East Kentwood’s depth shows, as Falcons clinch first outright OK Red title in 16 years
KENTWOOD — If there is one complaint that can’t seriously be lodged against a streaking East Kentwood offense, it’s that the team lacks depth in the rushing game.
The Falcons never looked better in that department in Friday’s 28-17 win over Rockford that earned East Kentwood its first OK Red outright title in 16 years.
With the team’s top rusher being sidelined after a monster first half that included a pair of Kionte Blakely touchdown runs, the rest of the backfield including juniors Joshua Ledesma and Jayden Jones neatly picked up the slack, as East Kentwood (8-1, 6-0) finished off a remarkable OK Red season that included six wins by an average of over 30 points per game.
“We talk about trust and Joshua and Jayden came in and scored some big touchdowns for us,” Falcons coach Tony Kimbrough said. “We have so many weapons, kids that would be a starter on other teams. We are that deep.”
That depth was on display against the Rams (5-4, 4-2), who are in danger missing the playoffs for the first time in 23 years. Blakely, a 5-foot-6, 160-pound speedster, scored on runs of 8 and 45 yards while rushing for 163 yards in the first half, but a hip injury left him on the sideline for the final two quarters, opening the door for Ledesma and Jones. Ledesma scored on a 4-yard run and then gave the Falcons a 28-10 lead with 3:31 left on a 10-yard run.
The two combined for 102 yards, leading Blakely to admit he wasn’t necessarily fearing a letdown in the ground game with him out of action.
“It really wasn’t that tough,” he said of sitting out the second half. “I knew we had people who could go in. The big word we use is trust. I trust our backfield and our offensive line.”
The rushing game was even more important when you consider the Falcons twice drove inside the Rams 10-yard line only to lose the ball on a fumble and interception.
East Kentwood quarterback Kyle Dent, who hit 8-of-12 passes for 181 yards, said the turnovers could have been crushing.
“It shows that we can beat good teams if we stick together and overcome adversity,” he said.
Kimbrough took part of the blame on each turnover, including calling a run/pass option in windy and slippery conditions.
“It’s the first time we’ve had that," Kimbrough said of overcoming turnovers deep in opponents’ territory. "Both were bad calls by me, but we overcame them. Our kids don’t let down."
Rockford scored on a 47-yard pass from Chris Corey to Eli Haddad to tie the game 7-7 at 5:48 of the first quarter. A 43-yard field goal by Teagen Lenderink at 4:43 of the third quarter closed the margin to 14-10.
The Rams’ final scored came on a 32-yard pass from Corey to Nate Bareno with 0.6 seconds left.
East Kentwood now turns its attention to the playoffs and will host a game next weekend. The postseason has been feast or famine for the program as the Falcons lost in the first round in two of their last three appearances, but made the 2014 semifinals.
Meanwhile, Kimbrough said the team will savor a league championship.
"It’s always a goal," he said. "The last two years we’ve come up a little short so this feels great to be the league champs, especially in that we’re not sharing it.
"We’ve played some close games and it doesn’t who you play in the tournament. You can’t beat yourself. We’ll clean up some things and be ready."