WAVERLY – Week 11 in Division IV, Region 15 had a match up of high-powered offenses when six-seeded Union Local made the long bus trip from Belmont County to take on the Tigers of Waverly and its senior signal-caller Trevor Walls.
The two offenses did little to disappoint as the game saw nearly 800 yards of total offense, but in the end, it was Walls and Waverly that erased a pair of 14-point deficits to capture the 27-21 quarterfinal victory and secure a place in the sweet sixteen.
It took wide out Zach Gust, quarterback Jordan Barbina, and the Union Local offense little time to show the high school fans who were watching for the first time that they were as advertised. On the second snap of the game, Gust ran by the Waverly secondary catching a beautifully thrown Barbina pass in stride. Seventy-five yards later, the visiting Jets found themselves up 6-0. The Adam Kyer PAT was good giving UL the early 7-0 advantage.
“The Gust kid can really run,” said Waverly head coach Rusty Wright. “We tried to mix it up with him. We tried to jam him, we tried a cushion, and we tried to give help over the top. A great player like that is going make plays you just have to try to contain him the best you can.”
A solid, Waverly opening drive saw 10-plays and chewed up six minutes of clock only to have Union Local force a turnover-on-downs and regain possession at its own 19 yard line. The Jets needed only eight plays to strike again; however, the drive did come down to a fourth-down play at Waverly’s 14 yard line. Barbina rolled out right baiting the Tiger defense to swing with him, and then the junior quarterback lofted a throwback route over the top to senior Zach Azallion for the 14-yard scoring strike. Another successful PAT from Kyer gave UL the 14-0 advantage.
With the Tigers in desperate need of a solid drive that would result in points, Walls and the offensive unit responded. The Tigers got the ground game going thanks to some hard running from sophomore running back Kevin Malone. During the drive, Malone rushed six times for 63 yards and the junior eventually capped off the drive with a 13-yard scamper off right tackle that along with a Mason Good PAT cut the Union Local lead in half at 14-7.
“Our ability to get the running game going really helped the offense get into rhythm,” said Walls. “With all the injuries in the running game, the passing game has had to shoulder a lot of the offense. It is definitely easier to attack a defense when we are able to develop some balance like we did tonight.”
The score would stay this way until late in the half when the two teams started to play hot potato with the game’s momentum. The Jets were driving with less than three minutes to go when they were faced with a third and long. Union Local first converted a third-and-25 on a Barbina to 6-4 WR Kyle Blackman. Waverly then forced another key third down which forced UL to face a third-and-10 from the Tiger 26 yard line. Barbina was looking for Gust who was covered tightly by Tiger cornerback Casey Williams. An incomplete pass seemed like it would bring up a fourth down situation, but a flag for pass interference resulted in a first down leaving the home Tiger crowd upset. The Jets capitalized as Barbina hit Gust on a 17-yard TD toss. The Kyer kick allowed the Jets to regain their 14-point advantage once again and appeared to have lady momentum going to the locker room with red and white.
To add salt to the Waverly wound, Malone went down following his first down run on the pursuing drive with an injury that would prevent him from returning on the night. This left Coach Wright with the decision of taking a knee and going in down two scores or trying to muster 89 yards in a little over a minute. With only one timeout, the coach put faith in his All-Ohioan quarterback.
Walls went to work first hitting Adam Pettay on a deep slant route for 19 yards moving the Tigers out from the shadow of their own end zone. Two plays later, Walls hit Derek Roback for a 38-yard gain. Following an eight yard out to Trevor Arnett and a Waverly timeout, Walls went back to Roback on the fade route this time resulting in an incredible touchdown reception from the Tiger sophomore wide receiver. The Good PAT was perfect cutting the Union Local advantage to 21-14 at intermission.
“When you have a 6-6 All-Ohio quarterback that can make every throw on the football field, that decision isn’t a difficult one,” said Coach Wright. “We have all the confidence in the world in Trevor as a quarterback and we have great receivers with big-play capabilities.”
