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Canton remains undefeated by improving to 5-0

CANTON – Fast starts followed by good defense will win you most football games. That has been the formula for Canton this year, and that continued on Friday.

The Warriors scored on their first two touches of the game to race out to a 14-0 lead less than three minutes into the contest, and then proceeded to hold Northwest to just 72 yards and four first downs in the game, as Canton blanked the Rangers, 42-0, to remain unbeaten at the midpoint of the regular season.

“We’ve been starting real fast all year,” said Canton coach Tyler Sechrist. “We had some penalties that pushed us back in the first half and that’s not like us, but then they responded in the second half and regrouped and came back.”

Canton received the opening kickoff and started its first drive at its own 36, from which quarterback Cooper Kitchen called his own number on an option play and burst up the middle for a 64-yard touchdown run just 20 seconds into the game.

Northwest went three-and-out on its first possession and was forced to punt, which was a decent one that went all the way back to the Canton 22, but Weston Bellows returned it 78 yards for a touchdown to make it 14-0 less than three minutes into the game. Bellows had a big night in the return game, as he had 119 punt return yards and 184 all-purpose yards.

Canton had 406 total yards, including 348 on the ground, as the Warriors were dominant on the line on both sides of the ball. The Warriors had a pair of 100-yard rushers as Riley Parker led the way with 172 yards on 11 carries and a touchdown, while Kitchen added 104 yards on nine carries to his touchdown. Hayden Ward scored three touchdowns, two rushing and one receiving.

About the only thing that slowed down Canton was penalties, as the Warriors committed nine and 107-yards worth of penalties. Those held Canton back on its next two drives following Bellows’ punt return touchdown and the Warriors didn’t score on either drive.

However, the Warrior defense stepped up when its offense was slowed. It produced a safety later in the first quarter when Northwest was called for intentional grounding in the end zone.

Canton defenders spent a good portion of the night in the Northwest backfield. Canton record five sacks, and the Warriors stopped Northwest for negative yardage on 13 plays, and also recorded an interception.

“Our defensive coordinator, Greg Bellows, does a great job on showing different looks, creating pressures, and we have a group of kids that are smart enough to run a few defenses and that really helps,” said Sechrist. “We were having a little trouble on the line because Northwest came at us and looked decent on the line. We weren’t handling them like we have handled other teams this year so I think those different looks, fronts and coverages made a big difference.”

On one drive midway through the second quarter, Caiden Williams recorded back-to-back sacks to force a punt, then burst through the line to block the punt.

Just prior to that drive, Canton made it 23-0 on Kitchen’s 20-yard touchdown pass to Ward, but that was the only drive out of four that the Warriors scored on after taking that initial 14-0 lead.

“Believe it or not, outside of (those two scoring plays), we played halfway decent in the first half and then we got a turnover early in the second half and we’re knocking on the door, but instead of going forward we go backwards,” said Northwest coach Lon Hazlet. “We didn’t do a lot of things well tonight, especially in the first half on special teams. We couldn’t run the ball well. They were very aggressive and they run a lot of pressure and we didn’t do a good job of picking that up.”

Despite their offensive struggles, it was just three-possession game at halftime, and Northwest had an opportunity to inch closer early in the third. After going three-and-out on their first drive of the second half, the Rangers got a gift when Canton mishandled a punt of its own, resulting in the Rangers taking over at the Canton 25 at the 7:55 mark of the third.

Northwest picked up eight yards on first down to get it to the Canton 17, but in a perfect illustration of how the game went, Canton stopped the Rangers for a loss on their next three plays and took over.

From that point, the Warriors scored on three of their next four drives to extend the lead into the mercy rule early in the fourth quarter. Parker, who had just 27 yards at halftime, ripped off three straight long runs to give a boost to Canton’s offense. He fumbled the ball away after a 45-yard gain on the ensuing drive after Northwest’s three straight negative plays, but Canton got the ball back on an interception by Bailey Ferguson.

Parker then went 44 yards for a touchdown on the third play of Canton’s next drive to make it 29-0. After Ward extended Canton’s lead to 36-0 with a 23-yard touchdown on a one-play drive early in the fourth, Parker went 39 yards on the first play of Canton’s next drive, and Ward finished that two-play drive off with a six-yard touchdown for his third score of the game.

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