WELDON SPRING • On the second play from scrimmage, Aidan McDaniel did something he didn't do all last week.
He threw an incomplete pass.
But, on the very next play, McDaniel hit Jackson Hetzel for a 92-yard TD strike and Francis Howell was on its way to a 34-14 win over Fort Zumwalt West in a GAC South showdown Friday night at Francis Howell High.
“We came out of the locker room and knew we had to fire off,” McDaniel said. “We've started slow the past five games and we just had to show them what we were made of on homecoming. We couldn't mess up and we couldn't let the fans down. We have all these fireworks and everything.”
McDaniel, who had nearly 400 yards passing during his perfect night one week ago in a win at Troy, finished the night 15-of-24 passing for 397 yards and two touchdowns and he ran for two more scores.
“This game, we wanted to establish the run game, but this kid can just sling the ball, man,” Francis Howell coach Brent Chojnacki said. “He's just making it happen on the outside with those receivers. There's just this chemistry with him and those four or five guys that we have outside.”
After starting the season with a pair of losses, the Vikings (4-2 overall, 3-0 conference) have now reeled off four straight victories.
“I feel like it's a fantastic team win and a great conference win, but we're looking forward to the next one. We're one week at a time,” said Francis Howell junior linebacker Charlton Watson, who had a game-high 13 tackles. “But, they're a great team and I feel like we'll see them again.”
Fort Zumwalt West (2-4, 2-1) got 176 yards passing from Jake Murphy and 94 yards on the ground from James Strauss in losing for the first time in three games after an 0-3 start.
“Right now for us, offensively, we've got to find a way to be more productive and more efficient,” Jaguars coach Neil Nowack said. “We've been in four games against really good people and we're two to three scores behind them right now, so we've got to find a way to make up that ground and find a way to execute better.”
After a five-yard loss on the ground and the incomplete pass on the first two plays from scrimmage, McDaniel hit Hetzel in stride at the Vikings' 40 and the 6-foot-2 junior wide receiver did the rest, racing down the Fort Zumwalt West sideline for the 92-yard score and a 7-0 lead just 52 seconds into the game.
“I knew he'd do his job and get past his defender,” McDaniel said. “He's a fast guy. He's a beast.”
McDaniel did it with his legs on the next series with a 4-yard scoring run to cap off a 12-play, 80-yard drive that put the Vikings up 14-0 midway through the first quarter.
The Jaguars got on the board early in the second quarter when left-handed quarterback Jake Murphy rolled to his right and threw across his body to Kyle Matyiko for a 40-yard score.
The Vikings answered on their next drive with a 26-yard field goal by John Recca and then increased their lead to 24-7 on a 12-yard McDaniel pass to Daylan Dalton.
But, that play would prove costly for the Vikings, as Dalton, the team's top playmaker, was injured on the tackle attempt near the goal line and didn't return to the game, emerging from the halftime locker room on crutches.
Bailey Ryan filled in admirably for Dalton in the second half with three catches for 73 yards.
“Bailey Ryan is a guy that pushes Daylan in practice,” Chojnacki said. “He's a guy we trust throwing in there and a guy we thought may be playing on the outside for us this year.”
Fort Zumwalt West compiled a nice drive just before halftime and had a chance to cut its deficit to two touchdowns going into the locker room, but Trey Durbin's 28-yard field goal attempt at the halftime buzzer had more than enough distance, but sailed wide left.
The Jaguars put together another impressive drive on the opening series of the second half and Matyiko found the end zone for the second time, this one a 3-yard scamper on a direct snap to cut the Francis Howell lead to 24-14.
“Kyle's a guy that we started using two weeks ago and he's done a great job for us,” Nowack said. “He catches the ball well, he's a physical kid, he runs the ball well. So, he's been a nice little mix to our offense helping us take a little of the load off James Strauss.”
Recca booted his second field goal, a 27-yarder, nearly four minutes later to extend the Vikings' lead to 13 points.
Recca misfired on a 33-yard attempt midway through the fourth, but an interception by Gus Hetzel gave Francis Howell the ball back and McDaniel wrapped up the scoring and put the game on ice with his fourth TD of the game, second on the ground - 2-yard run with 3:47 left to make it 34-14.
The Jaguars drove down the field in the game's waning moments, but the Vikings made a huge defensive stand at the end of the game, stopping Fort Zumwalt West on the 1-yard line as time expired.
“It was important for us to keep them off the board because we thought there was a chance they'd go for two and with the district seedings, we could have lost that 13-point thing,” Chojnacki said. “Those guys stepped up big.”