McDERMOTT — With Zane Gilley making arguably the most important play in Northwest football history, the Mohawks made indeed sure there were no penalty flags.
That’s because, with Gilley’s game-clinching interception on Saturday night, the Mohawks made at-last sure no stone was left unturned.
In Northwest’s first-ever football playoff game — and in its first-ever meeting against the Portsmouth Trojans — it absolutely took every last snap, every last yard, every last defensive play, and every last single solitary point.
As a result, and following a physical rockfight against the visiting Trojans inside rockin’ Roy Rogers Field, the Mohawks made good on their historic occasion — edging Portsmouth 21-20 in the opening round of the OHSAA’s Division V Region 19 playoffs.
After a bruiser of an encounter, the 11th-seeded Mohawks moved to 6-1 and, more importantly, advanced to the second round of the Region 19 bracket.
All six Northwest victories have come consecutive, as the Mohawks swept through the Southern Ohio Conference Division I slate — which otherwise consists of significantly smaller Division VI and VII programs.
Northwest also proved pundits wrong, as the 22nd-seeded Trojans — all through last week — trended towards objective observers’ outcome favorites.
And, that was even after easily arguably the Mohawks’ most important games, and wins, in school history — back-to-back SOC I victories over Eastern and at Symmes Valley to clinch the outright title.
Northwest needed plays made on offense, defense AND special teams on Saturday night —and got them with Brayden Campbell’s 222 total yards and two touchdowns on 37 touches, three Dakota Secrest extra-point kicks, and two Gilley picks of Trojan quarterback Drew Roe.
But, it’s always what you do last that will be remembered most — and best.
With the Mohawks clinging to a 21-20 edge, and with half the final quarter to go, the Trojans drove seven plays to the Northwest 15-yard-line —and all they needed was a field goal to regain the lead.
However, standout Portsmouth placekicker Joel Bowling missed his second straight game because of a coronavirus quarantine situation — thus forcing the Trojans to try a pair of two-point conversion passes after touchdowns, both of which failed.
A go-ahead field goal was already out of the conversation, then Northwest’s Hunter Townsend sacked Roe for a seven-yard loss on 3rd-down-and-4 from the 15.
Portsmouth was then penalized for both a delay of game AND a false start, setting up 4th-and-21 from the Mohawks’ 32.
The Trojans’ try for the lead then finally disappeared into the arms of Gilley —who stood at the 5-yard-line, played center-field, and made his second interception of Roe by simply jumping high and hauling in an arching pass.
Gilley then burned some time off the clock, returning it 56 yards into Trojan territory —with only a minute and 35 seconds remaining.
And lastly, and most importantly, there were no penalty flags on the historic play —as Northwest already had two touchdowns called back, both by Campbell on a punt return and a screen pass.
From there, the Mohawks simply ran out the clock with four snaps, clinching Big Blue Nation’s finest moment — and following renovated Roy Rogers Field’s finest hour.
“We’re pretty excited about this one for sure,” said second-year Northwest coach Bill Crabtree. “Our kids played through pain, they played through adversity, they stepped up and played a good football game. Their final play, it was just so awesome to know we were in that situation. You could tell that one or more of our kids was going to step up and make a play for us. Not a question of are we going to make a play, but who wants to and who is going to make a play. Our kids did what we asked them to do tonight and it all paid off.”
Portsmouth, which went 1-6 and played an all-Ohio Valley Conference regular-season schedule since the OHSAA’s decision to reduce such to a six-game minimum, fell for the fifth straight time.
Although, consider the Trojans’ two losses entering Saturday’s affair — a 66-63 last-minute shootout setback at Coal Grove before an 18-12 overtime defensive slugfest against Gallia Academy.
On Saturday, the two teams traded touchdowns after a scoreless opening quarter —with Portsmouth answering Northwest’s second-quarter and third-frame scores with one of its own, and forging a 14-14 tie with only 16-and-a-half minutes remaining.
The Trojans took their first and only lead at 20-14 with 8:39 to play, as Roe —who took a physical pounding from the Mohawk defense —capped a seven-play, 73-yard drive that was all his own.
He ran the ball for five, 12 and 15-yard gains combined with a seven-yard pass completion, before keeping it for the final 19 yards to the end zone —an up-the-middle sprint which actually included not one but two spin moves to evade would-be Mohawk tacklers.
