PDT Sports Writer
LUCASVILLE — In the last 10 meetings between Minford and Valley, seven points or less was the deciding factor on the scoreboard in five of those contests.
After Friday night’s encounter, make it six out of 11. Will Howard’s sneak into the end zone with seven seconds left in the half was all the scoring the host Indians needed as they survived with a 7-0 win over the rival Falcons, clinching not only the program’s second SOC II championship outright, but also extending their regular season winning streak to 20 games.
“Obviously it was the difference in the ball game but we were able to get a couple of drives in that (first) half, we turned it over once, we had an opportunity and we wanted to make sure we did our best to get into the end zone,” Valley coach Darren Crabtree said. “We were able to do so right there because (Minford was) playing tough defensively, we were struggling with moving the ball and it was the difference in the ball game.”
The battle did not have its fair share of missed opportunities for both squads. After the first series resulted in traded punts, the Falcon offense was able to march down the field and set up what looked to be the first score of the night.
But on a third-and-11 from the Indian 11-yard-line, Minford was forced to put the ball up in the air. Quarterback Cody Stapleton tried to rifle a pass to Zach Farrar inside the right pylon of the end zone but Howard undercut the route at the goal line to kill the drive.
“We thought it would be a good time to try and open it up, spread them out a little bit and hit a play,” Falcons coach Brent Daniels said. “We just didn’t make a play. It was not by the kids’ effort.”
The turnover seemed to give Valley some momentum on its next series until Howard coughed up the ball at the Minford 20. That’s where defender Nathan Compton came up with the pigskin. The turnover turned out to be harmless for the hosts as they forced the Falcons into a three-and-out.
With 4:37 left in the half and the ball at their own 18-yard-line and three timeouts in their pockets, the Indians started the winning drive. They were able to rack up six of their 16 first downs in the series, including the dive by Howard for six.
But the points almost never came to be. With less than 16 seconds left, having spent their final timeout of the half and facing a third-and-Goal from the one, Crabtree put his faith in his senior field general.
“We put the ball in his hands on third down and said look, get us in the end zone and he did,” Crabtree said.
Daniels gave credit to the other side for putting together a productive drive.
“We missed a few tackles in there and it was just a good drive,” Daniels said. “It was going to come down to who scored and they got the score in. We had a couple of opportunities tonight, we couldn’t capitalize on them and that’s the game of football.”
Valley tried to parlay the late tally into a productive drive to open the half but were forced to punt from the Falcon 40. It was the deepest the Indians would get into enemy territory for the remainder of the game.
Later in the third, Minford forced Brice Jordan to fumble on the Valley 48-yard-line and Jared McCray recovered. Just as it had happened in the first half, the Falcons were forced to punt without moving the chains.
Minford’s next golden opportunity to remove the goose egg came on its first series in the fourth. The Falcons drove 66 yards in four plays to set up a first-and-goal from the Indian two-yard-line. Unfortunately, Zach Justice fumbled the ball before he could do anything and Matt Rawlins fell on the ball for a touch back.
“I couldn’t tell, I might have to watch the film,” Daniels said on what caused the fumble. “Again, that one play didn’t have (an) effect on the ball game. Yeah it would’ve helped if we would’ve got in there but I couldn’t see what the exchange was.”
After Valley’s next drive ate up 7:26 of clock but resulted in a punt, Minford made one final push for a tie. The Falcons converted on three fourth down situations to have the ball First-and-1o from the Indian 33. But Hayden Dunn, who went from tight end to offensive guard to start the game, knifed through the Minford line and sacked Stapleton for a loss of 11 yards for one of his 11 tackles on the night.
“Hayden, switching from tight end to guard, made the move without question and did a very nice job all night,” Crabtree said.
The loss proved costly as it forced the Falcons to spike the ball. Stapleton’s next drop back proved to be his last when Zach Shope stepped in front of a pass to seal the game.
“It was just as nerve-wracking,” Crabtree said in comparing the final drive this week with last week’s 9-7 win over Wheelersburg. “They’re making plays, the Stapleton kid was throwing nice balls and they were keeping them back in.”
The win seals a top seed for Valley in Division V, Region 19. Crabtree admitted a perfect season was not expected at the start of the campaign. He said it all started at the top with the nine seniors.
“They led us all year with leadership and big plays,” Crabtree said. “Again, they stepped in tonight.”
Despite the loss, Minford was in great shape for a top four seed in Division IV, Region 15 and in line to host a playoff game next week. With potentially four opponents on this year’s schedule and a solid effort Friday night, Daniels squad has momentum building for next week.
“My kids played their butts off tonight, there’s no mistake in that,” Daniels said. “Both teams played hard, it was a good, hard football game. We just made the mistakes at the wrong possible time.”
In the win, Nate Arnett led all rushers with 104 yards on the ground in 20 attempts. Austin Carter was the Falcons’ top rusher with 59 yards on 12 totes.
Cody Leist can be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 242, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Minford 0 0 0 0 — 0
Valley 0 7 0 0 — 7
V — Howard 1 run (Romanello kick) :07.1
First Downs 11 16
Rush Att.-Yds. 33-154 49-209
Pass Att.-Comp.-Int 14-4-2 5-4-0
Pass Yds. 55 27
Total Yds. 209 236
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 2-2
Turnovers 3 2
Penalties-Yds. 4-25 7-69
Punts-Avg. 4-28.5 4.23.8
RUSHING: Minford — Carter 12-59, Stapleton 10-51, Berry 8-27, Justice 2-6, Piguet 1-(-4); Valley — Arnett 20-104, Howard 20-81, Bri. Jordan 6-11, Rawlins 3-2.
PASSING: Minford — Stapleton 14-4-2 55; Valley — Howard 5-4-0 27.
RECEIVING: Minford — Carter 1-27, Piguet 1-14, Farrar 1-10, Berry 1-4; Valley — West 1-13, Arnett 2-9, Wolford 1-5.
RECORDS: Minford 8-2 (3-2); Valley 10-0 (5-0).