Before the OHSAA football season even began, the Garaway Pirates had hung a great deal of their hopes on week’s five and six of the 10-game schedule this fall.
Not that the other games wouldn’t take a great deal of effort and good play, but the back-to-back road trips to Sandy Valley and Ridgewood were going to go a long way in determining two key factors this fall.
The first was, who would get a leg up on capturing the Inter-Valley Conference title, the second was the incredible playoff points associated with a victory from these two contests.
After slipping past Sandy Valley in week five 34-27, the Pirates faced a huge task in tackling the Generals on the road in week six Friday, Sept. 30.
Ridgewood’s home record is legendary, reported to be 51-5 under head coach John Slusser coming into the game.
That is now 51-6, as Garaway’s defense delivered a huge effort in shutting down Ridgewood to deliver a 27-7 win that put the Pirates in the driver’s seat for the league crown and to host a state playoff game.
“That was a fun one, that’s for sure,” said Garaway coach Jason Wallick. “That is such an incredibly tough place to go into and get a win. It is probably the most hostile environment I can think of that we play in, and they absolutely love their football down there.”
Not to mention that Ridgewood is very, very good, that’s evident from the way they kicked Sandy Valley around in a week four blowout.
But on this night, the glory belonged to Garaway’s defense.
The Pirates defenders set a tone for the game, and were relentless in their pursuit of victory.
While the high-octane Pirates offense may get the headlines, the defense has quietly and consistently delivered some pretty clutch performances since getting rolled over in the first half of the season opener against Dalton in which they allowed four out of five drives to score.
“I thought our defense proved that it was extremely tough and we played flawlessly with a lot of heart and effort,” said Wallick.
After getting stopped on their initial drive, the Garaway defense delivered big when it stuffed the Generals on fourth-and-inches near the Garaway 30 yard line.
Garaway took advantage, as quarterback R.J. Jacobs found a streaking Quinn Miller on the sideline, hit him in stride and Miller raced 71 yards for the opening score.
Garaway’s defense would come up big again with another huge stop on fourth down, once again at its own 30. A Garaway turnover would give Ridgewood the ball right back, and again the Pirates’ D would play big and force a Ridgewood punt.
Jacobs then quickly found speedy wide-out Carson Troyer for a 50-yard scoring strike to give the Pirates a 14-0 lead at the half.
Garaway’s defense continued to dominate after the half, making a big stop and giving the ball to an offense that knows what to do with it. Jacobs hit Ty Hamsher on a crossing pattern, and Hamsher broke several tacklers and scooted down the sideline to give Garaway a 20-0 lead.
“That was an amazing play form an amazing athlete,” said Wallick of the catch and run on the acrobatic score from Hamsher.
Ridgewood finally solved the Pirates defense, and drove for a score when Javon Merrill crushed one in from two yards out to make it 20-7.
Garaway’s prolific offense would provide a quick response.
“The stadium got pretty loud after they scored and it was electric, but it was great to see our kids respond the way they did on that next drive,” said Wallick.
The key play was a 72-yard catch and run from Jacobs to Troyer, setting up possession on the Ridgewood seven-yard line. Jacobs rewarded Troyer for his effort by finding him on a seven-yard scoring strike to make it 27-7.
Just like that, the electricity had been turned off.
“You could kind of sense the air coming out of the stadium,” said Wallick. “That score was huge.”
Ridgewood kept coming, and recorded the first three sacks of the season to Jacobs and the offense.
Wallick said the rugged offensive line takes great pride in protecting their quarterback, but sometimes taking a small loss rather than forcing the issue is the right thing to do, and he noted that Jacobs did well in not forcing passes just to avoid a sack.
It was a concentrated team effort, a total team effort for the Pirates, and it was an effort that Wallick said they knew they would have to put forth to beat a team as tough and talented as the Generals.
With the win, Garaway is in control of a lot of things, and with this key part of the schedule behind it, it would be easy to see the team have a let-down.
Wallick said he doesn’t expect that to happen with 18 seniors who have shown incredible leadership this season.
Even after the huge win, Wallick said they were happy, but it was evident that the team knows it still has work to do this season, and will take nothing for granted.
“That was probably the quietest bus ride home after a huge win I have ever seen,” said Wallick. “Part of it was just because we were just plain whipped for the effort we gave. But part of it is because this team is so focused and determined to do some special things, and they understand that this was just part of the process.”
The win improves Garaway to 6-0 overall and 3-0 in the IVC, while Ridgewood falls to 5-1, 2-1.
There is still work to do, but should the Pirates continue to put forth the kind of effort it did on this night, it will be incredibly tough for any opponent to knock them off the undefeated train they are currently riding.