Defense, turnovers propel Sunbury Big Walnut to first state title


Division III State Champion Sunbury Big Walnut

Sunbury Big Walnut forced five turnovers resulting in 10 points Saturday in the Division III state championship game locking up its first title in school history with a 17-10 win over Newark Licking Valley.

Matt Natali has more from the game.

CANTON – As a freshman, Sunbury Big Walnut QB/DB Ethan Wetzel figured out that he and the Golden Eagles could be playing for a state championship on his 18th birthday his senior season.

Wetzel celebrated his 18th birthday today just like he imagined with his Big Walnut teammates knocking off Newark Licking Valley 17-10 in the Division III state championship Friday at Canton’s Fawcett.

“I wish I could describe how it feels. I am so proud of the players to beat a football team of the caliber of Licking Valley,” said Big Walnut head coach Scott Wetzel.

Big Walnut (14-1) had only three first downs and 109 yards of total offense in the game but the defense stepped up forcing five turnovers resulting in 10 points.

“Our defense is what we’ve hung our hat on all year and we have our 11 best players out there,” Wetzel said.

Senior DB/WR Joe Reed got Big Walnut on the board first picking off a Drew Ryan pass on a reverse and sprinting 54 yards to the end zone.

“I had two guys to beat that had a good angle on me and I knew if I beat those two I was good to go,” Reed said.

Licking Valley (13-2) coughed the ball up again on another reverse play in the second quarter and Big Walnut DL Colton Griffis pounced on it. The turnover resulted in a 33-yard Andy Dronsfield field goal.

The Panthers scored for the first time in the third quarter on a safety with Wetzel getting sacked in the end zone after an errant snap.

Licking Valley then tied the game with 2:04 left in the period engineering an eight play, 57-yard drive capped off by an 8-yard Storm Klein TD run. The 2-point conversion from QB Nick Phillips to FB Vince German was good knotting the game 10-10.

Reed broke the tie for good with 9:29 left in the game scooping a fumble from teammate Corey Wolf and racing 60 yards to the end zone giving the Golden Eagles the 17-10 lead.

“When I first approached the pile I was just looking for a guy to knock down and the ball just ended up being in front of me as I was running and I just picked it up and took off,” Reed said.

Licking Valley threatened late in the game marching down to the Big Walnut 15 but DB Nick Heiden intercepted a Phillips pass with 30 seconds left sealing the win.

“It was a tipped ball and it just kind of fell in my hands and we were good from there,” Heiden said.

Licking Valley held the advantage in nearly every offensive and defensive category.

“Things didn’t go quite our way today but I couldn’t be prouder of a group of guys,” said Licking Valley head coach Randy Baughman. “I thought we played hard. That is a great football team and we played hard. I admire (our players) for coming back and tying it to make a game out of it but it just wasn’t meant to be today.”

Klein led all stat-getters with 155 yards rushing on 33 carries and the TD in the third quarter.

“I thought we did a nice job of containing Klein,” Wetzel said. “What a great running back he is. I thought these guys did a nice job against him.”

Licking Valley had 322 yards of offense and held the edge in time of possession 32:21 to 15:39 but the five turnovers was the difference in the game.

“They have a lot of speed on that defense and they went out and started making some plays and gained some confidence,” Baughman said. “We said coming in that we didn’t want to give them any opportunities and we did, especially in the first half. We just didn’t capitalize when we had chances and we gave them too many chances.”

Big Walnut was 0-for-9 on third down conversions but the Golden Eagles took advantage of Licking Valley’s miscues locking up the first football state championship in school history.

“It was a frustrating day on offense and we kept shooting ourselves in the foot but we came up with plays when we needed to,” said Wetzel. “Licking Valley outplayed us today but the character of our team really showed and we came up with some big plays when we needed them.”

Said Reed: “You can’t dream this. It just happens. Something just went my way tonight and you can’t explain it.”


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