In a battle for Greater Miami Conference supremacy, Fairfield asserted its dominance in the second half to earn a 33-7 victory over Lakota West.
Head coach Jason Krause and Fairfield (4-0, 2-0 GMC) entered play ranked second in Division I, Region 4 with Tom Bolden and Lakota West (3-1, 2-0 GMC) right behind them. With the packed stadium already buzzing before the opening kick, the Indians took the field and ran over to the Lakota West side of the stands and jumped up and down before heading back to their side of the field. If there was any question about the importance of this one, Fairfield answered it before opening kickoff.
The story entering the game was undoubtedly the rushing attack for both teams, and what each defense would be able to do to slow it down. Through four games heading into Friday’s showdown, Fairfield senior Jutahn McClain had amassed a conference-high 689 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground while Lakota senior David Afari had 465 yards and a GMC-best nine total TDs (eight rushing).
With both defenses zeroed in on these two players, it was tough sledding in the first half for both Afari and McClain. The Indians held Afari to just one yard on nine first half attempts. McClain managed 43 first-half yards, but his 4.3 yards per carry fell well short of his over eight yards per tote season average. Lakota was making him work for every yard.
But it was a tale of two halves as McClain broke loose in the final two quarters. He added to his conference rushing lead with nearly 200 yards on the ground when it was all said and done, including a 48-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter and 68-yard score in the fourth quarter that served as the exclamation point for the Indians, making it 33-7.
“I have faith in my line,” McClain said. “We just had to break them down a little bit. They’re gonna start off fast like us and it was going to be a dogfight at first, but we knew that we were going to bounce back in the second half.”
Before the rushing attack got going, Fairfield found other sources of offense in senior quarterback Sawiaha Ellis and junior Jaydan Mayes. Ellis entered the game with an unbelievably efficient 76.5% completion percentage and only bolstered that number in this game. He kept plays alive with his legs, made the smart, easy throws and most importantly, protected the football.
Mayes was a one-man show on the late third quarter/early fourth quarter drive that put the nail in the coffin for West. He broke free for a 49-yard run down the right sideline and a couple plays later was at the receiving end of a 23-yard touchdown pass on fourth and 20.
“Week in and week out we have different guys stepping up,” Krause said. “The great thing is the balance we have right now offensively. We’re starting to not be so one-dimensional.”
Unforced errors plagued both teams early, as a botched snap on Lakota’s first offensive play would lead to the game’s first score courtesy of McClain and a 7-0 Fairfield lead. But the Indians committed two facemask penalties in the first quarter to extend drives, one of which led to the game-tying 22-yard TD on a heave against heavy pressure from Firebird quarterback Mitch Bolden to Afari in the first quarter.
Unfortunately for Lakota, that would be the end of the scoring as the offense was unable to get much going against Fairfield’s relentless and suffocating defense led by juniors Brandon Smith and Omar Shteiwi who seemingly lived in the Firebirds backfield.
The best opportunity West had came from self-inflicted wounds by Fairfield. Late in the third quarter when it was just 20-7, the Indians committed three consecutive penalties and gave West 45 free yards on those flags. But they tightened up and again were able to prevent the Firebirds from chipping away at their lead.
Lakota also had issues with low and mishandled snaps all night, leading to sacks, busted plays and the first quarter turnover.
“We felt like our defense was going to be pretty special, but they played really well tonight, they played fast,” Krause said. “It started with our scheme. We didn’t try to stop everything. We just knew we had to stop their best stuff.”
Next up for Fairfield is a home contest against Lakota East while Lakota West will play at Oak Hills.