For The News Courier
SALEM — West Limestone quarterback Caleb McConnell attempted only two passes, but both went for touchdowns to wide receiver Aaron McWilliams as the Wildcats fended off cross-county rival Ardmore on a chilly Friday night at James Kennemer Stadium.
West (5-5) completed a season sweep against three county foes this season, including a quadruple-overtime 54-53 win at Clements and a 41-14 victory at Elkmont, and earned its sixth consecutive win over the Tigers (5-5).
“All the county games are big rivalry games for us,” said West Limestone coach David Arnsparger, who has guided the Wildcats to a .500 record in five of six seasons and back-to-back playoff appearances in 2010 and 2011. “The kids all know each other, and we know the coaches.
“This was an exciting way to finish the year at 5-5, and I’m proud of our six seniors and the way our team bounced back during this game. And winning the last game of the season gives us momentum going into the offseason and next season.”
The Wildcats’ game plan was to stop an Ardmore squad that has rushed for at least 300 yards in its five victories this season and to use a ground-based attack on offense. West held the Tigers to 222 yards of total offense, including 152 yards on the ground, while rushing for 271 yards on 35 carries and piling up 345 yards of total offense.
“Our mindset was just to come out and get a win tonight,” said McWilliams, who had two receptions for 74 yards and two touchdowns and an 82-yard interception return for a score called back due to a blocking penalty. “We knew they were going to show up and run the ball on us, and we just had to be tough and fight hard.”
Ardmore opened the game with a 13-play drive that took nearly nine minutes off the clock as senior running back Tyler McCarley rushed eight times for 52 yards and sophomore Garret Miller connected with Hayden Durrett on a 21-yard, play-action pass in the left flat. But Matthew Reyer and Tyler Widner tackled Miller for a 2-yard loss on third-and-3 and Widener stopped Miller two yards shy of the first-down marker on fourth-and-5 at the West 17-yard line to force a turnover on downs.
After Tigers forced the Wildcats to punt after a three-and-out deep in their own territory, McCarley capped an eight-play, 44-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown over left tackle as he stretched the ball into the end zone and Ryan Green nailed the extra point to lead 7-0 early in the second quarter.
With both teams trading stalled drives, West took over on its own 15 with 4:36 remaining until halftime. Dillon Miller took the handoff, burst free up the middle thanks to a block by Kyle Thornton and zigzagged down the field for an 85-yard scored that tied the game at 7-7.
After another Ardmore punt, West embarked on a seven-play, 62-yard drive that included four runs of 11 yards or more and culminated with McConnell rolling to his right and zipping a 14-yard touchdown pass to McWilliams on a crossing route in the end zone. After a Sanders PAT, the Wildcats took a 14-7 lead into halftime.
Ardmore’s Zach Ellis forced a fumble on the opening kickoff of the second half and Durrett recovered the ball in West territory as the Tigers marched 38 yards in eight plays, including seven runs. Garett Miller found Durrett over the middle for an 11-yard completion and McCarley ran off right tackle for a 1-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 14-13 after the PAT sailed wide right.
The Wildcats answered with a seven-play, 62-yard drive as Tucker McCormick, who finished with 81 yards on nine carries, scored on a 3-yard run and Sanders made the PAT to increase the lead to 21-13 late in the third.
West put the game out of reach with 4:58 remaining in the fourth quarter when McWilliams picked off Miller as the Tigers were driving downfield for a potential game-tying score. Facing third-and-10, McConnell threw a beautiful 60-yard bomb to McWilliams, who beat his defender down the left sideline on a go route, and Sanders hit his fourth extra point to make the final score 28-13.
“I saw the man-coverage and I told my quarterback that I could beat him, so Coach put in a (belly pass) play and Caleb made a good throw,” McWilliams said. “I knew as soon as he threw it that it was going to be a touchdown.”
McCarley led Ardmore with 25 carries for 108 yards and two touchdowns. Garret Miller, who also recovered a fumble and rushed eight times for 31 yards, was 5 of 12 for 70 yards and two interceptions. Ricky Lowery had two receptions for 25 yards, and Durrett caught two passes for 24 yards. Durrett and Carson Pack each recovered a fumble, and Pack also had a sack.
McConnell finished 2 of 2 for 74 yards and two touchdowns and no interceptions. Dillon Miller rushed eight times for 113 yards and a touchdown, while Logan Pugh added 93 yards on 14 carries. McWilliams and Miller each had an interception, while Widner had one sack.
West had six seniors on its 35-player roster, including McWilliams, McConnell, Thornton, Drake Lopez, Alex Ritterbush and Austin Sims.
Ardmore’s 35-player roster featured five seniors, including Ellis, McCarley, Creagan Lewter, Tony Brown and Scott Thornton.