Game of the Week

Pirates use last stand to beat Cardinals in IVC thriller

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Garaway and Sandy Valley circled Week 5 of the OHSAA football season well before the season began. The two Inter-Valley Conference programs knew this night would go a long way toward determining a league champion, and more importantly, it would create a huge number of playoff points for the winner.

The Friday, Sept 23 game in Magnolia did not disappoint, and a last-second stand by the Pirates helped Garaway leave town with a thrilling 34-27 victory.

Garaway got up early 6-0 on R.J. Jacobs’ 11-yard run (video), and Sandy Valley answered on Dray Bracken’s 21 yard sprint to pay dirt. Jacobs then plunged in from a yard out, and after a Kory Stress interception, Brady Winters gave Garaway a 20-6 lead on a one-yard run.

The Pirates were on the verge of blowing the game wide open before the half, marching toward the end zone, when Brad Smith picked off a Jacobs pass, returned it into Garaway land, allowing Nelson Mozden to find Xavier Sarver for a 14-yard scoring strike with just 24 seconds left.

That seemed to give the Cardinals huge momentum, and a quick stop in the second half gave them the ball, and they wasted little time in evening the score at 20 when Mozden found Chad Neisel from seven yards out.

Garaway went back on top 27-20 when Jacobs located Winters out of the backfield for a beautiful 40-yard touchdown near the end of the third quarter, but again Sandy Valley answered, with Dray Brackens powering home from a yard out to knot things up at 27 with 4:09 to play. (video)

Two big Jacobs runs set up a Winters score from the nine, and set the stage for what was going to be a winner-take-all finish.

“If we had scored, we were definitely going for tow for the win,” said Sandy Valley head coach Zach Gardner.

It looked like the game was boiling down to that tactic, as Mozden moved the Cardinals downfield. However, against a totally gassed Pirates defense, Garaway somehow found the will, and gutted out four straight stops to secure the 34-27 win.

“This feels great,” said Garaway linebacker Ian Hershberger. “We never doubted, even at the end, we believed we were going to win this game because we believe in each other.”

The Big Plays

1. The Interception – In a game of enormous plays, Sandy Valley’s Brad Smith may have the single biggest one. With Garaway leading 20-6 and marching toward the end zone near the end of the half, Smith stepped in and picked off an R.J. Jacobs pass and returned it to the Garaway 42 yard line. Not only did the Cardinals get into the end zone before the half to trim the lead to 20-13, it gave Sandy Valley big-time momentum.
Factor in that had Garaway gone in to score and make it 27-7, the Pirates would have gotten the ball back to start the third quarter, and may have blown the Cards right off the field.

2. Jacobs’ Legs – R.J. Jacobs has burned a ton of teams with his arm over the course of the season, but on this night the senior quarterback racked up an astonishing 193 yards on the ground. Jacobs came through when it mattered the most. With the game locked up at 27 with four minutes to play, Jacobs reeled off a pair of enormous runs to move the ball form the Garaway 37 to the Sandy Valley nine. Brady Winters then bounced in from there to give Garaway its final score.

3. The Last Stand – Garaway had just taken the lead with time dwindling, but the Cardinals were far from finished. Nelson Mozden expertly moved the Cardinals down the field for what would have been a score to either tie or win the game for Sandy Valley. Garaway’s defense was spent. It had been on the field a large portion of the second half and Mozden was on fire. However, After allowing a first down that moved the ball to the Garaway 32 yard line, the Pirates’ defense mustered up strength from somewhere, and put together four successive stops on Mozden passes, the last one being a heave to the end zone that just eluded the hands of a diving Xavier Sarver. (video)

And I Quote:

* Pirates’ linebacker Ian Hershberger on the final defensive stand that led to victory for Garaway and fighting through being tired at the end of the game:
“Our team has a lot of heart and we showed it tonight. Overcoming that feeling of being tired is a lot of mental work. It takes a strong mind and you can’t let anything break you.”

