PDT Sports Editor
NELSONVILLE — A year ago the Valley Indians lost a heartbreaker to Bucyrus-Wynford in the Division V, Region 19 Final and lost so much lauded talent that many felt 2012 would be a rebuilding year for the team from Lucasville.
Not the case.
Though Saturday’s 26-14 result favored Liberty Union, bragging rights favor Valley as it proved it’s a team that does not rebuild, but rather, reloads.
It was not the high flying, eye-popping offense of 2011. It was the bread and butter combination of protecting the football and keeping the opposition out of the end zone that allowed the Indians to avenge the Wynford loss of a season ago and uphold the standard Darren Crabtree and his staff have established.
It’s hard to say that a team that reached the Regional Final a season ago was a surprise, but the 2012 Indians may have been one. Gone were standouts Blake Yates and Luke Keller, in were lesser known names like Will Howard, Nate Arnett and J.J. Hettinger.
How would these players fill the shoes of the stars of 2011?
Quite well actually. Howard, Arnett and Hettinger joined teammates Brandon Zimmer, Hayden Dunn, Brandon Jordan and Zach Shope as First Team performers on the Associated Press’ All-Southeast District list. Hettinger won Defensive Player of the Year. And a gridiron Déjà vu found the Indians back in the Region 19 Final.
Saturday’s result was not a lack of effort, desire or talent. It boiled down to the one statistic that coaches talk about about more than any other, turnover margin. The Lions gave the ball away only once, while the Indians gave it away four times.
"We talked last week, we won the turnover battle and tonight we didn’t," Crabtree said.
Despite the setbacks, the gritty group out of southern Ohio gallantly battled from the hole they found themselves in.
After a pair of single-digit wins over playoff teams to end the regular season, it would have been naive to rule out the Indians’ chances down 20-7 at the half.
Howard’s 18-yard touchdown run with a little over six minutes remaining put Valley within a touchdown of Liberty Union, but it was a little too late as Jacob Basso did what he does for the Lions with another rushing score.
In the end, Liberty Union spelled the end for three teams out of the Southern Ohio Conference this season. Although it’s difficult to prognosticate the 2013 season or find a positive note after the loss, Valley’s 2012 was proof that vengeance can be a powerful motivator. The team from Baltimore, Ohio may have won 2012, but it would be fortunate for them to avoid Valley in 2013.
In the meantime, supporters of the program, which on Saturday included coaches and fans of Valley’s regular SOC foes, can reflect upon the outstanding 2012 season the Indians put together.
The nine seniors can take pride in their back-to-back regional final appearances, back-to-back perfect regular seasons and a shining .806 career winning percentage.
"These seniors showed our younger classes of kids it doesn’t matter what people say about you preseason," Crabtree said. "They provided great leadership and you can’t be any more proud of these guys."
Saturday was the closing chapter of the 2012 Valley Indians, but a sequel is in the making and it looks like a thriller.
Bob Strickley can be reached at 353-3101, ext. 298, or firstname.lastname@example.org.