Defense leads Lions to second consecutive win with 13-6 victory over Spanish River


Olympic Heights' defensive back Jekkaven Smith (#10) intercepts a Spanis River touchdown pass attempt late in the fourth quarter in the Lions' 13-6 win on Friday, Sept. 20.

At the pre-game pep rally on Friday, Sept. 20, Olympic Heights head football coach Kevin Wald encouraged the student body to make its way over to Spanish River High School that evening to turn the Sharks’ homecoming game against his team into an OH homecoming. And the Lions faithful did not disappoint, filling the Spanish River visitors’ bleachers to watch the OH football team notch its second win in a row with a 13-6 win over the Sharks.

The Lions win can mostly be credited to its stingy defensive play as the Sharks were held to just six points and three first downs over the course of the evening with the lone Spanish River score coming on a short 25-yard drive after the Sharks recovered a muffed punt.

Commenting on his team’s defensive play, Wald said, “Coach {Kevin] Wright has done a great job with the defense. Our defensive players have become tougher, smarter, and more dependable the last few weeks. This has led to everyone doing their job and playing team defense within the system.”

The game began with a Sharks kickoff return to their own 47; however, they only managed eight yards on the drive turning the ball over on downs after a fourth and two attempt was stuffed at the line of scrimmage by the Lions’ defense.

Taking advantage of the favorable field position, the Lions went 55 yards on seven plays, scoring on a 19-yard pass from quarterback Blake Moreland to running back Nick Palmenteri. On the drive, Moreland went three-for-three on pass attempts for 47 yards, including a 22-yard hookup with wide receiver Charles Davis.

For the bulk of the remainder of the first half, the two offenses exchanged a series of three-and-outs and punts until late in the half when OH punt returner Patrick Pierre muffed a Spanish River punt that the Sharks recovered on the Lions’ 25-yard line

Aided by a 15-yard horse collar penalty on the Lions, the Sharks went those 25 yards, scoring on three-yard, first and goal running play up the middle with 12.8 seconds remaining in the half. The Sharks’ extra point kick attempt failed on a bad snap, leaving the Lions with a 7-6 lead at the half.

On their second possession of the third quarter, the Lions drove  60 yards on eight plays, scoring on a seven-yard run by running back Christian Ippolito. After the extra point kick attempt was blocked, the Lions led 13-6.

Following a series of three-and-outs by both teams, the Lions attempted a trick play that had running back Trosky Horton attempting a pass after a handoff. The pass came up short, however, and intercepted by the Sharks, setting the Spanish River offense up at the Lions’ 30-yard line.

Spanish River moved the ball down to the Lions’ 15-yard line, but the defense came up tough again as a third-and-ten Sharks’ pass attempt was overthrown and intercepted at the back of the end zone by defensive back Jekkaven Smith who returned the ball out to the OH 10-yard line.

The Lions were only able to move the ball nine yards on the next three plays, which had everyone in the stadium expecting a Lions’ punt. However, Coach Wald decided to go for the first down on fourth-and-one from his team’s own 19 with just 1:30 remaining in the game. The Ippolito rush attempt was ruled short by the line judge setting Sharks up with 90 seconds to move the ball 19 yards for the possible game-tying score.

Explaining the decision to go for the first down so deep in his own end of the field, Wald offered, “Our defense was playing well, and I was concerned punting into that wind. After looking at the film, I thought we had the first down by about a yard, but that’s not the way it was seen at that moment, and that’s the way it goes sometimes.”

Wald’s bold confidence in his defense proved warranted as on the Shark’s very next play, linebacker Wilkinson Saul blew past the Spanish River offense front, steamrolling the Shark’s quarterback to the ground and forcing a fumble which Horton jumped on to seal the 13-6 victory.

“Overall I’m seeing the culture start to change,” Wald commented on his team’s improved play over the past two weeks. “Guys are becoming tougher, smarter, and more dependable!”

The win puts the Lions’ record at 2-3 on the season, but perhaps their toughest test of the season will be this Thursday, Sept. 26, when they host the Atlantic Eagles. Kickoff is at 6:00 p.m.