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Clutch Defense Guides Wilson to C North Title

“You know who you’re talking to? A league champ,” Wilson coach Bill Atlas said as he started his postgame huddle.

Atlas was indeed correct, as his Lakemen football team defeated Cleveland Hill for the first time since 2010, 25-6, to clinch the C North division title. It’s the first time Wilson has won the division since 1999.

Despite what the final score reads, it was not indicative of how the game was played for about three and a half quarters.

Defense for both squads were stellar from the start, as the Eagles forced a Lakemen turnover on downs on their first offensive possession.

Cleveland Hill was moving the ball decently on their first drive, but the possession also stalled due to a turnover on downs. The Eagles then recovered a fumble two plays later, but were unsuccessful in finding points.

The first points of the game, fittingly, came from a defense.

On a first down and 20 play, the Lakemen’s Anthony Dispenza scooped up an Eagles fumble and took it to pay dirt for a touchdown. Following the extra point Wilson led 7-0.

Wilson forced another turnover on the ensuing possession on an interception by Brayden Dunlap. The Lakemen offense was unable to convert on a long 12-play drive though which eventually was turned over on downs.

Fast forward to the final seconds of the first half, Cleveland Hill got the ball back on offense with 11 seconds left. Instead of opting to knee and take a 7-0 deficit into the break, the Eagles fumbled and gave it back to the Lakemen with four second to go. From there, Thomas Baia nailed a 35-yard field goal to extend the Wilson lead to 10-0 at the break.

Defense ran the first seven minutes of the third quarter until Cleveland Hill’s Chris Diem rushed down the sideline for a 56-yard touchdown to cut the Lakemen lead to 10-6.

The Eagles then forced a Wilson punt but went three and out on offense. That wasn’t it though. On fourth down, the snap to the Cleveland Hill punter was low and mishandled, leading to a fumble recovery by Wilson’s Drew Westmorland. The next play, Westmoreland called his own number and took a direct snap 27 yards for a score, extending the Lakemen lead to 16-6.

After the Wilson defense caused a turnover on downs, Dunlap took two carries for 80 yards, including a 60-yard run for a touchdown to make it 23-6, Wilson.

After causing another Cleveland Hill fumble, the Lakemen eventually faced a fourth down. The team brought out Baia to punt and he didn’t disappoint. The senior sent a booming punt that hit the ground around the three-yard line and bounced left out of bounds inside the one-yard line. Just a play later, the Lakemen defense stopped Cleveland Hill in the end zone for a safety, making it 25-6.

As can be imagined, Atlas and his team were pumped up after the win and the coach breathed a sigh of relief following the clinch.

“It’s absolutely awesome,” Atlas said. “Every time the banners are in the gym and I’m always looking up there, the thing that’s staring back at me is that 1999 (last division title), and we haven’t had one in the 2000s. This is a great group to get it with, so I’m proud of them.”

The Eagles have been kryptonite to the Lakemen for some time. Cleveland Hill has had their way with Wilson in years past, but to finally get a victory over the Eagles, Atlas was happy and credited their program.

“It feels great. He [Cleve Hill coach Glen Graham] puts together a really good program and he has his guys always ready to play football and they’re always tough. You could see it there,” Atlas said.

The coach also took the blame for Wilson’s struggles in the first half and added, “The worst player out here in the first half was me, and I was not happy with how I was calling plays. …But they (Cleveland Hill) were ready to fight and it was a good game.”

The Wilson defense forced four turnovers and scored a touchdown which was a key factor in the final result. With the offense not at its best today, Atlas praised his defense for their efforts, not just Friday night, but the entire season.

“It’s absolutely huge. In my opinion, its one of the best defenses in the area and they just get after it all the time. And we gave up a couple longer runs than we’re used to…but I would take this defense against anyone,” Atlas said.

Through five games now, the Wilson defense has given up just 30 points, including six to each of its last three opponents. Westmorland led the defense with seven tackles and a fumble recovery and Declan Faery and Dispenza made six and four tackles, respectively.

Offensively, Dunlap had 21 carries for 86 yards, while Westmorland had six for 59 yards and a score.

For Cleveland Hill (1-4), Diem had over 90 rushing yards and a score. The Eagles’ next contest is at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, October 12th at Clymer-Sherman-Panama.

Wilson’s (5-0) next contest is at 7 p.m. Friday, October 11th, at Silver Creek. Despite already clinching the C North crown, a win over Silver Creek would give the Lakemen a clean sweep of their division schedule.

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