LUCASVILLE — The Minford Falcons, returning to The Reservation at Valley High School for the second time in as many years on Saturday night, made sure this time they ventured back down Lucasville-Minford Road as winners.
Meanwhile, The Reservation joined Roy Rogers Field at Northwest High School and Trojan Coliseum at Portsmouth High School as not exactly a “home away from home” for the West Senators.
That’s because Minford mustered the opening 21 points, withstood West’s back-and-forth second-half shootout, and tallied the final 10 points en route to capturing a key Southern Ohio Conference Division II tilt by a 41-21 count.
In the process, Minford —moving to 4-2 and 1-1 in the SOC II —made it three consecutive victories over the Senators, with one at West’s “Rock”, one at Minford’s “Falcons’ Nest”, and now at Valley’s “Reservation”.
The Falcons — in never trailing and forcing five Senator turnovers on Saturday — also spoiled the Senators’ Homecoming, as West has been playing its home games this season at Scioto County locations other than its own field.
The “Rock” remains under construction at West High School, where the Senators are getting a new artificial turf surface.
Incidentally, three of the four Senator losses are all at those true neutral sites —while Waverly was the first true road-game loss, as all three of West’s wins (Adena, Wellston, Columbus KIPP) were true road shows.
Minford, meanwhile, continues to play on natural grass inside its Falcons’ Nest —and bounced back nicely following its narrow and heartbreaking home loss (24-20) 11 days ago against Wheelersburg.
The Falcons remain alive, with some help, in the SOC II championship chase —and moved up a single spot to ninth in the Division V Region 19 computer ratings, with Tuesday’s official release from the Ohio High School Athletic Association.
With the expansion of the OHSAA state playoffs to 16 teams per region this year, and no bye weeks with that, the top eight squads secure first-round home games.
The Falcons executed in all three phases against the Senators —and starting right with Ethan Connally’s interception of Mitchell Irwin near midfield on the game’s opening play.
Minford meant business right away, and all night, gaining nine yards on a Jeffrey Pica run from the West 48-yard line —with senior quarterback Devin Parker then completing a 38-yard pass to Trenton Zimmerman all the way inside the one.
Pica dove in the end zone from there, the Falcons were on the scoreboard only a minute and 20 seconds in, and their stunning fly-away from West was just getting started.
While Wheelersburg did defeat the Falcons with a 17-play, 86-yard, six-minute fourth-quarter scoring drive, Minford coach Jesse Ruby maintained it was his club’s best performance of the season.
That was until Saturday night.
“We played very well very early, and our kids executed our gameplan really well. For us to come over here and play this well, that makes me really proud of our kids,” said Ruby. “We lost a tough one last week, and it was going to be interesting to see how we would respond. We came back and responded really well. It’s just great to get a win over here.”
Truth be told, Valley is actually closer to Minford than the West side is —but with West guilty of five turnovers, including two lost fumbles and two more fourth-quarter interceptions, it ended those possessions and led directly to the Falcons’ first seven and final three points.
While West ran 25 (78-53) more plays from scrimmage, collected five (20-15) more first downs and actually tied the Falcons for total yardage with 370 apiece, the Senators scored zero first-half points.
Following the first-play pickoff by Connally, the Senators moved into Minford territory on their final six first-half possessions.
The results were three turnovers on downs, a 12-yard punt, a lost fumble at the Falcon 33 after two plays, and a missed 33-yard field goal as the Falcon 15-yard line was the deepest of those first-half drives.
The Senators’ final first-half series, which spanned two-and-a-half minutes and went 14 plays between the two 19-yard lines, stalled with a third turnover on downs.
“Early on, they were gaining momentum moving into our territory, but we made some really good defensive stops to give our offense the ball back,” said Ruby. “We were able to force five turnovers and capitalize on those turnovers.”
In his interview for The Portsmouth Daily Times game preview report which appeared in Saturday’s edition, West coach Todd Gilliland discussed the importance of completing possessions with points — and not making mistakes.
So one can imagine his disappointment and frustration following the game.
“The keys to the game were winning the line of scrimmage, finishing drives off with touchdowns, and taking care of the football. We didn’t do any of those things,” said Gilliland. “We were inside their 30-yard line, if not their 25, almost every drive. We just couldn’t go down and punch one in. That was the difference in the game. We put a couple of scores up in the first half, and it’s a different ballgame. But give all the credit in the world to Minford. They played hard, they played physical and they made plays.”
That was true, both defensively and offensively.
Connally opened the game with an interception, and ended it with another, while Zimmerman made an interception of Irwin with exactly three minutes remaining —and returned it 30 yards to the Senator 12.
That set up Myles Montgomery, who was a perfect 5-of-5 on extra-point kicks, making a 21-yard field goal with only two minutes to play for the 41-21 final.
The six-foot four-inch Zimmerman caught four passes for 109 yards, including an aerial over West’s Brandon Anderson in the end zone from 27 yards at the midpoint of the opening quarter.
That made it 14-0 in favor of the Falcons, which stood until the opening drive of the third frame —when Zimmerman returned the opening kickoff 21 yards to the Minford 47, Parker picked up 22 yards on the first snap to the Senator 31, and finally Parker’s pass off a beautiful play-fake found Connally wide open for a 33-yard touchdown strike.
That made it 21-0 only a minute and 53 seconds into the second half, as Parker immediately answered the Senators’ first touchdown —with a 58-yard dash down the middle on a zone read QB keeper call.
