Prep football: Depleted Thunderhawks fight off Hamilton 30-21

Lakota East’s Jeff Garcia (1) finds running room during a 35-0 victory at Lakota West on Sept. 29. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF
Lakota East’s Jeff Garcia (1) finds running room during a 35-0 victory at Lakota West on Sept. 29. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Through eight games, the Lakota East High School football team’s hopes for a Division I playoff berth remain intact.

The Thunderhawks scored the game-winning points on a safety Friday night to earn a 30-21 victory over visiting Hamilton, setting up critical showdowns with fellow Region 4 playoff hopefuls Sycamore and Mason to finish the regular season.

Friday’s contest was set to feature the Greater Miami Conference’s top rushers in East’s Jack Dobrozsi and Hamilton’s Maleek Jarrett, but neither standout took the field. Jarrett sat out with an injury, but Dobrozsi’s cause for absence from the playing field was unspecified.

East coach Rick Haynes declined to provide a status update, current or future, for Dobrozsi and other starters who did not play.

Despite the absence of the conference’s leading backs, the game featured 580 total rushing yards. Senior Jeff Garcia led the way for East (6-2 overall, 4-2 GMC) with 114 yards and two touchdowns on just nine attempts. His first TD opened the scoring, and his second provided insurance late in the third quarter.

“We had some minor setbacks this week,” Garcia said. “With Jack (Dobrozsi) — our main source of power on offense — being out, I took it upon myself to help lead this team. We did what we had to do on the field tonight.”


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Both of Garcia’s touchdowns were 25-yard bursts, with his first coming with 5:53 remaining in a — to that point — scoreless first half. Garcia was not alone in filling the production void left by Dobrozsi, however. Sophomore Michael Howard rushed 13 times for 105 yards and two touchdowns.

“I thought they both played very well tonight,” Haynes said. “I thought our quarterback played pretty well in the second half too.”

Quarterback Dylan Fry, the team’s second-leading rusher on the year, gained 90 yards on 16 attempts. He did not complete any of his four passing attempts.

Hamilton (2-6, 2-4) also receive outstanding play from its quarterback, sophomore Khaliyal Sowell. He led all rushers with 132 yards on 20 carries and two touchdowns. His 54-yard run, a season high, sparked a 10-play drive that set up Johnny Jones’ game-tying touchdown run late in the second period.

“Khaliyal is going to be a great player,” Hamilton coach Chad Murphy said. “He shows glimpses of greatness now. He’s an outstanding player who will have GMC Player of the Year type of years as a junior and a senior.”

Sowell and Big Blue chewed the first six minutes of the third quarter with an 11-play drive, taking their first and only lead of the game at 14-7. Sowell capped off the 80-yard surge with a 19-yard touchdown run.

Murphy also highlighted the play of freshman running back Keyshawn Stephens, who rushed for 78 yards on 12 carries.

The East drive that followed Sowell’s go-ahead touchdown was the first of four straight touchdown marches for the Thunderhawks. Howard’s first touchdown, a 35-yard run that featured multiple broken tackles, tied the game at 14.

Then the safety happened.

On the kickoff that followed Howard’s tying touchdown, Hamilton’s Zach Reese caught and fumbled the ball at the 6-yard line. The ball bounced and rolled into the end zone, and by the time Reese was able to retrieve it, a cast of Thunderhawks awaited him at the goal line to give East a 16-14 lead.

East also got the ball back with excellent field position and quickly took advantage. Garcia’s second touchdown extended the lead to 23-14.

“One thing we tell our kids is that you never know what play is going to change the momentum of a game, so I think that safety was important,” Haynes said.

Just one minute and 33 seconds elapsed from the time East tied the game until it led by nine.

“The bobbled kickoff, where we give them two points and the ball back, there’s no excuse for that whatsoever,” Murphy said. “Simply put, they just made more plays than we did. They rallied around some serious issues in their program this week and played better than us. But no matter which players are out for them, that was still a 5-2 football team that we faced. Hats off to that team.”

Sowell pulled Big Blue to within two with just under eight minutes remaining, but the East rushing attack methodically and efficiently drained most of the remaining clock on the ensuing drive to put the game out of reach.

“Every game in our league is tough,” Haynes said. “Next week we have a very good opponent in Sycamore. They have a good team and are well-coached.”

The Thunderhawks are tied with Sycamore and Mason for third place in the GMC behind Colerain (6-0) and Fairfield (5-1). East will be at SHS next Friday.

Garcia, in his senior year, is looking forward to those next two crucial games for his Thunderhawks.

“I have friends who play for the both of the teams that we still have left to face,” Garcia said. “I don’t think they expect (much) from us. I don’t think anyone thought we were going to be very good this year. I think we’re going to surprise them.”

Hamilton will host Princeton next Friday.

Hamilton 0-7-7-7—21

Lakota East 0-7-16-7—30

L: Jeff Garcia 25 run (Tommy Capano kick)

H: Johnny Jones 5 run (Deon Tillery kick)

H: Khaliyal Sowell 19 run (Tillery kick)

L: Michael Howard 35 run (Capano kick)

L: Safety, Hamilton’s Zach Reese tackled in end zone

L: Garcia 25 run (Capano kick)

H: Sowell 1 run (Tillery kick)

L: Howard 7 run (Capano kick)

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