Scotties tailback carried the load in critical road win
THORNVILLE – Down one of its top weapons and with its quarterback still on the mend, Blake Sands and a determined offensive line put the Tri-Valley’s season on their shoulders.
They proved more than up to the challenge.
Sands played the role of workhorse, as the Scotties bullied their way to a 38-21 win against host Sheridan in a battle of Muskingum Valley League stalwarts on Friday night at Paul Culver Jr. Stadium.
Tri-Valley (5-2, 4-1 MVL) had leads of 21-7 at halftime and 31-14 midway through the fourth quarter, as it ran 73 plays to Sheridan’s 38 and held a time of possession edge of more than 20 minutes.
The win moved the Scotties into a tie for the league lead and dropped Sheridan (5-2, 4-1) into a three-way tie. John Glenn, which routed Morgan, 42-7, joined them atop the standings and play at Tri-Valley next week.
Tri-Valley coach Kevin Fell urged to his players their goals are still in front of them, despite two prior losses. “Now we’re starting to play,” Fell said. “If we could just put a whole team on the field we’d be pretty good. Our offensive line stood out and that was a big help tonight. They played well last week against New Lex, but I thought they did a real good job tonight. They controlled it.”
Sands offered no rebuttal.”Our line blocked tremendously and the receivers blocked tremendously,” Sands said. “We got the edge countless times. Once we ran to the outside, the middle opened up.”
With backfield mate Jordan Pantaleo sidelined with a sprained ankle, Sands tore a page from the book of Drew Cannon, carrying 36 times for 222 yards and a pair of touchdowns in his absence. And like Cannon, the former New Lexington star from the early 2000s, Sands also played a key defensive role.
Many of his runs were inside the tackles, using a punishing, no-nonsense running style that eventually wore the usually staunch General defense down.
“I don’t know how many times Blake carried the ball, but we’re used to having two backs,” Fell said. “But tonight we didn’t have two backs. He’s playing defense, too. He cramped a couple of times and (Aidan) Fritter cramped up a couple times. It seemed like we ran a thousand plays.”
Tri-Valley ran 58 times for 258 yards in all, as Sands and Fritter combined for 54 of the carries. It was the first time that Fritter, who has battled a significant ankle injury of his own, ran more than 10 times in a game since Week 3.
Fritter, the quarterback, said his ankle finally felt healthy during practice this week, which allowed him to be more diverse. He carried four times on a 58-yard scoring drive to start the second half, which pushed the lead to 28-7.
“It’s like having another running back back there,” Sands said, adding Fritter’s running helped open up the inside.
Fritter also hit deep passes of 56 and 40 yards to Rob Wachter in the first half to set up touchdowns.
“We had a lot to prove after the last few weeks, because we haven’t been playing to our ability,” Fritter said. “We haven’t played a full game yet. Tonight we showed we can play a full game.”
Despite an offense that struggled with quarterback Nate Johnson hobbled with a leg injury, the Generals still were within 14-7 after Johnson found Landen Russell for an 8-yard touchdown pass with 43 seconds left before halftime.
Tri-Valley ran it twice with Sands, appearing content to run out the clock with only 14 seconds showing. But Fell elected to stay aggressive from just inside Sheridan territory, as Wachter got behind the defense and hauled in his second deep ball, giving Tri-Valley possession at the Sheridan 4.
Just 4.8 seconds remained. Fell could have elected for an almost sure-thing field goal, but he put the ball in Fritter’s hands instead. That proved a wise choice.
Fritter hit senior receiver Keaton Williams on a slant pass from the slot, almost uncontested, for a game-changing touchdown to end the half. Bay’s PAT made it 21-7, and Sands’ 11-yard score to start the third quarter proved the difference.
Fell said the play was option route where Williams could have ran a hook or a slant depending on the read. He and Fritter were on the same page, the product of good chemistry.
“That’s the thing when you have an All-District basketball player playing inside like that,” Fell said. “It’s just a better deal for us.”
Fritter said a field goal was never considered.
“That’s just Coach Fell — he’s eager,” Fritter said. “We had something to prove.”
Sheridan’s got within 28-14 when junior receiver Logan Ranft took an end around untouched for an 80-yard touchdown with 4:48 left in the third. He outran most of the Scottie defense in the process.
Sheridan then forced a punt after Shay Taylor’s second sack, but a deep ball to Ranft was just out of reach, and the Generals punted.
Luken Hill soared over a pair of defenders to haul in a 14-yard touchdown pass on a fade route in the fourth, pulling Sheridan within 31-21, but the Generals never got closer.
Sheridan coach Paul Culver III said the team’s defensive struggles were in direct correlation with the offense’s inability to sustain drives. Culver said Johnson’s injury, suffered last week at Philo, limited what they could do.
He also credited the Scotties’ play up front.
“It comes back to our offense and the inconsistencies,” Culver III said. “Our defense didn’t play great, but they battled. Our offense continued to put them in bad spots with short fields and not picking up first downs, and that’s back to me.”
Johnson finished 9-of-23 passing for 125 yards and pair of TDs. Hill and Ranft combined for 6 receptions and 110 yards.
Wachter had three catches for 93 yards and Williams added four for 34. Fritter ran for 47 yards and a pair of scores.