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Playoff chance here for Warren, at last

By JORDAN HOLLAND

Associate Sports Editor

VINCENT — This is the opportunity Warren has been waiting for.

The Warriors have never won a playoff football game in program history. They’ll get a chance to change that at 7 p.m. Saturday when they play host to Columbus East in the first round of the Division IV tournament. Warren earned the No. 8 seed in Region 15 after a 5-1 regular season.

“We’ve seen them on film and they’ve got athletes across the board,” said Warren head coach Matt Kimes, who is 11-5 as the Warriors’ boss. “They struggle with consistency, but they’re capable. We’ve seen their week one film and week three film, and the growth they’ve made in a couple weeks is tremendous. Credit to their coaches and their kids.”

East is 1-2 after not playing the first three weeks of the season due to COVID-19. Their most recent contest was a 14-6 win over Linden McKinley last Friday.

“They try to spread you out and get you in space,” Kimes said of the East offense. “They’ve got kids capable of making plays. We have to make sure we’re playing assignment football and we have to make sure they don’t ‘big play’ us.”

Warren dominated Fairfield Union last Friday, 59-13. The defense has allowed just 27 points over the last four games, including two shutouts, while the offense appears to be hitting its stride.

“We’ve just got to keep playing well on both sides of the ball,” said Warren quarterback Kurt Taylor. “The defense has been awesome, and the offense is finally clicking.”

Taylor became Warren’s all-time leading passer in the Fairfield Union game, passing Dylan Leffingwell. This season, he has 81 completions on 135 attempts, 1,265 yards, 14 touchdowns and four interceptions.

“It’s definitely pretty cool having the opportunity to be the first quarterback with 5,000 career yards,” Taylor said. “I wouldn’t be able to do that without my offensive line and all our playmakers. I just get the ball out to them and they do the rest.”

Evan Gandee also had a big game against Fairfield Union and has racked up 40 catches, 741 yards and nine touchdowns. He’s sitting at 149 receptions, 2,290 yards and 21 touchdowns for his career, all Warren records.

“It’s always awesome having a guy like that who you can rely on to make a big play,” Taylor said. “It’s been pretty cool to see him become the playmaker he is today.”

As far as Saturday’s playoff showdown, Taylor likes Warren’s chances but isn’t taking East lightly.

“They’ve got athletes who can make plays, but I think across the board we match up well,” he said.

“It’s definitely different being the first opportunity on school history to win a playoff game. Our goal is not just to win one game, but win multiple games and make it really special for us. This is what we’ve been working for our whole high school career.”

Taylor said East runs a 4-4 cover 3 defense and thinks Warren can attack them through the air. Kimes agreed and thinks they can present some difficult challenges for the Tigers.

“We’re so multiple, it makes us difficult to stop,” the coach said. “They’re going to try I think to use their athletes to cover our receivers, but until you actually get on the field, it’s tough to know if they’ll be able top guard our guys. We’ve got to be able to make plays, mix up some formations, give them different looks and play fast. I think we have a good plan. We’ve also got to be able to run the football.”

Brayden Gerber (44 carries, 166 yards), Taylor Bowers (32-183), Taylor (43-136) and Jason Williams (13-133) are some options to run the ball for Warren.

Defensively, Warren hopes to make things tough for East. Linebacker J.T. Rice leads Warren with 56 total tackles. Josh Welch has a team-high three sacks and six tackles for a loss. Peyten Kellar has three interceptions while Gandee and Welch both have two.

“I think we’re pretty focused on trying to do something special,” Kimes said. “These kids have bought in from day one and they understand what’s in front of them.

“From where this program was and where it is now, the drastic change that’s occured is pretty awesome. Kids were tired of being a laughing stock, going 0-10, 1-9, 2-8 every year. They were tired of it and they put the work in, commited to each other and set a goal bigger than themselves. Now they get to reap the rewards of their committment. I truly feel we’ve got a chance to make a big time run. It’s going to take a special performance to knock us out.”

Jordan Holland can be reached at jholland@mariettatimes.com.

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