Garaway Football

Pirates see their playoff chances disappear in one 99-yard run to glory in 13-9 loss to Trojans

A knock-down, drag-out game goes to the Trojans as Pirates see a playoff berth slip away

The weather in Northeast Ohio for week 10 of the high school football season was cold, blustery and downright nasty.

The Tusky Valley Trojans couldn’t have been happier.

Squaring off with the Garaway Pirates, an 8-1 team bent on securing a playoff spot as well as grabbing a share of the Inter-Valley Conference South league title, the Trojans were a huge underdog, sitting at 4-5.

However, horrible weather can be the great equalizer, and the weather turned the field into a sloppy mess, taking a huge bite out of the Pirates’ explosive passing attack, an attack that relies on quick cuts, while the Trojans remained committed to their no-nonsense running game, in which they pound it right at opponents.

The end result was a 13-9 Tusky Valley win that all but eliminated the Pirates from a playoff berth.

“This one if really tough to take,” Garaway head coach Jason Wallick said. “This is a great group of kids who had higher goals. We prepared really well this week, but we just didn’t execute when we got inside the red zone. This one is going to hurt for a while.”

The Trojans took the opening kick-off and rumbled down the field by blasting Garaway off the line in the trenches, and Ethan Love eventually hammered right through a couple of Garaway defenders for a 20-yard score. A missed point left Tusky Valley ahead 6-0, and the teams then began to play a chess game of field position.

Garaway got the upper hand when Dylan Hershberger pinned the Trojans on their own 2-yard line, and Hershberger completed his effort by tackling Love in the end zone for a safety.

After several failed attempts from both teams, Garaway was able to take the lead early in the second quarter by moving down the field on a series of short passes before running back Brady Winters pushed in from 2 yards out to give Garaway a 9-6 lead.

That’s the way it stood as the teams went into the half, but Tusky Valley had proven to itself it could play with the Pirates.

How Garaway would come out in the second half would be key, and the Pirates were in great shape as they quickly marched down the field to the Tusky Valley 4-yard line. However, a botched pitch on third and two and an offside penalty pushed the Pirates back to the 12, and a fourth-down pass went incomplete as the Trojans had dodged a bullet.

Moments later Love ripped off a huge gainer to midfield but couldn’t produce anything else and had to punt. The field position game was on again, and Tusky Valley was successfully chewing up the clock with its running game.

Late in the third period the Trojans were driving but coughed up the ball inside the Garaway 10, where Matthew Mullen fell on it. The Pirates seemed poised to take advantage of that miscue and drove the length of the field, getting a large chunk of real estate on Ley’s pass to Winters and another big play on to Brady Yoder.

With under 10 minutes to play, Garaway was poised to take a two-score lead. Then one of the more bizarre sequences of plays of the season took place.

On second and goal from the one, Garaway’s line surged forward with Ley following, and it appeared as though Ley crossed the goal line. An official came in signaling a touchdown, and the Pirates celebrated. Meanwhile, as Garaway’s kicking team came on to the field, another official overruled the play and denied the score. That set off a chaotic moment of mass confusion. Garaway had thought it had scored, and in the chaos of trying to get their kick team on and then off of the field, the play clock ran down, and the Pirates were penalized 5 yards.

“When one guy calls it a touchdown and the other guy doesn’t and then the mess with the clock not being reset, it changed a lot. That makes it so difficult to take, but again, if we execute throughout the game, we aren’t in that position,” Jason Wallick said.

Now with the ball on the six, the Pirates ran off tackle to the left, but the ball squirted loose and into the large mass of players near the goal line.

The ball seemed to get lost until Luke Herron emerged with it out of the crowd. The linebacker sailed down the sideline with a couple of blockers and several Pirates in hot pursuit. Despite several Garaway players having angles, none were able to contain Herron, and he posted a game-changing 99-yard touchdown that became the signature play of the game.

“The ball came through the line, and I grabbed it and took off,” Herron said. “It was a huge adrenaline rush the whole way, and after I got into the end zone, I just fell.”

With two interceptions returned for touchdowns earlier this season, it marked the third time Herron has recorded a defensive  score, but none were bigger than this one.

The two teams traded stops, and with four minutes to play, Garaway would have one final chance to win the game.

Ley began marching the Pirates downfield, finding Mullen, Peyton Miller and Yoder as Garaway looked poised to score.

Ley completed a huge fourth-and-seven play to keep the drive alive and moved the ball down to the Ridgewood 12-yard line. On third down TV senior defensive back Jarrod Hicks made what well may have been a game-saving tackle on a sensational defensive play in which he tripped up Yoder on the 12. On fourth and six on a must-have for Garaway, Ley’s pass went incomplete, and Tusky Valley had escaped with a weather-worn upset win.

“It was a great finish and a great way to end the year for our kids,” said Tusky Valley head coach Chad Wallick, who said he pulled a hamstring as he ran down the sideline on Herron’s touchdown run. “It’s great for our team and for our community. We persevered, and this total-team effort was about the kids preparing themselves to play a great, well-coached team. I am so proud of them.”

Jason Wallick was equally proud of his team, a group that had put itself in position to snag a playoff spot but now is on the outside looking in for what their head coach said was a million-to-one long shot of getting in.

“Our defense played phenomenal tonight and hats off to our seniors,” Jason Wallick said. “They’ve poured a lot into this program, and they should be proud of everything they accomplished this year. It is just such a difficult way for them to leave the game.”

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