weren’t whistled for their first of only three penalties until there was 6:20 left in the third quarter.

“It ranks up there,” Haynes said when asked if this was Lakota East’s best game of the season. “The Princeton game was a pretty big win for us.”

The Thunderhawks upset the Vikings, 28-19, at Princeton on September 18.

Eighth-seeded Lakota East (4-3) will take a four-game winning streak into this coming Friday’s second-round, intra-district matchup with top-seeded Lakota West (6-0), which rolled over 16th-seeded West Clermont, 44-0, on Friday at Lakota West. Second-year coach Tom Bolden’s Firebirds are ranked No. 2 in the latest Associated Press Division I statewide poll.

“I’m excited,” Kenrich said. “It’s going to be great.”

Kenrich finished with 80 yards on just four carries, second on the team behind junior quarterback T.J. Kathman’s 134 yards on 16 carries.

“We really prepared, and we ran the right plays,” Kenrich said.

Lakota East and Sycamore both used big plays to set up touchdowns. Kenrich broke free for 73 yards on the game’s first play from scrimmage. He converted the opportunity with a one-yard plunge on fourth down just 2 minutes and 31 seconds into the game.

After senior kicker Sebastian Salas got the ninth-seeded Aviators on the board with a 37-yard field goal, Thornhill got loose for a 51-yard run before being pushed out of bounds on the 8-yard line. The Thunderhawks again needed all four downs to score with sophomore Eric Davis diving in from one yard with 6:04 left in the first half.

Sycamore senior quarterback Andrew Fehr found junior running back William Ingle wide open down the right sideline for a 52-yard connection that set up Fehr’s 13-yard run for Sycamore’s only touchdown.

Kathman responded on the first play of Lakota East’s next possession by rolling right, avoiding two would-be sackers and floating a pass to senior wide receiver Brandon Elliott that left the Thunderhawks on the Aviators' 10-yard line. On third down from the seven, Kathman faked a handoff to Kenrich, who eased uncovered into the left side of the end zone for an easy touchdown catch with 1:26 left before halftime.

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