BATAVIA – Excitement filled the air as a near-capacity crowd was on hand at West Clermont Stadium to witness the start of the 2022 football season at West Clermont.
And for an opener, it certainly included a number of storylines.
For starters, first-year West Clermont coach Nate Mahon faced his alma mater and a school he departed from this past off-season – the Hamilton Big Blue. Mahon’s successor – Big Blue Head Coach Arvie Crouch – was hoping to prove successful in his Hamilton debut on the opposing sideline.
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As if that wasn’t intriguing enough, a highly anticipated varsity debut was on the horizon as well. Chris Henry Jr. – son of late former Bengals wide receiver Chris Henry – was set to see his first varsity action as a freshman at West Clermont.
But in today’s action, Hamilton stole the show. Big Blue senior Semaj Aldridge broke loose to silence a ruckus West Clermont crowd on hand. Aldridge rushed for 226 yards and a pair of touchdowns to guide Hamilton to a 28-9 season-opening victory over the Wolves on Friday night.
Neither team mustered much offensively – as both defenses proved strong through one quarter of action. A safety courtesy of junior Shaun Pouncy proved to be the lone score of the quarter, as West Clermont led 2-0.
Thanks to a pair of crucial conversions, however, the Big Blue offense found its stride in the second quarter.
Junior quarterback Nicholas Lindsay connected on a pair of key 20-yard completions to keep drives going on a pair of touchdown drives. The first, resulting in a two-yard rushing score by senior Jaylan Garret, the latter on the 23-yard find by Lindsay to senior Sir’Charles Riggins. Now, Hamilton led 14-2 at the break.
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West Clermont found itself offensively on their first drive out of the break with some tempo out of the huddle. Junior tailback Mysaun Sanders accounted for 38 yards on the drive, which was capped off by a 6-yard rushing score by junior Bryson Early, trimming the lead down to 14-9.
From then on though, it was all Hamilton. Aldridge exploded for a pair of long runs – 85-yard and 75-yard rushing scores – to pole vault the Big Blue ahead for good at 28-9.
“I told him that everybody’s going to be talking about him tomorrow,” Crouch spoke of Aldridge. “What a great human being – doesn’t talk much, fast as heck, just a great kid. He tore his ACL last year and wasn’t very confident – he kind of ran out of gas there at the end, I got mad at him. . . He’s a great human being, I’m just happy for him and excited to see where this goes with him.”
The Wolves struggled to find their footing offensively for much of the night – and penalties were certainly a major factor as to why. They committed 11 penalties for 87 yards, accumulated just 146 yards of total offense, and a pair of turnovers – all detrimental in quest of an opening night victory.
In his highly anticipated debut, Henry Jr. finished with six receptions for 26 yards – often finding himself double covered with safety help over top throughout the night. His first – of many – career reception came in the first quarter on a six-yard quick hitter connection from sophomore quarterback Michael Corcoran.
As Crouch explained, Hamilton knew the kind of talent Henry Jr. possesses and was focused on making life hard for the freshman wideout.
“I’m glad we don’t have to cover him again,” Crouch spoke of Henry Jr. “Hopefully they make the playoffs and we cover him again. . . We bracketed him, double covered him, just knew where he was at. We knew our speed was going to hurt them on the edge and our defense is loaded. They came through when we needed them to come through."
Although it wasn’t a jaw-dropping debut, Henry Jr. flashed just why he’s already drawing considerable collegiate attention. The 6-foot-3-inch receiver can cause defensive backs problems with his size – though the Wolves failed to exploit his size advantage on five deep-ball attempts to Henry Jr. – and has good ability in making defenders miss.
His progression will be one to closely monitor as his varsity career ensues, as the talent is undoubtedly there.On the Hamilton sideline postgame, Crouch was ecstatic, and the energy certainly trickled to his players.
Crouch said his group had lacked confidence following last year’s 2-7 season, but a victory of this caliber on opening night could be just what the doctor ordered for a major boost.
“It feels great, man,” Crouch spoke of the win. “It feels like I’m back home. I loved Mount Healthy and the years I had there, but it was time. I had wanted this job for a long time and I knew I was the right guy for it. It just didn’t happen. Now it’s here and we’re going to keep getting better. We have a lot of work to do. We’re far from a really good team right now. But what a good start.”
“It was a great, rewarding game for us to win this and show the kids. We’re doing the right things; we’ve got good coaches. . . They did a good job of adjustments at the half, but so did we. I’ve got (an incredible) staff – one of the best staffs I’ve had or the best.”
West Clermont (0-1) will look to rebound next week at Little Miami at 7 p.m., whereas Hamilton (1-0) will host Mason for their home opener next Friday at 7 p.m.
Hamilton vs. West Clermont
Hamilton – 0 14 14 0 – 28West Clermont – 2 0 7 0 – 9
1Q: WC - Hamilton safety – forced by Pouncy on intentional grounding – 2-0 WC leads.2Q: H – Garret 2-yard rush (Grant kick) 7-2 Hamilton leads.H – Lindsay 23-yard pass to Riggins (Grant kick) 14-2 Hamilton leads.3Q – WC – Early 6-yard rush (Cooper kick) 14-9 Hamilton leads.H – Aldridge 75-yard rush (Grant kick) 21-9 Hamilton leadsH – Aldridge 85-yard rush (Grant kick) 28-9 Hamilton leads.
Next up: Hamilton (1-0) will host Mason at 7 p.m. Aug. 26. | West Clermont (0-1) will travel to Little Miami at 7 p.m. Aug. 26.
This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Hamilton football RB Semaj Aldridge shines in win over West Clermont