Associate Sports Editor
Columbian needed a jolt of energy in the first quarter, especially after Madison put together a touchdown drive on its first possession.
All-Ohio receiver Derek Kneeskern has proven to be a great provider of that in his career, and Friday against the Rams at Frost-Kalnow Stadium was no exception. He and Tyler Ward, who scored three touchdowns in the second quarter, turned a tight battle through one quarter into a blowout by halftime.
Despite running just 16 first-half plays to Madison's 33, the host Tornadoes had 249 yards and a 33-7 halftime lead on their way to a 39-23 victory that wasn't as close as the score indicated.
Kneeskern's 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown erased the Rams' momentum and gave the Tornadoes the lift they needed - not only after a 35-7 home loss to Whitmer in their opener, but also after they turned it over on the second play from scrimmage Friday.
Columbian 39, Madison 23
Madison Comp.7 0 214 - 23
Columbian627 0 7 - 39
MC - Casey Benavides 4 run (Robert Siwek kick), 7:24
TC - Derek Kneeskern 99 kick return (Kneeskern kick failed), 7:10
TC - Tyler Ward 41 run (Ryan Tittle run failed), 11:05
TC - Ward 31 pass from Tittle (Kneeskern kick), 7:50
TC - Ward 69 run (Kneeskern kick), 3:05
TC - Kneeskern 50 pass from Tittle (Kneeskern kick), 2:38
MC - Safety, Tittle tackled in end zone, 7:25
TC - Mike Lee 15 run (Kneeskern kick failed), 11:53
MC - Ryan Pluck 6 run (Siwek kick), 6:20
MC - Vincent Ajian 60 fumble return (Siwek kick), 2:59
RUSHING: Madison - Pluck 16-78; Rambo 10-50; Benavides 10-49; Brad Robinson 7-3; Cory Hornikel 6-28; Cody Thompson 6-23; Alek Lampert 4-25. Columbian - Tittle 9-30; Ward 7-140; Derec Blodgett 5-25; Nate Burns 4-19; Lee 1-15; Vince Kurtz 1-3; Ben Davis 1-1; Jordan Coger 1-(minus 6).
PASSING: Madison - Robinson 1-4-0-12; Lampert 0-2-0-0. Columbian - Tittle 5-9-2-114.
RECEIVING: - Christopher Elswick 1-12. - Kneeskern 2-67; Ward 2-44; Hernandez 1-3.
"We had to make something happen," Columbian coach Steve Gilbert said. "We knew if we could get some energy, we could make things happen.
"We got playing the way we were capable of playing. We thought we were better on the perimeter, and that's where we wanted to take advantage. The second play, if he throws it, we had Derek deep."
Instead, Ryan Tittle's pass to an open Kneeskern fluttered and got picked off by Cody Matern at the Madison 41.
The Rams' T-formation offense plowed down the field in nine rushing plays, the final one a 4-yard jaunt by Casey Benavides. Robert Siwek booted the PAT at the 7:24 mark.
It took Kneeskern just 14 seconds to answer, as he galloped untouched through a good hole right in the middle and found no resistance after the first wave of defenders.
After forcing a Madison punt on the next possession, Columbian took over at its own 12. Seven plays later, from the Madison 41, Ward took an inside handoff, made quick cut toward the near sideline and was off to the races, reaching the pylon with a dive when he got tripped up.
Ryan Tittle's scramble for the two-point conversion was stopped short, but Columbian was ahead 12-7 with 11:05 left in the half and in control.
A three-and-out and 14-yard punt later, Columbian took over at Madison's 34. On third-and-seven, Ward took a swing pass from Tittle, weaved through some fine blocking by the receivers and eluded a man at midfield on his way to a 31-yard score at the 7:50 mark.
"We knew coming in they had some big-play capability and some speed," said Madison first-year coach Kevin Maltarich, whose team fell to 0-2. "They found some mismatches and took advantage.
"It's a matter of just shooting ourselves in the foot. A bad play on offense hurt us on defense. We have to learn to recover."
Madison responded by driving to the Tornadoes' 26. But on third-and-11, Alex Lampert's ill-advised counter pitch resulted in a back getting crunched by freshman linebacker Jack Jacoby, and Columbian fell on the loose ball at the 31.
On the next play, Ward burst through for a 69-yard run, and Kneeskern's PAT made it 26-7 with 3:05 remaining.
Safety Jesse Hernandez forced a fumble by fullback Chris Rambo on Madison's next play, giving TC the ball at midfield. Tittle then went over the top to an open Kneeskern for a 50-yard TD pass.
In addition to his offensive prowess (140 yards on just seven rushes), Ward made several stops from his outside linebacker spot as Columbian mostly employed a 4-4 look against Madison's run-heavy offense. Tackle Kyle Saxton (1 1/2 sacks) also was a terror on defense, and
Jacoby's hit came on his first play in after replacing injured starter Vince Kurtz.
"Tyler Ward probably played as good a game on both sides of the ball, defense in addition to offense, and Jack Jacoby comes in and helps out at linebacker," Gilbert said. "Derek, we got him the ball better.
"The key was young kids stepped up. We didn't panic."
Back-to-back botched plays resulted in Tittle getting thrown for a safety in the third quarter, and the junior quarterback threw another interception on TC's next possession.
But Kneeskern's 46-yard punt return set up Mike Lee's 15-yard touchdown run on a jet sweep, giving Columbian its final points with 11:53 left in the game.
Columbian gave up 266 rushing yards, but 70 of those came on the Rams' scoring drive against the JV defense in the fourth. In between that and the Rams' first drive, they had just 130 yards (12 coming on their lone completed pass) on seven possessions.
"Part of it was trying to simulate their offense is not an easy thing to do," Gilbert said. "Once we got a better feel for it, we started making plays. A lot of the turnovers we forced, it was because we were playing physical.
"We got some key plays, some key stops, and our defense really rallied."
After getting that jolt of energy.