* Sandy Valley head coach Zach Gardner on his team’s effort despite the tough-luck loss:
“I have never been more proud to be the head coach of this football team. That is the type of games you want to play in, against class programs that are well coached, and we showed so much heart. Obviously this hurts right now, but we will get better from it. It was a great football game and we played with attitude, effort and fight.”

* Garaway’s Tanner Petitte who delivered some bruising hits despite being one of the smaller players on the field, and coming together for one gutsy final stop:
“We play as a family and believe in each other, and that is the best feeling in the world. There’s nothing like it. We talked in the huddle on that last drive about doing everything perfect, because there was no room for mistakes. When that last ball fell incomplete, it was an amazing feeling.”

* Garaway QB R.J. Jacobs on churning out 193 yards on the ground, instead of beating teams with arm, and about the nerves that come with such a huge game:
“We had chances to score and shot ourselves in the foot. We made mistakes. I made mistakes, and I will be the first to admit that. I shouldn’t have thrown some of the balls I did tonight, and I was nervous. But we came back and played Garaway football. I am more proud of my defense than anything, and my guys on the offensive line, they paved the 2way for me to run for as many yards as I did.”

* Sandy Valley head coach Zach Gardner on getting up for this huge contest after getting drubbed 31-0 by Ridgewood a week earlier:
“We challenged our kids to put last week behind us and step up and make plays tonight, and we did that. We just fell one play short, and that happens sometimes. We thought if we had four turnovers like we did that we would have a chance to win, and we did that, and we definitely were going to go for two for the win at the end if we had scored.

Number Crunching

29 – Mozden’s Massive Night
Sandy Valley Zach Mozden was surely tired Saturday morning. The Cardinals’ quarterback hoisted a massive 53 passes, completing 29 of them for 275 yards. Garaway QB R. J. Jacobs also chucked it up 34 times, completing 290 for 269 yards, making for plenty of aerial fun.

6 – Turnovers make it interesting
Garaway has been immaculate in keeping control of the ball when it is in its possession. Not so on this night, when Davis made a key pick, Mozden collected a pair of interceptions and the Cardinals created four turnovers. Sandy Valley coughed it up twice as well, making for a whopping six turnovers that only fueled the intensity in an already fever-pitched game.

123 – Brady Winters (video) out of the backfield. Garaway QB R.J. Jacobs was running the ball to the tune of 193 yards, so it seemed appropriate that running back Brady Winters would do major damage by catching the ball. The speedy sophomore caught nine passes for 123 yards while adding three scores, two on the ground.

923 – That is the number of total yards produced for the game, including 511 for Garaway and 412 for Sandy Valley. The Cardinals actually amassed an incredulous 91 offensive plays, while Garaway ran 63. However, Garaway average 8.3 yards per play, while Sandy Valley averaged 4.5. While the passes were bgeing flung around the stadium at an alarming clip, the pace of the game still saw a total of 67 rushing attempts, 29 for Garaway, 37 for Sandy Valley.

10 – Yellow may be a bright, happy color, but not to Garaway. The Pirates committed 10 penalties for a whopping 78 yards. Two of the penalties gave the Cardinals a first down on what would have been fourth down plays.

Players of the Game

Sandy Valley: Chad Neisel – The huge tight end and defensive end had a monster game, hauling in seven passes for 83 yards, while also picking up a Jacobs fumble and returning it 53 yards to thwart a Garaway drive.

Garaway: Kory Stress: He may not have taken a snap as the back-up quarterback, but Stress was all over the field form his outside linebacker position. He made six tackles and recorded a key first-half interception that set up a Pirates’ TD.

Unsung Hero: Weston Woods, Garaway
As an interior lineman, Woods rarely gets a lot of credit, but he proved to be very disruptive on defense, totaling six tackles, and made a pair of huge stops in crucial moments.

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