When that perfect onside kick takes just one bounce too many, it usually doesn't work. To the dismay of Union Local's vastly-improved Jets, their onside kick with 2:29 left was perfect, but not perfect enough.
With Austin Marshal and Devan Pyciak returning to the Buckeye Local backfield after missing last week's loss to Martins Ferry and the Panther defense held off a second half Union Local comeback to register a thrilling 18-16 win in Morristown Friday night.
Coach Phil Pest's Panthers covered a bouncing onside kick just seconds after the Jets cut the lead to a pair and held on to notch its fourth win in seven outings this season. Buckeye runs into the meat of its schedule starting this week when they travel to St. Clairsville to face the unbeaten Red Devils then follow that with games against once-beaten Indian Creek and Harrison Central.
UNION LOCAL’S Kaleb McDiffit stretches out for a catch as Buckeye Local’s Andy Stock defends during Friday’s game in Morristown. Additional images may be found at cu.timesleaderonline.com
Mark Cisar's hard-working Jets fell to 1-6 on the season. They are in action on Saturday with an afternoon tilt at Bellaire.
"I thought we were going to roll after we started with a score after just three plays," Pest said after the game. "But we missed on a couple scoring opportunities early and our special teams gave up a a safety."
"We did have some bright moments out there," the Panther coach added. "There was a couple nice Kirk to Duncan passes and Marshall ran the ball very well tonight. Austin Flaherty did a good job after moving to defensive tackle."
"Hats off to Union Local though," he said. "He (Cisar) has them trying to win every week and there is no quit in them.
"We had to use a lot of subs out there on the line tonight," Pest pointed out. "Our two starting tackles are out, so we have had to make some changes. Of course, we knew coming in that we were going to be lean and young on the line."
In the second half, UL put together its first scoring drive despite some big efforts by the Panther defense. A big stop by Brian Zeroski and a QB sack by Dylan Dokes and Austin Flaherty was quite enough as the Jets drove 64 yards on 10 plays.
UL's scoring drive was highlighted by an 11-yard run by Tater Blake and passes of 10 and 17 yards from Gavin Porter to Kaleb McDiffitt and another for 16 yards to Travis James. Porter capped off the drive with a 19 blast through the middle with 2:17 left in the third. Dunfee booted the PAT.
After the ensuing kickoff, Buckeye bounced back with a long scoring drive that was bolstered by a near blocked punt that ended in the Panthers' Eric Bell recovering a fumble at the UL 45. Kirk quickly struck with a 29-yard toss to a diving Shane Duncan. Three plays later, Marshall covered four yards to score with 8:30 remaining.
Blake's fourth down QB sack with 4:32 on the board, set up the Jets final score. Starting from the UL 40, Porter connected on a 33-yarder to Austin Kemp and later for 15 yards to Dunfee to set up Porter's score from the one with 2:29 left. Dunfee booted the PAT.
UL's ensuing onside kick took three high bounces over the Panther players before Chase Hopkins covered the ball at the 32 and the Panthers managed to close out the clock.
"We had a game plan coming in and the kids knew what they had to do, but you can't start a game any worse than that," Cisar said afterwards. "We dropped two touchdowns. The kids played extremely well."
"I thought we moved the ball real well but we had a couple fumbles and dropped some passes. We are getting better every week. We are getting the effort from the kids and I can't ask for more than that."
Buckeye struck quick scoring in the first minute on a drive that was set up by Austin Marshall's 12-yard kickoff return to the Panther 27. Senior quarterback Nathan Kirk connected with standout receiver Shane Duncan on a 17-yard pass to the 44.
Kirk followed the pass to Duncan with a quick handoff to Andy Stock who swept the left side on a slick 40-yard dash along the sideline before being stopped at the 16. On the Panthers' third offensive play, Devan Pyciak bulled through the middle covering 16 yards for the score with 11:14 on the clock. The PAT kick was off the mark.
Defense stymied the offenses through the middle of the frame with Pyciak grabbing a Jet fumble to spark the Buckeyes, while a big stop by Jesse Keith stalled a Panther drive.
Buckeye regained possession on its own 42 with 6:03 on the first quarter clock. Staying on the ground with the exception of 27-yard toss from Kirk to Duncan, the Panthers put together an 11-play drive that culminated in a one-yard run for a score by Marshall with 0:52 left in the session. The Panther drive featured the running of Pyciak, Marshall, Stock and Kirk. Again the Panther PAT try came up short.
Union Local's lone first quarter came in the second frame on a safety when the Panther punt snap sailed over the head of Christian Hopkins who alertly flipped the ball out of the end zone.
Defense sparkled again in the second with Tater Blake making a big stop of the Panther runner for a loss that eventually set up the safety. Trenton Tipton picked off an errant Panther pass late in the second. Buckeye's Dylan Dokes and Pyciak combined on a key sack late in the half.