The 21-0 and 28-7 advantages were Minford’s largest, as Montgomery’s first field goal —a 29-yard boot with a minute-and-a-half left in the third — boosted the lead to 31-14.
Connally also had a 13-yard reception, as Parker accounted for three touchdowns —and all but 103 of the Falcons’ total yards.
He completed half (six) of his 13 passes for 155 yards and the two TDs with one interception, while rushing for 112 more on 15 carries.
Pica, whose 22-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter to make it 38-21 with Montgomery’s final extra point, averaged four yards a tote on 22 total touches for 88 yards.
“We had a lot of contributors tonight, just stepping up and making plays,” said Ruby. “Our offensive line played really well and opened up a lot of running lanes for Jeffrey (Pica) and Devin (Parker). In the passing game, Devin read his keys and put balls in the right spots to let guys make plays. Trenton (Zimmerman) and Ethan (Connally), both offensively and defensively, had big games. Kicking game with Myles Montgomery was very good. All three phases played extremely well, and hats off to my coaching staff for putting the work in and putting our kids in positions to make plays in all three phases. Just a really good team win for us.”
And, a disappointing outcome for the Senators.
Irwin completed 20 passes on 45 attempts for a hefty 214 yards, including half (10) to Ashton Klaiber for 131 and another five to Jeffery Bishop for 40, but two of his three interceptions were killers.
He added 19 rushing yards and two 5-yard TD runs on five attempts, but both times —with Parker’s 58-yard sprint and Pica’s 22-yard paydirt trip —the Falcons answered for 28-7 and 38-21 leads.
Klaiber caught a 48-yard touchdown pass midway through the third to slice the Minford lead in half to 28-14, but Montgomery’s first field goal halted that momentum momentarily.
Of West’s 33 rushing attempts and 156 yards, junior Ryan Sissel sported 26 tries for 137 —but Minford made the first-half defensive stops, when West wasn’t committing turnovers.
The Senators stopped themselves on several occasions, and couldn’t stop the Falcons from scoring in the second half.
“They answered each time. In the second half, we felt that if we could just get a stop, we could keep scoring, because by that point we felt good offensively. But they took advantage and answered,” said Gilliland. “We were always playing catch-up, no matter what. We could never get that score to even. Parker and Pica and their receivers did a great job and did exactly what we thought they could do, and we weren’t able to stop them. They executed very well.”
Perhaps West will fare better the next time at The Reservation, which is actually this Friday night against Valley — in a regular road and SOC II tilt.
“It’s another game we’re going to have to come ready to play, and play hard for four quarters. If not, Valley will take advantage of our mistakes like Minford did tonight,” said Gilliland. “You can’t turn the ball over this many times and expect to win games against good teams. We have to find a way to both limit and fix our mistakes.”
But make no mistake, the Falcons are flying high right now —and will host 1-6 Oak Hill on Friday night in the SOC II.
“West is a very good ballclub, and they’ve played right with Fairland (5-1), Portsmouth (6-1) and Waverly (6-0) for the most part. Those are three of the best teams in the area. So this is a huge win for us, and now we have to capitalize on this win,” said Ruby. “I want to see how we respond against Oak Hill after playing this well tonight.”
* * *
Minford 14 0 17 10 —41
West 0 0 14 7 —21
M — Jeffrey Pica, 1-yard run (Myles Montgomery kick), 10:40, 1st (7-0 M)
M — Trenton Zimmerman, 27-yard pass from Devin Parker (Myles Montgomery kick), 6:18, 1st (14-0 M)
M — Ethan Connally, 33-yard pass from Devin Parker (Myles Montgomery kick), 10:09, 3rd (21-0 M)
W— Mitchell Irwin, 5-yard run (Landon Perkins kick), 9:57, 3rd (21-7 M)
M — Devin Parker, 58-yard run (Myles Montgomery kick), 7:37, 3rd (28-7 M)
W — Ashton Klaiber, 48-yard pass from Mitchell Irwin (Landon Perkins kick), 6:37, 3rd (28-14 M)
M — Myles Montgomery, 29-yard field goal, 1:33, 3rd (31-14 M)
W — Mitchell Irwin, 5-yard run (Landon Perkins kick), 10:27, 4th (31-21 M)
M — Jeffery Pica, 22-yard run (Myles Montgomery kick), 6:23, 4th (38-21 M)
M — Myles Montgomery, 21-yard field goal, 2:01, 4th (41-21 M)
First downs 15 20
Scrimmage plays 53 78
Rushes-yards 40-215 33-156
Passing yards 155 214
Total yards 370 370
Cmp-Att-Int. 6-13-1 20-45-3
Fumbles-lost 1-1 6-2
Penalties-yards 6-52 6-50
Punts-Ave 4-31 2-22
RUSHING —Minford: Devin Parker 15-112 TD, Jeffrey Pica 22-88 2TD, Tysen Kingery 3-15; West: Ryan Sissel 26-137, Mitchell Irwin 5-19 2TD, Ashton Klaiber 1-2, Team 1-(-2)
PASSING — Minford: Devin Parker 6-13-1-155 2TD; West: Mitchell Irwin 20-45-3-214 TD
RECEIVING— Minford: Trenton Zimmerman 4-109 TD, Ethan Connally 2-46 TD; West: Ashton Klaiber 10-131 TD, Jeffrey Bishop 5-40, Trevor Fike 1-14, Alex Blevins 1-11, Cole Tipton 1-7, Ryan Sissel 1-7, Brandon Anderson 1-4
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected]west.com, or on Twitter @paulboggssports © 2021 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved