Big plays hurt Kettering Fairmont Firebirds defense, but rushing attack led by Drew Baker saved the day

Kettering, Ohio – Friday, September 10, 2021, the Kettering Fairmont Firebirds hosted the Northmont Thunderbolts from Clayton, Ohio. Going into the game the Firebirds were undefeated with a 3-0 record. 

Kettering opened the season with a 16-7 win against their crosstown rivals Archbishop Alter Knights (1-2). The Firebirds followed up with a week two 35-0 thrashing of the Trotwood-Madison Rams (0-2). In their last non-conference game of the season, in week three Kettering defeated the Chaminade-Julienne Eagles (1-2) of Dayton 24-7.

In their first three games, the Firebirds averaged 35 points per game. According to, going into their matchup with Northmont, the Firebirds were ranked #30 in the State of Ohio, #17 in Ohio Division 1, and #2 in Dayton varsity football.

Going into the game against Kettering, the Thunderbolts were also undefeated with a 2-0 record. Northmont opened the season with a 28-13 victory over the Butler Aviators (0-2) of Vandalia. The Thunderbolts followed up with a 42-19 victory over the Dunbar Wolverines (1-2) of Dayton.

In their first two games of the season, the Thunderbolts averaged 25 points per game. Entering the clash with Kettering, MaxPreps ranked the Thunderbolts 54th in Ohio, and 26th in Ohio Division I, and 6th
in Dayton.

Given the greater per game point average and the higher MaxPreps Rankings, the Firebirds appeared to be the favorite to beat Northmont in their first 2021 Greater Western Ohio Conference (GWOC) game.

But the game started off rocky for Kettering. Northmont won the coin toss and deferred, giving the Firebirds the ball first. #30 Drew Baker took the opening kickoff from Thunderbolt’s kicker #43 Xavier Vuong. Baker then went on to dominate Kettering’s’ first drive and the team's rushing attack for the entire game. 

The Firebird’s 10 play opening drive stalled when #8 Soso Poe fumbled the ball out of bounds and Kettering was called for a 15-yard chop-block penalty. With the ball on their own 35-yard line, on 3rd and 25, Firebirds senior quarterback #4 Malek Hillon put the ball back into Poe’s hands who broke a 14-yard rush to the 49-yard line. But it was still 4th and 11 and #16 Will Holt was brought into the game to punt it away to Northmont.

Despite not scoring, Kettering’s rushing game did burn up a large portion of the first-quarter clock. Northmont’s #5 junior Javien Brownlee called for a fair catch of Holt’s punt. The thunderbolts took their first possession of the game on their own 13-yard line. On their first two plays from scrimmage, the Thunderbolts managed an incomplete pass and a 3-yard rush. This set-up a 3rd
and 7 from the Thunderbolt 16. On the 3rd and 7 play, Thunderbolts sophomore quarterback #1 Cahke’ Cortner dropped back and threw a short pass to Brownlee. Brownlee caught the ball and flew 84 yards down the far sideline for a Thunderbolts Touchdown. Vuong tacked on the extra point, giving Northmont a 7-0 lead with 3:47 left in the first quarter.

Baker took the kickoff on the goal line and brought it all the way back to the 42-yard line, setting up Kettering with great field position. But Baker's effort was negated because of a holding penalty that brought the ball all the way back to the 20-yard line. Kettering plodded the ball up to the 36-yard line. On the final play of the quarter, Hillon dropped back to try a pass but was tackled by Northmont’s #90 junior Peyton Lupton. The quarter ended with Kettering having a 3rd and 8 from the 36-yard line. Kettering trailed Northmont by a 7-0 score.

Kettering opened the second quarter with a romp by Poe for a first down. Officials tacked on another 15 yards because of a Thunderbolts face mask penalty. This gave Fairmont a first and ten on the Thunderbolts 37. Fairmont moved the ball to the Northmont 25-yard line on rushes from Hillon and Baker. On first and 10, Baker put the Firebirds in the red zone with a 12 yard rush to the 13-yard line. Fairmont then gave the ball to Baker for three consecutive rushes that gave the Firebirds their first touchdown of the night. After a Holt extra point, the score was tied 7-7 with 9:10 to go in the 2nd quarter.

Cortner took Holt’s kickoff giving the Thunderbolts the ball on the 22-yard line. Northmont ran three plays securing a first down on the 33-yard line. On first and 10, Cortner completed a pass out to the right to senior #26 Malachi Staffney. But the gain didn’t stand because junior #24 Noah Mcclure was called for holding. With the ball on the 23-yard line, Northmont only netted only two yards over three plays, giving them 3rd and 18 yards to go for a first down.

On 3rd and 18, Cortner threw a quick pass out to Brownlee. Brownlee caught the ball and instead of running he looked downfield and threw down the right side to #10 sophomore Dalin Wilkins for a 75-yard pass for a touchdown. Vuong nailed the extra point to give Northmont a 14-7 lead.

