Nelsonville-York finished its first Tri Valley Conference game of 2007 the same way it's finished conference games the last four years – with a win. The Buckeyes, four-time defending TVC champs, outlasted visiting Vinton County 21-14 Friday at Boston Field. NY QB Michael Barrick threw for 115 yards and two TDs.
NELSONVILLE – Week 6 of high school football sent McArthur Vinton County to Boston Field in Nelsonville for a meeting between two Tri Valley Conference rivals. Even though the four-time defending TVC champion Nelsonville-York was entering the kickoff weekend of league play at 2-3, the Buckeyes were still considered the team to beat in this year’s Ohio Division. Vinton County was entering at 1-4, but like NY it had played a brutal non-league schedule that included three losses to teams that are currently in the top eight of their respective regions. In a tight battle that was not decided until the last minute of the game, the Buckeyes of Nelsonville held off a late Vinton County comeback to preserve a 21-14 win in this conference opener.
“I learned that we have to continue to get better,” said Nelsonville-York head coach David Boston, Jr. when asked what he learned about his team during the tough stretch of non league opponents. “We lost two really close games that would have us 5-1, but were not 5-1 so we know we have to continue to grow up and get better. Tonight’s win is a great step forward and we have to continue to work hard and get better and concentrate on our number one goal which is to win the league.”
Vinton County came up with the first big play to control most of the opening half. The play came when Nelsonville was threatening midway through the first-quarter when Buckeye quarterback Michael Barrick’s pass was picked off by Vinton County’s Ryan Stewart. The senior defensive back now turned quarterback then marched his Vikings offense on a scoring drive that was keyed by a big pass play from Stewart to Dustin Guthrie, and was eventually capped off by a Nick Hurne touchdown run. Hurne then added the PAT to give VC the early 7-0 lead.
The Viking advantage continued for most of the first half, but with three minutes remaining in the half a VC decision to go for it on fourth-and-three from its own 31-yard line gave the NY defense a chance to steal momentum and the Buckeye defense did just that. Stewart was trying to find his way around the left side when he was dropped in the backfield forcing the turnover on downs and giving the Buckeyes great field position.
Nelsonville-York wasted little time capitalizing on the field position. The Buckeye offense called Zach Talbert’s number on the first three plays, and the junior tailback helped move the chains setting up a Barrick to Mark Campbell touchdown toss that covered 20 yards on a deep slant route for six. Talbert then added the PAT and just like that, the score was tied at seven apiece.
“Right now it is just a confidence thing with us,” said Vinton County head coach Nolan Yates. “I thought we got off to a good start tonight and we were doing some good things in the first half. I made the crucial call on fourth down to really try to swing the momentum in our directions and it did not work. I take responsibility for that, but even beyond that we just have to find a way to get through adversity and find a way to get better.”
On the pursuing possession, the Vikings were trying to weather the storm and get to the locker room tied; however, a third down sack by Nelsonville-York’s senior linebacker Scott Cunningham was quickly followed by a Buckeye timeout. This forced a VC punt giving the Buckeyes the ball in VC territory. Barrick – now operating in the two-minute drill – worked the out-routes effectively and when he hit Josh Dickerson at the 19-yard line with just 12 seconds remaining NY would have a few shots at the end zone before intermission. Turns out, NY would only need on more snap, because on the next play Barrick found his sophomore tight end Connor Bunting in the end zone. A bad snap on the PAT sent the teams to the locker room with Nelsonville leading 13-7.
The momentum that left the field at the end of the second quarter returned to the field for the start of the second half. On the first two Viking possessions in half number two, the NY defense forced back-to-back turnovers on a Josh Lyon fumble recovery and a Robert Norway interception. The VC defense held tough on the first miscue holding the Buckeyes to a 32-yard field goal attempt that missed low and left, but on the second mistake, Nelsonville’s offense took advantage of a pass interference to put them in a goal-to-go situation. One play later, it was Talbert from two-yards out for the touchdown, but NY’s failed two-point conversion attempt kept the Buckeye lead at 19-7.
“I thought our defense played really well throughout the night,” said Coach Boston. “We knew Guthrie (speaking of VC tight end Dustin Guthrie) was a fine athlete and that he was going to make plays, and we lost him a couple of times. Even with some of the big plays that we allowed I felt like the kids played hard and caused several turnovers as well.”
Vinton County had a chance late in the third quarter to cut the Buckeye lead in half, when the Vikings went on a drive sparked by the running game. After two first-downs on the ground, Stewart found his sophomore wide receiver Andy Grillo on a fade route down the right side for a 23-yard gain resulting in a first down at the NY 31-yard line. Two plays later, Vinton County did have an opportunity to connect on another big pass play but Stewart’s pass was just out of the reach of senior wide receiver Ben Batey and then he over threw a well-covered Grillo on fourth down resulting in a turnover on downs giving the ball back to the Buckeyes.
The final dagger seemed to come early in the fourth quarter when Vinton County punter Tyler Dutcher had his punt blocked resulting in a safety that put Nelsonville up 21-7. With Nelsonville in control of the scoreboard, the clock, and the field position, the Vikings seemed to have little chance to get back in it, but Stewart and his Viking offense had one more drive left in them to get back in the game.
Operating in a hurry-up fashion, Stewart completed first down passes to Guthrie, Grillo, and Batey as the Vikings marched deep into Buckeye territory. Vinton County finally found its way into the end zone when Stewart found Guthrie on a 20-yard scoring strike to cut the lead to eight, and when Hurne’s PAT split the uprights, VC had drawn within seven at 21-14.
With only two-minutes remaining and the Vikings having only one timeout left, VC was forced to onside kick, but junior tight end Bret Arbaugh made the play for the Buckeye “hands” team securing possession for Nelsonville. The clock was going to allow VC to probably force a NY punt and maybe even one last Viking offensive play, but on a third down run with a little over a minute remaining, Talbert busted straight ahead for a game-clinching first down to secure the Buckeye win.
The Buckeyes enjoyed a balanced night on offense as Barrick threw for 115 yards and two scores while Talbert rushed for 77 yards and found the end zone once as well. On the other side of the ball, Stewart connected on 10-16 for 146 yards and a score with his two favorite targets being Guthrie (3 catches for 94 yards and a TD) and Grillo (5 catches for 54 yards); however, the Vikings had trouble getting their ground game going as Stewart and Hurne rushed it 28 times on Friday for only a little over a yard per attempt.
Week seven has Nelsonville-York (3-3, 1-0) staying home to host Pomeroy Meigs while Vinton County (1-5, 0-1) returns home to welcome Albany Alexander for homecoming in McArthur.