On the final play of the game, the Tartans landed the final punch while still being on their heels and escaping with a 34-27 victory. East was able to pick up a quarterback sack to end a second half in which the Tartans took the lead on two occasions and used an interception runback for a touchdown as their game-winning score.
"I'm really excited for the kids and I told them I haven't been more proud of them tonight," East coach Todd Gilliland said. "The way they came back and played hard in that second half and overcame some adversity.
"We could've laid down after the first half the way Northwest jumped out on us and did some things well. The way Luke Brown got running downhill pretty early and gave us some fits, but our kids battled back and I can't be more excited for them."
The goal for the Tartans was to stop Brown. The Mohawks, on the other hand, found a way to get him started on the first possession of the game.
On a fourth-and-ten from the East 36, Northwest sophomore Travis Sifford connected with Brown on a 36-yard screen pass and gave the Mohawks. The senior tailback was responsible for 52 of the 65 yards in the opening drive as he touched the ball on five of the nine plays in the segment.
"Watching film this past week, they like to cover you up front and bring their backers off tackle," Northwest coach Brooks Fry said. "They were doing that early so we thought it was a good opportunity to run (the screen)."
The Tartans capitalized on the Mohawks' first mistake of the game as linebacker Justin Crager, who is also the quarterback for East, intercepted Sifford less than four minutes into the second quarter for a 42-yard touchdown score.
"Defensively, Justin's a player," Gilliland said. "That's his second defensive touchdown in two weeks."
Northwest took a page out of the Tartan playbook later in the second with a score off a turnover. After forcing an East fumble, Brown — who had 22 carries for 151 yards, three rushing touchdowns and another through the air — took the first play of the drive 41 yards to pay dirt for the eventual halftime score of 14-6.
"In the first half I thought we were in pretty good shape," Fry said. "We felt pretty good defensively coming into halftime."
The Tartans stormed out of the locker room in second half thanks to a big performance from the tailback and receiver positions. In the first series of the half, senior tailback Cody Belveal was credited with 82 yards rushing on an 80-yard drive which was capped off with a 40-yard dash to the end zone.
"We made some adjustments (with) the blocking scheme inside with the defense they were playing against our offense," Gilliland said. "We got Cody the ball more in the backfield."
East took its first lead of the game on the next offensive possession. A fourth down defensive stand was the momentum that led to Crager connecting with Austin Elrod for a 58-yard pass-and-catch score for an 18-14 advantage.
"It would seem like throughout the entire game, we would get right there and Northwest would do something to push us back and to take a little bit of a lead," Gilliland said. "Just to get that score to put us ahead and give us that emotional high of taking a lead ... it's one of those momentum breakers."
Not to be outdone, the Mohawks retook the lead courtesy of Brown's third touchdown of the evening. The eight-yard touchdown rush gave Northwest a 21-18 lead with 1:55 left in the third.
Crager responded the next series as his 42-yard run and gave the Tartans a 26-21 lead as the game went into the final stanza.
East scored what would be the winning touchdown early in the fourth quarter as Chris Rittner intercepted Sifford and picked up a 52-yard return.
"One of our goals is to score a defensive touchdown in every game that we play," Gilliland said. "In two games, we've scored three defensive touchdowns."
The Tartans were flagged with an unsportsmanlike penalty after the touchdown and gave Northwest a glimmer of hope. Since the penalty was assessed on the kickoff, Micah Campbell was able to advance the return from midfield to the East four-yard line.
"He just made a nice play, busting it to the outside and that was definitely a big play for us," Fry said.
Brown took care of the rest on the next play but a point-after try by Linus Schnack was blocked and the score was 34-27.
The teams combined for three more possessions before the Mohawks had their final crack. On the eleventh play of the drive, which had already witnessed a fourth down conversion, Sifford was sacked by Anthony Haney to end the game.
East is back on the road next week at Federal Hocking while Northwest hosts Chillicothe Huntington.
CODY LEIST can be reached at (740) 353-3101 ext. 242 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
East 0 6 19 8 — 34
Northwest 7 7 7 6 — 27
Northwest — Brown 36 pass from Sifford (Schnack kick) 7:43
East — Crager 42 interception return (kick failed) 11:11
Northwest — Brown 42 rush (Schnack kick) 3:01
East — Belveal 40 rush (pass failed) 10:11
East — Elrod 58 pass from Crager (rush failed) 5:16
Northwest — Brown 8 rush (Schnack kick) 1:55
East — Crager 42 rush (Marcum from Crager) :21.2
East — Rittner 52 interception return (Crager rush) 11:12
Northwest — Brown 4 rush (kick blocked) 10:58
First Downs 6 16
Rush Att.-Yds. 34-231 44-196
Pass Comp.-Att.-Int.-Yds. 3-6-0-69 6-22-2-122
Total yards 300 318
Penalties-Yds. 11-80 5-40
Fumbles-Lost 3-1 3-0
Turnovers 1 2
Punts-Avg. 5-36.2 4-26.0
East — Belveal 13-134, Crager 16-95, N. Bradford 3-5, Elrod 3-(-2); Northwest — Brown 22-151, Seaman 10-48, Hamilton 6-16, Sifford 6-(-19)
East — Crager 3-6-0-69; Northwest — Sifford 6-22-2-122
East — Elrod 1-58, Huffstettler 1-15, Rittner 1-(-4); Northwest — Phillips 3-47, Brown 2-56, Vastine 1-19