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Close call: Wildcats rally over James Wood

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James Wood's Chad Potter is tripped up after a short first quarter gain. Dennis Grundman/Daily

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James Wood's TJ Bruce breaks up a pass intended for Matthew Nicholson of Warren County. Dennis Grundman/Daily

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Warren County’s Tyler Post (10) outruns James Wood’s Christian Bean for a long gain during their game Friday in Front Royal. Dennis Grundman/Daily

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Warren County's Gage Steele powers his way to a first half touchdown past Erik Bearer of James Wood. Dennis Grundman/Daily

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James Wood's Jake Lewin attempts to block Robert Canby of Warren County while trying to run for yardage. Dennis Grundman/Daily

By Jeff Nations - jnations@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL -- Warren County junior quarterback Tyler Post needed a little clarification Friday night when asked about Matt Nicholson's spectacular play against James Wood.

Which play, after all -- the 5-yard touchdown grab Nicholson hauled in against the Colonels? Or his 71-yard punt return for a touchdown, maybe? Possibly Nicholson's spectacular 25-yard reception during the Wildcats' go-ahead drive, or his gutsy conversion run following that same score which capped the scoring in Warren County's 29-21 victory -- that play?

All of the above, really, as Nicholson sparked the Wildcats to a thrilling come-from-behind victory in front of a packed Homecoming crowd.

"We knew we had to pass a lot," Nicholson said. "Our receivers have great hands and our quarterback threw perfect balls out there for us to catch.

"We made plays, and Tyler put it in perfect position for us to go up and get the ball."

Tied at 14-all heading into the second half, Warren County (5-0) forced the Colonels to punt on the opening drive of the third quarter and Nicholson snatched the momentum from there, threading his way downfield for a 71-yard punt return for the score.

"I couldn't have done it without the punt return team out there," Nicholson said. "They made some good blocks for me to take it to the house."

Nicholson's touchdown was the only score of the third quarter, despite James Wood (2-4) dominating possession for nearly the entire eight minutes. The Wildcats ran just two offensive plays in the quarter.

Perhaps that factored in Wildcats coach Tony Tallent's risky decision to try a fake punt at the James Wood 47-yard line early in the fourth quarter. It didn't work, as the Colonels threw the Wildcats for a 1-yard loss. Even worse for Warren County, the previously slow-moving James Wood offense suddenly turned quick strike when Jake Lewin connected with Chad Potter on a 43-yard touchdown strike that tied the game at 21-all with 7:45 to go.

Starting at their own 9, the Wildcats had a response. Their 11-play, 91-yard drive burned more than five minutes off the game clock and featured a pinpoint passing attack complement, the hard running of feature back Gage Steele (game-high 109 rushing yards). Post called Nicholson's 25-yard grab over tight coverage "a magnificent catch," but it was just the first of three in the drive. Damien Wright beat good coverage for a key 19-yard reception on third down to move the chains, and Christopher Larsen's 27-yard grab came against a similarly good defense. Larsen's grab put the Wildcats at the James Wood 4, and two plays later Post bulled in from the goal line for the game-winning touchdown.

"They played it really well," Bolin said of his team's pass coverage during the drive. "We were there. We just didn't step up and make a play when we had to."

With 2:18 to play, James Wood still had a chance. Chad Potter's end-around run for 17 yards got the Colonels into Wildcats' territory and Lewin hit T.J. Bruce for an 11-yard pass play to the Warren County 36.

The Wildcats brought a heavy rush on the following play, as Glen Pinard and Deron Yates combined to throw Lewin for a 10-yard loss. That play put the Colonels in a long-yardage situation, and looking at fourth-and-5 at the Warren 31, Bolin decided to try that Potter end-around one more time. It didn't work, as Robert Canby and Post chased Potter to the sideline for just a 1-yard gain that effectively sealed up the victory.

"In hindsight, I knew they were going to be ready for it," Bolin said. "We average 15, 20 yards a pop on that reverse. I guess they knew it was coming. Might not have been the best play call, but we had to go with something that the players knew that we could run and get positive yardage."

James Wood rocked the Wildcats with a pair of first-half touchdowns to take a 14-0 lead, as Aaron Clark got the first score on a 20-yard run and added another 1-yard touchdown run with 9:10 left in the first half.

That followed on the heels of a lost opportunity for the Wildcats, who had a clear path to the end zone on a long Post pass but dropped the ball.

After Clark's second score, the Wildcats got into gear and put together a 12-play, 64-yard drive capped by Steele's 6-yard touchdown run.

The Wildcats held on defense, forcing another Colonels punt and getting the ball back in Post's hands with 1:50 left in the half. Eight plays later, Nicholson had his touchdown catch.

"They were making great catches out there for me," Post said of his receivers. "I can't thank them enough, and especially the line for holding up for us."

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