With the V.A.L.E.S. Trophy on the line, hopes for a spot Division IV, Region 15 playoffs and their hopes for their first win over neighboring rival Buckeye Local, Harrison Central's Huskies were looking at a pretty crucial regular season finale with the Panthers.
What they got was a superb effort from their defense and an explosive performance by their offense to register a 49-6 win over the Panthers Friday night in Cadiz.
With the win and a little help from Bellaire with its win over Martins Ferry, coach Justin Kropka's Huskies closed out the regular season with a 7-3 record and earned a game for week 11. Harrison should advance into the postseason next week against an opponent yet to be determined, but the official qualifiers, pairings and brackets will be announced on Sunday by the Ohio High School Athletic Association.
HARRISON CENTRAL’S Niko Williams follows his blockers for a big gain during Friday’s game against rival Buckeye Local. Williams and the Huskies won the VALES Trophy, capped a 7-3 season and locked up a berth in the Division IV, Region 15 playoffs with the win. Additional images may be found at cu.timesleaderonline.com
Along with earning a playoff berth, the Huskies also notched their first win over Buckeye Local in five tries and took home the V.A.L.E.S trophy.
Closing out his first year as the Panthers' head coach, Phil Pest saw his injury-plagued Panthers finish at 4-6, dropping four of their last five games.
"The most important factor for us all week was to make sure these seniors left this field winners their last time out. Things are going to happen that are out of our control. We'll see how that all plays out," Kropka said after the big win.
"I couldn't be more proud of our senior group. I'll say this. If this is our last game together, I'll miss this group a ton," the Huskie coach said as they play the wait-and-see game for next week.
"This is the most focused we came out for a game since the Martins Ferry game. I think it really hit home to them when they walked on the field in pregame that this would be it. They were focused, and we were sharp on both sides of the ball.
"I feel for the kids at Buckeye Local. It's their last game too for their seniors. We give them a lot of credit, but tonight was our night. And we're going to enjoy it.
"We always want to take away the run first. And we've been able to do that all year. We really didn't run anything special. We played our base defense most of the night.
"If there is a next step, we'll get up and play whoever we're supposed to play. When you get into the postseason, you're playing with other people's money. We'll play whoever they give us," Kropka added.
Tyler Rose and Tyler Hood combined on a QB sack that stuffed the Panthers first possession and lead to the Huskies initial scoring drive n the opening session. Harrison gave Buckeye a steady dose of Maurtice Hython and the standout senior back did not disappoint the Huskie faithful.
Called on to carry the ball nine times and getting an addition 15 yards on a Panther pass interference penalty, the Huskies moved the ball to the Panther 23. The quick-footed senior quarterback Rashaen Mitchell skipped off to the left side, dodged a couple tacklers and ran the 23 yards to paydirt with 5:25 on the board. Rafael Texeira booted the PAT.
At the close of the first frame, Mitchell connected with a speeding Dalton Rutter on a 65-yard pass play that put the Huskies on the Panther three. Hython covered the three n the first play of the second and along with Teixeira's boot stretched the lead to 14-0.
Later in the second, Kropka stayed on the ground and utilized the running of Mitchell, Hython and Niko Williams to cover 73 yards on nine plays to extend their lead. Mitchell ran the final eight to add his second score. Teixeira's PAT extended the margin to 21-0.
On the ensuing kickoff, the Huskies defenders ran the Panther returner back to the endzone, forcing a fumble that resulted in a safety with 5:09 on the board.
Harrison took advantage of the Panther kickoff to add another score. Covering 58 yards and featuring a 24-yard run by Hython, the hosts got on the board with a Mitchell to Rutter pass that covered four yards with 3:09 left. Texeira booted the PAT.
In the third, Harrison added to its lead with a second half opening drive its own 30 and was sparked by Hython's 35-yard run to the Buckeye 35. Four plays later, Mitchell connected Fletcher Watt on a well-executed 16-yard scoring pass with 9:11 on the clock. Texiera added the PAT for a 37-0 lead.
Josh Moore's first of two pass interceptions set up the Huskies next score. Putting together a 55-yard drive, Harrison capped off the drive with a one-yard scoring run by Terrance Lindsay with 1:36 on the third quarter clock.
Buckeye speedster Austin Marshall took the ensuing kickoff and raced untouched for 79 yards and the Panthers lone score with 1:22 showing.
With both teams utilizing their benches, Harrison managed one more score with a long 13-play drive. Bryson Porter carried the final two for the score with 4:39 left in the contest.
"Hython is the real deal," Pest said afterward. "They are a very good football team. They have a very good quarterback. I really think they could have passed a lot more if they wanted to."
"We are really going to miss Zeroski, Duncan, Marshall and Kirk and all of our seniors. We had kids that played hurt all year for us. We played with a lot of injuries," Pest added.
"We started out the year well. Our kids did the things that had to do to win early, but then the injury bug hit and it just got a lot tougher for us right when we got into the tough part of our schedule," the Panther coach concluded.
BUCKEYE LOCAL 0060-6
HARRISON CENTRAL 723136-49
HC - Mitchell, 23yard run. Teixeira kick.
HC - Hython, three-yard run. Teixeira kick
HC - Mitchell, eight-yard run. Teixeira kick.
HC - Safety
HC - Rutter, four-yard pass from Mitchell. Teixeira kick.
HC - Watt, 16-yard pass from Mitchell. Teixeira kick.
HC - Lindsey, one-yard run. Run failed.
BL - Marshall, 79-yard kickoff return. Run failed.
HC - Porter, two-yard run. Run failed.
RUSHING: Buckeye Local (28-80) - Pyciak, 9-3; Kirk, 5-(-9); Marshall, 4-7; Stock, 2-3; Tustin, 3-10; Hopkins, 1-14; Mosser, 2-23; Pielech, 1-6. Harrison Central (57-362) - Hython, 22-148-2; Mitchell, 5-51-2; Williams, 4-44; Lindsey, 8-30-1; Miser, 3-33; Maykowski, 2-13; Stenson, 5-16; Johnson, 2-2; Porter, 4-21-1.
PASSING: Buckeye Local (1-9-15-0-2) - Kirk, 1-7-15-0-1; Hopkins, 0-1-0-0-1; Duncan, 0-1-0-0-0 Harrison Central (5-7-113-2-0) - all by Mitchell
RECEIVING: Buckeye Local - Agnew, 1-15. Harrison Central - Hython, 2-28; Rutter, 2-69-1; Watt, 1-16-1.
FIRST DOWNS: Buckeye Local, 8; Harrison Central, 23
PENALTIES: Buckeye Local, 1-15; Harrison Central, 5-48
FUMBLES: Buckeye Local, 0-0; Harrison Central, 0-0