Friday’s 21-14 win at Martins Ferry certainly had the hair on the back of coach John Kelley’s neck standing up in the final seconds as the Purple Riders, down 21-7 with less than eight minutes to go, scored once and found themselves just eight yards from a tie before John Glenn senior Chevy Shoemake came up with a sack on the final play of the game to give the Muskies their seventh win of the season.
While keeping John Glenn alive for a playoff berth — the Muskies (7-2) entered week nine tied for ninth in Region 11 — the setback pretty much eliminated Ferry, which lost for the third straight week to fall to 5-4, from the postseason.
“Our kids came to play,” Kelley offered. “They like coming down here and like this type of atmosphere. This was a big win for us.
“This will jump us up even higher and it will come down to next week,” the Muskies’ coach added. “We have to take care of business and see how things play out.”
John Glenn’s defense rose up early, stopping Ferry on four running plays at the Muskies’ 25-yard line.
The “Fish” put together a textbook 12-play, 75-yard drive for the game’s first score, featuring gains of 12 and 13 yards by senior Garrett Bennington and a 15-yard pickup by running mate Ben Geyer.
Down deep, the Muskies turned the ball-toting duties over to senior Justin Gidcumb three straight times from inside the two and the 215-pound fullback powered his way into the endzone on the third try from a yard out. Bennington nailed the point-after kick, giving John Glenn a 7-0 lead with 10:25 remaining in the first half.
A Rider fumble — recovered by Geyer — followed but the Muskies couldn’t capitalize.
After an exchange of punts, John Glenn gained possession at the Ferry 45 and quickly doubled its lead.
A 32-yard scamper by Geyer had the Muskies knocking on the door at the Riders’ 13 and Gidcumb again took over, picking up nine yards on a nice cutback and then plowing into the endzone from four yards out. Bennington’s PAT extended John Glenn’s lead to 14-0 with 5:05 left until halftime.
The Muskies had another opportunity in the final minute, but a 51-yard field goal try by Bennington fell short.
Ferry got back into the game with a 13-play, 82-yard scoring march sparked by a 39-yard breakaway run by sophomore Patrick Allen.
Allen also got the TD on a three-yard run on third-and-goal, with Swedish exchange student Hermon Timmersjo booming the PAT to cut John Glenn’s lead to 14-7 with 5:52 left in the third.
The Riders appeared headed for a tie late in the third quarter until a 10-yard sack of quarterback Derek Edwards by the Muskies’ Bennington; a holding penalty on a pass completion and a fourth down pass interception by senior Luke Brooks in the endzone stopped the threat.
John Glenn followed with an 80-yard drive in 10 snaps to push the lead back to 14.
Bennington had runs of 19 and 21 yards in the series, but Gidcumb completed a “hat trick” with his third TD of the night on another one-yard plunge. Bennington’s kick gave John Glenn a 21-7 lead with 7:56 remaining.
Ferry didn’t go quietly.
A nine-play, 71-yard TD march ensued, with Edwards scrambling for 27 yards along the way. Allen got his second score of the night on a one-yard run on fourth-and-goal and Timmersjo added the placement for a 21-14 reading with 4:29 to go.
John Glenn avoided disaster when Bennington somehow managed to get off a punt under heavy pressure after a mishandled snap, with the boot pinning Ferry at its 19 with just 2:37 remaining.
The Riders, fueled by four Edwards’ pass completions including a 31-yard gainer to junior Clay Francis, got to the JG 17 and then got a break when pass interference was called in the endzone with one second remaining to set up one final opportunity at the eight.
Shoemake broke through and sacked Edwards, however, preserving the Muskies’ victory.
Kelley was pleased with his team’s offensive output which included 288 yards rushing and 307 total yards.
“We threw a lot of stuff at them today,” Kelley commented. “Our offensive line has really been coming on the last two weeks, and we’re fortunate that we have a lot of different guys to hand the ball off to. That makes it very difficult to key on one guy.”
Bennington finished with 125 yards on 25 carries while Geyer collected 97 yards on 10 totes. Gidcumb chipped in 59 yards on 14 carries along with his three TDs. QB Josh Fraunfelter was 3-of-3 for 19 yards.
The Muskies’ coach also credited his defense for containing Ferry’s potentially-explosive attack for the most part.
“They’re very athletic and have a lot of speed,” he said. “What you worry about with Martins Ferry is the plays that don’t work and they take off and make something out of it.”
Ferry — playing with six regulars sidelined due to injury — finished with 341 yards of total offense, including 222 rushing and 119 passing. Allen ran for 114 yards on 20 attempts while Edwards was 13-of-17 through the air with one picked off.