Kettering Junior #15 Grayson Holbrook returned the kickoff to the 29-yard line to set up the Firebirds' third offensive possession of the night. Poe and Baker combined for three rushes that pushed the ball just into Northmont territory. On 2nd and 5, Fairmont fumbled and the ball was recovered by the Thunderbolt’s Lupton on the Northmont 40 yard line.

The Thunderbolts worked the ball from their own 40 to the Fairmont 15-yard line. The drive included a quarterback keeper by Cortner on 4th and 4 that gave the Thunderbolts a first and 10 on the 15. But on first and 10, Cortner was sacked for a loss. On second and 13 from the 18-yard line and only 40 seconds left on the clock, Cortner tried two passes that landed incomplete. This left Northmont with 4th
and 13 from the 18-yard line. The Thunderbolts brought in Vuong for a field goal attempt, but after a timeout, Northmont changed their mind and brought the offense back onto the field. Cortner launched a pass into the endzone that turned into a jump ball that was batted away by the Firebirds defense.

After taking over on downs, with about 5 seconds left in the half, Fairmont did not try to advance the ball. At the half, the score remained Fairmont 7 – Northmont 14.

The Firebirds opened the second half with Holt kicking off to Northmont who took the ball on the 15-yard line. The Firebird defense stymied the Thunderbolts offense on this drive. Northmont ended up punting on 4th
and 17 from their own 7-yard line.

Fairmont took the punt with a fair catch on the Thunderbolt 49-yard line. Fairmont methodically moved the ball down to the 10-yard line with a drive that mostly featured rushes from Baker. On 4th and 10 from about the 10, the Firebirds brought in Holt to try a field goal. Holt nailed the kick, making the score Fairmont 10 – Northmont 14 with 2:44 to go in the 3rd

Northmont responded to Kettering’s field goal quickly. The Thunderbolts returned Holt’s kickoff all the way back to the 49-yard line. Then on first and 10, Staffney broke a 45-yard rush all the way down to the Firebird 6-yard line. On 3rd and goal from the 3, Staffney ended the drive by plowing into the endzone for a touchdown. Vuong made the extra point. The score was Fairmont 10 – Northmont 21 with 1:07 left in the 3rd quarter.

After the kickoff, Fairmont started their next drive from their own 27-yard line. On two plays, Baker rushed for 13 yards moving the ball to the 40-yard line. On first and 10 from the 40, Baker capped off the 3rd
quarter by ripping off a 40-yard rush pushing the ball all the way to the Thunderbolts 20-yard line.

Kettering took three plays to move the ball from the 20-yard line to the 8-yard line. Then on first and goal from the 8, the Firebirds punched the ball into the endzone for a touchdown. The 73-yard drive was dominated by Baker rushes. Instead of bringing in Holt to try a kick for an extra point, Fairmont kept the offense on the field and tried a 2-point conversion. Hillon dropped back and tried to make the 2-point conversion with a pass, but it dropped incomplete. With 10:10 left in the game, Fairmont now trailed 16-21.

The Kettering defense completely shut down Northmont’s next offensive possession. After the kickoff, the Thunderbolts started the possession on their own 20-yard line. Cortner completed a 5-yard pass to Brownlee on first down. Then on second and 5, the Firebirds stopped the Thunderbolts' rusher for a 2-yard loss. On 3rd and 7, Cortner threw an incomplete pass.

On 4th and 7 from their own 23-yard line, the Thunderbolts punted to the Firebirds. Fairmont started the drive on their own 46-yard line. Hillon opened the drive with a rush of 2-yards. On 2nd and 8 from the 48, Lupton broke through the line to sack Hillon for a 3-yard loss. On 3rd  and 11 from the 45, Poe took the ball 10-yards to the Northmont 45 setting up a 4th and 1. To keep the drive alive, the Firebirds put the ball into the hands of their primary rusher Baker, who took the ball 3-yards to the 42-yard line and a first down.

Featuring Baker rushes, Kettering worked the ball down to the Northmont 10-yard line with 2:50 left in the game. From the 10, the Firebirds only took two plays to put the ball in the endzone to take their first lead of the night 22-21. With just under two minutes to go in the game, after a timeout, Fairmont put the offense on the field for their second try at a 2-point conversion. This time the Firebirds' 2-point attempt was good, making the score Fairmont 24 – Northmont 21.

It turned out that the extra two points did not make a difference. Northmont got the ball back on their own 20-yard line on a touchback after Holt booted the Kettering kickoff into the endzone. Cortner started the attempted comeback with two incomplete passes. On 3rd and 10 from the 20, Cortner dropped back for a third pass attempt. But the Firebird defense sacked Cortner for a 10-yard loss. After Northmont's final timeout, on 4th
and 20 from the 10, Cortner dropped back and unleashed a pass that was almost intercepted but dropped incomplete.

Kettering Fairmont took over on downs with just over a minute left in the game. The Firebirds did not try to advance the ball and took a knee to run out the clock for their 4th win of the season.

With the victory, the Firebirds went to an undefeated 4-0 record and sat atop the GWOC standings.

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