But the critical two-point conversion pass again failed, which would have forced Northwest to not only get a touchdown to make it 22-20 — but a two-pointer of its own for a 22-22 tie.
Instead, all the Mohawks needed was a 20-20 deadlock and a subsequent Secrest extra point for the lead —which they got just two minutes and 52 seconds later following six straight positive pickups by Campbell.
Campbell, who erupted for 217 rushing yards and two touchdowns on a colossal 35 carries, went the final five yards with 5:47 remaining —as Secrest calmly kicked the biggest extra point of his career, putting the Mohawks back ahead (21-20).
In fact, that was his 24th made PAT in 24 tries —as Secrest’s streak stands at 25 dating back to last season.
“Dakota is a weapon for us. From an extra-point standpoint, he is not going to miss,” said Crabtree.
Campbell, with another incredible rushing performance in excess of 20 carries and 200 yards, combined two receptions for five yards —which were both of Austin Newman’s pass completions and attempts.
The run-heavy Mohawks —with their distinct and traditional tightly-bunched offensive formation — chalked up 292 yards on 58 rushes, earning 18 first downs and only punting once.
Wyatt Brackman, the big fullback, chipped in a dozen carries for 42 yards.
Northwest also did not have any turnovers —a big difference from its 10-8 victory at Symmes Valley the week before.
“Our line did a great job once again against a pretty physical team up front,” said Crabtree. “Brayden (Campbell) is a great athlete for sure. Their athletes are everywhere, but our guys did a good job and we took really good care of the football. We made some halftime adjustments that really helped us.”
The Mohawks indeed executed their gameplan, being physical with the Trojans and establishing their ball control, clock-consuming, drive-crafting power running attack —which held the ball for all but three Portsmouth plays in the entire third quarter.
They put together a 10-play, 68-yard, five-minute and 42-second scoring march to open the period, as the quarterback Newman snuck a yard twice — once to convert 4th-and-1 from the Trojans’ 26 and again for the touchdown at the halfway point.
“We knew they were going to play keep-away from us,” said Portsmouth coach Bruce Kalb. “The nature of Northwest’s offense was going to hurt our offense and keep the ball out of Drew Roe’s hands. You saw when Drew did have the ball and did have time, he took over and moved us down the field. But we just couldn’t capture that momentum when we needed to and get a stop.”
The Trojans did rally twice, though.
Portsmouth needed just those three plays, 65 yards and only a minute and 50 seconds to respond and tie it at 14-14 —as Roe completed a pair of passes to Chris Duff and Amare Johnson for five yards apiece, sandwiched around a roughing-the-passer penalty.
Roe returned to Duff for the go-route touchdown strike —a 40-yard deepball with 4:34 remaining in the third —as Michael Duncan caught the tying two-point conversion pass in the back corner of the end zone.
Roe, who spread the wealth with six separate receivers, completed nine of his 19 passes for 120 yards —and rushed 10 times for 72 yards and his two scores.
Roe’s first touchdown immediately answered the Mohawks’ first, as he drove the Trojans another 65 yards over seven plays and three minutes — capped off by a three-yard keeper with 3:49 remaining before halftime.
Roe completed a 24-yard pass to Duncan to convert 4th-and-6 from the Mohawks’ 33, before the rifleman —and running man —finished the final nine yards himself.
“Drew Roe really ran the ball well for us, and he took some shots out there,” said Kalb.
Johnson, who also had 10 totes, added in 67 yards — 28 of which came on that possession’s first play.
But the two-point pass failed, leaving the Trojans trailing 7-6 — as the score stayed that way at halftime, following a seven-play 50-yard Northwest drive that ended with a missed 30-yard field goal caused by a bad snap.
However, just with the Mohawks having Secrest — and the Trojans not having Bowling — played a major role in Portsmouth’s play-calling and decision-making.
In addition to the two two-point conversion attempts, and forced to go for it from the 22 on their final series, the Trojans turned the ball over on downs on their opening possession —a four-play series that started at Northwest’s 25 and followed Johnson returning the opening kickoff 60 yards.