On the impressive drive, Walls showed why the Tiger head coach turned him loose. The senior gunslinger was a perfect 5-5 for 89 yards and a score while operating the hurry-up Tiger offense.
This momentum carried over to the opening drive of the second half for Waverly. Walls continued his brilliant postseason performance by hitting Pettay and Roback two time each on the drive covering 71 yards through the air, and it was junior running back Caleb Rowland – playing for the injured Malone who carried 11 times for 87 yards and a TD before leaving with what was later said to be a high ankle sprain – that capped off the eight-play drive with a two-yard scoring run. A Mason Good PAT tied the game at 21.
Overshadowed by a great Waverly offense the past two seasons, the Tiger defense proved to be the difference in the Week 11 win for Waverly. The Tigers pitched a second half shutout thanks to big plays from a variety of players that stopped the Jets short of the goal line. Twice the Jets traveled into the red zone only to see Waverly’s Ramone Conley pickoff Barbina passes intended for Union Local receivers in the end zone.
The first came late in third quarter when Barbina was looking for Gust on a deep slant. The speedy Gust seemed to have a step on the Waverly defender but Conley was able to come underneath, leap, and tip the pass into the air. Conley then snagged his own deflection out of the air to halt the Union Local scoring threat.
Following a Waverly punt, the quick-strike Jets offense was right back in the red zone facing a third-and-five from the Tiger nine yard line. Barbina was looking over the top to Robbie Kyer out of the backfield, but again it was Conley who came over to help a beaten teammate for his second INT in as many possessions.
“Maybe we’re a little biased, but we feel like Ramone Conley is one of the best football players in southeast Ohio,” said Wright of his senior who recorded five tackles, had two INTs, and carried the ball four times for 22 yards from his fullback position. “He is so versatile and he is such a great competitor. When we face adversity with injuries and other things, we can use Ramone in so many different ways to find a way to still be successful.”
The teams traded punts over the next couple of possessions before Waverly took the ball at its own 33 yard line with 9:46 remaining in the game for what would eventually prove to be the game-winning drive. Facing a possible three-and-out, Walls hit Roback for 14 yards and a first down to move the chains. Following some hard running from Ryan Robertson and Conley, Walls went back to the air hitting Pettay on a seam route that covered 28 yards and a Tiger touchdown. Good’s PAT was good; however, a flag forced Waverly to try again and this time Good hooked the try left keeping the score at 27-21 with 7:39 remaining.
Union Local would get two more shots to tie and possibly win, but Waverly senior Ian Colegrove recorded sacks on each of these possessions to force a punt and a turnover on downs respectively. The second drive ended on a fourth-and-two from around midfield when Barbina fumbled the ball while trying to scramble for the first down marker. The Jets QB was able to pick his own fumble up; however, the miscue allowed the Tiger pursuit to get there to stop Barbina. The Jets signal-caller did throw for 317 yards and three scores, but he was also picked off twice and sacked five times. Barbina’s favorite target, Gust, finished with eight catches for 221 yards and two scores.
Any hopes of Union Local (9-2) getting one last shot were erased when ironically it was Walls, who finished with 276 through the air, who sealed the deal with his feet scrambling for 13 yards to convert a third down situation.
Walls completed 21-29 without an interception and two touchdowns. He was able to spread it around to a variety of receivers led by Roback’s 8 catches for 143 yards while Pettay gained 102 yards on seven grabs.
Playing in his final high school game, Union Local senior linebacker Carl Perkins was everywhere in this Week 11 thriller. Perkins recorded 20 tackles – 12 unassisted – for the Jets defense. Two of Chase Clark’s seven tackles went for a loss and Azallion and Kyle Jarrett each added six tackles apiece.
Week 12 has Waverly (10-1) meeting up with Westfall who went to 11-0 with a 31-7 Week 11 win of its own. The location for this regional semifinal has not yet been determined; however, the possibility of Jackson’s fine facility or Ohio University seems like the frontrunners for next Saturday’s game.