Record-setting night for Keifer leads Centerville past Northmont

CLAYTON – Ryan Keifer was the happiest player on the football field Friday night. Not just because his team won. Not just because he set a Centerville receiving record.

He got to play.

Keifer’s high school football journey has been one long detour through injuries starting his sophomore year when he was supposed to be a starter. He played in five games over two seasons and caught seven passes. He missed the first two games this year while a hamstring, his back and an ankle healed.

On Friday, Keifer caught 14 passes for over 100 yards and a touchdown to help the Elks dominate Northmont 38-0 in a Greater Western Ohio Conference game that was expected to be a lot a closer.

“It means the world to me,” Keifer said. “I’ve really been waiting my chance, and I’ve just been trying to make it worth it.”

Northmont used a safety to double team Elks standout Cam Smith, who entered the game with 24 catches in four games. So quarterback Chase Harrison started throwing to Keifer, who caught nine passes as the Elks built a 28-0 halftime lead. Keifer outleaped a defender for a 4-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead late in the first quarter.

“We’ve been missing him the last couple years, so having him back and healthy is a big deal,” Harrison said.

Keifer broke the record of 13 catches set by Jake Spiewak in a 43-28 win over Fairmont in 2017.

“Jake would be the happiest person in the world for him just like we are for Ryan,” Elks head coach Brent Ullery said. “He did a heck of a job, and it’s a really special night for him.”

The Elks (4-1, 2-0 GWOC) were sharp on offense in their first win over Northmont since 2016, but they got some help. The Thunderbolts (2-2, 0-2) fumbled in Centerville territory twice in the first quarter and turned the ball over on downs just past midfield in the second quarter. The Elks responded with a touchdown each time.

“You can’t turn the ball over in the GWOC against anybody because the other teams are so good, so explosive,” Northmont coach Tony Broering said. “Once we turned the ball over a couple, three times, that’s it.”

Harrison, a senior, picked apart the Northmont defense, completing 19 of 26 passes for 182 yards in the first half and three touchdowns. He hit Nic Bruder from 19 yards for the first score. When the safety began paying more attention to Keifer, Harrison connected with Smith from four yards. Harrison finished 24 of 33 for 237 yards and rushed nine times for 82 yards and a 14-yard touchdown.

“The last two weeks he’s been a different player,” Ullery said of Harrison, who is committed to play at Marshall. “He moves the ball around well, he makes great decisions, he runs the offense. He can still get better, and he’s still compelled to learn, but he’s shown a lot of growth the past two weeks.”

The Elks allowed only 176 yards, and with their first shutout are allowing an average of 10.2 points a game.

“Anytime they’re flying around you know the other team’s going to be in for a long night,” Ullery said. “Our defense has gotten exponentially better every week.”

Neither coach expected a final score close to what happened. Northmont has been on the other side of scores like this one a lot in recent seasons.

“We only have one rule on the team and that’s to be a good teammate,” Broering said. “It’s kind of easy to be a good teammate when you win all the time, and we’ve been winning a lot. But now we’re going to see who’s really got that in their spirit and love for their teammates.”

Centerville has been more of a .500 team in recent seasons, and Keifer, even though he hasn’t played a lot, sees why the Elks are winning.

“I can tell this year that the team’s pretty different compared to the last couple years,” he said. “We’re a lot tighter, we have a bond and hopefully we’ll be able to turn the culture around and get it going in the right direction.”

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