“Joel (Bowling) was certainly a weapon we’ve had all year, but by chance the last two weeks, he gets quarantined due to COVID-19. What (kicking) we felt was always a sure-fire thing became an Achilles’ heel for us tonight. Anytime you get into or close to the red zone, and come away empty-handed, it’s tough,” said Kalb. “We missed some opportunities throughout the game, we turned the ball over a couple of times which hurt, and we had to make sure we capitalize on our opportunities. Mistakes came back to haunt us, and you can’t make those in this type of atmosphere.”
Portsmouth punted on its second series, then moved five plays to its own 40 on its third — before Gilley made his first interception of Roe, returning it 47 yards from the Mohawks’ 40 to the Trojans’ 13.
Three plays later and five yards further, Campbell took a jet sweep to his right —and outraced a defender and just beat him to the pylon for the touchdown.
Secrest kicked the first of his three extra points for the 7-0 lead at the 6:47 mark of the second quarter, as the Mohawks regained the lead exactly 25 minutes later.
And of course, it all set up for the fantastic finish — as Gilley grabbed high Roe’s pass for the most important play in Northwest football history.
“It’s the best time in school history for football I think. Everyone is excited and the kids believe in what we’re doing,” said Crabtree. “I honestly believe the biggest games in school history have been back-to-back-to-back here the last three weeks. The kids are responding and finding ways to get it done. That’s what it’s all about.”
Crabtree continued that the Mohawks’ mentality of “next man up” was on display again —as they suffered a couple more injuries which forced some shuffling along the offensive line.
“They believe in what we’re trying to do here and that is the best thing about all this,” he said. “Not just that they’re turning into football players, but believing in the culture here that we’re trying to change. They’ve bought in, and it’s awesome to see it all come together for us. We’re making believers out of people around here.”
Northwest will now try to make true believers again, as it has the monumental task of facing sixth-seeded Columbus Ready on Saturday night.
That contest will take place at 7 p.m. at Fortress Obetz Stadium, which is in south Columbus and not far from Eldorado Scioto Downs.
How fitting — for the Mohawks are indeed longshots against the state powerhouse Silver Knights, which are 5-2 this season with both losses by a combined four points.
Crabtree knows the daunting task that Ready presents, but is more than happy that his Mohawks have an opportunity to keep playing — and making history.
“It’s going to be exciting. It’s an honor for our kids to be on the same field as a program like that,” he said. “It’s going to be a great night and we’re going to do the best we can. Our coaching staff has come up with great gameplans all year to stop good teams. Hopefully, we’ll do it again next week.”
* * *
Northwest 21, Portsmouth 20
Portsmouth 0 6 8 6 —20
Northwest 0 7 7 7 — 21
N— Brayden Campbell, 8-yard run (Dakota Secrest kick), 6:47, 2nd (7-0 N)
P— Drew Roe, 3-yard run (pass failed), 3:49, 2nd (7-6 N)
N— Austin Newman, 1-yard run (Dakota Secrest kick), 6:14, 3rd (14-6 N)
P— Chris Duff, 40-yard pass from Drew Roe (Michael Duncan pass from Drew Roe), 4:34, 3rd (14-14 tie)
P— Drew Roe, 19-yard run (pass failed), 8:39, 4th (20-14 P)
N— Brayden Campbell, 5-yard run (Dakota Secrest kick), 5:47, 4th (21-20 N)
First downs 13 18
Plays from scrimmage 39 60
Rushes-yards 20-139 58-292
Passing yards 120 5
Total yards 259 297
Cmp-Att-Int. 9-19-2 2-2-0
Fumbles-lost 0-0 1-0
Penalties-Yards 3-25 9-75
Punts-Ave. 0-0 1-42
RUSHING —Portsmouth: Drew Roe 10-72 2TD, Amare Johnson 10-67; Northwest: Brayden Campbell 35-217 2TD, Wyatt Brackman 12-42, Evan Lintz 5-24, Austin Newman 4-6 TD, Zane Gilley 1-4, Team 1-(-1)
PASSING — Portsmouth: Drew Roe 9-19-2 120 TD; Northwest: Austin Newman 2-2-0-5
RECEIVING — Portsmouth: Chris Duff 2-45 TD, Michael Duncan 2-30, Amare Johnson 2-6, Reade Pendleton 1-27, Dariyonne Bryant 1-7, Devon Lattimore 1-5 ; Northwest: Brayden Campbell 2-5
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved