Nelsonville-York Buckeyes

Nelsonville-York’s Drew Carter (5) runs against Vinton County’s Zayne Karr during a game on Oct. 15. Carter and the Buckeyes were 42-9 winners over Centerburg on Saturday.

NELSONVILLE — In Saturday night’s Division VI, Region 23 first-round playoff game, Nelsonville-York took the old football philosophy of “bend, but don’t break” to a whole new level.

The Buckeyes (8-3) gave up yards in between Boston Field’s 20-yard lines but became more immovable as visiting Centerburg moved closer to the goal line. The Trojans traveled into enemy territory seven times — four of those trips were into the red zone — yet came away with only a single touchdown, and that didn’t come until they were already facing a 28-point deficit.

Matchups between #8 and #9 seeds are supposed to be more competitive, and statistics might tell you that it was, but what numbers can’t measure are big plays made at critical moments, and on this night, that’s where Nelsonville-York shined in a 42-9 victory.

There was a blocked punt returned for a touchdown, an interception brought back for another, a second pick in the end zone, and five fourth-down stops, including one that began as a first-and-goal from the 1-yard line.

In between, there was the brilliance of the Buckeye running game, which churned out 242 yards and four touchdowns. Senior Drew Carter accounted for 125 and two, respectively, and thus needed to throw only four passes to keep the offense humming.

“Yeah, if you had told me before the game that we were going to get a pick-six and a punt block for a touchdown, I would have told you that our chances to win the game were going to be pretty good,” said coach Rusty Richards. “That’s what you have to do against a good offense. You go in knowing that it’s going to get its yards, but you have to step up your game when it moves in close and the field shrinks.

“I thought the key to our defense was our [pass] coverage,” he said. “We were able to get pressure and a few sacks on their quarterback, especially as the game wore on, and Nathan Martin and Tucker Levering both had big games, but I thought a lot of those were coverage sacks.”

And Nelsonville-York needed it against Centerburg (6-4) senior signal-caller Jack Gregory, who displayed both a big-time arm and a gunslinger’s mentality. With the Trojans’ second-leading rusher missing the game due to concussion protocol, the team had to rely on the combination of Gregory and fullback Tyler Johnson more than it probably wanted. Johnson carried the ball 26 times (for 128 yards), and Gregory chucked it 31.

But, while the southpaw made some tough throws, he also overshot some easy ones, including the one that turned the tide in favor of the Buckeyes for good.

Carter had opened the scoring two minutes earlier, scampering around the left side, cutting back, and following the lead block of Jared Justice down the sideline for a 60-yard score. Centerburg, however, answered quickly, with Johnson’s 35-yard burst and Gregory’s 15-yard strike to Jarred Rings setting them up at the Nelsonville-York 15.

Gregory tried to hit Rings again, this time after the senior had come in motion and positioned himself in the right flat, but the delivery went high. The Buckeyes’ Makhi Williams, stationed behind Rings and anticipating having to make the tackle, seemed stunned when the ball hit him in the hands. He bobbled it, but only for a moment, before collecting it and racing 80 yards the other way.

“The past five weeks, we’ve played a lot of passing teams, and that definitely helped us get ready for this one,” Richards said. “Athens likes to use the spread [offense]; so does Meigs. The fact that their quarterback was a lefty made it a little different, but not as much as you might think.”

The Trojans inevitably marched again, this time reaching within feet of the end zone, but a fumbled snap foiled them on first down before Johnson was stuffed by the interior of Nelsonville-York’s defensive line on second. Leighton Loge batted down the third-down pass at the line of scrimmage, and Gregory’s final attempt of the drive sailed high and out-of-bounds.

Centerburg’s fourth-down foibles were a definite factor in the game’s outcome, especially when compared to the Buckeyes’ success at the same. In fact, four plays after that goal-line stand, Richards elected to go for a 4th-and-inches on his own 12-yard line. It sounds crazy, but in the flow of the game and considering how his defense was playing, it felt like the right call.

There was also a caveat.

“I told Drew to just call the time-out if he didn’t like what he saw at the line of scrimmage,” explained Richards. “He’s a senior, our leader, and we put a lot of faith in him to make those decisions, the right decisions.”

Carter indeed spotted a crease and went for it, picking up three yards and the first down, and although that drive didn’t lead to points, he would call the same play twice on his team’s opening drive of the second half, which resulted in Hudson Stalder’s second touchdown, and again on his own 16-yard score that increased Nelsonville-York’s lead to 35-7 late in the third.

In between, Martin raced in and blocked Johnson’s punt attempt and sophomore Gavin Richards scooped up the loose ball and took it in from 20 yards out.

Yes, all three phases of the Buckeyes’ game were clicking.

It all sets up a Saturday regional semifinal showdown at Fort Frye (8-1), the top seed in Region 23, which is coming off a 54-6 shellacking of Johnstown Northridge in its postseason opener.

Nelsonville York 42, Centerburg 9

Centerburg 0 0 7 2 — 9

Nelsonville-York 14 0 21 7 — 42

NY — Drew Carter 60-yard run (Ben Perry kick), 7:38 1st

NY — Makhi Williams 80-yard interception return (Ben Perry kick), 5:33 1st

NY — Hudson Stalder 15-yard run (Ben Perry kick), 8:34 3rd

NY— Nathan Martin 3-yard fumble recovery (Ben Perry kick), 7:11 3rd

C — Evan Merklin 9-yard pass from Jack Gregory (Tyler Johnson kick), 4:36 3rd

NY — Drew Carter 16-yard run (Ben Perry kick), 3:30 3rd

NY — Hudson Stalder 5-yard run (Ben Perry kick), 10:36 4th

C — Safety, Tyler Johnson blocked punt out of end zone, 3:06 4th

TEAM STATISTICS

CB NY

First Downs 15 11

Total Plays 66 37

Rushes-Yards 35-112 33-242

Passes (Att-Cmp-Int) 31-13-2 4-3-38

Passing Yards 156 38

Total Yards 268 280

Fumbles-Lost 3-0 0-0

Punts (No.-Avg.) 2-25.00 3-27.00

Penalties-Yards 8-82 8-72

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING

Centerburg — Tyler Johnson 26-128, Jack Gregory 9-(-16); Nelsonville-York — Drew Carter 14-125 (2 TD), Hudson Stalder 16-100 (2 TD), Makhi Williams 2-15, Gavin Richards 1-2.

PASSING

Centerburg— Jack Gregory 13-31-2-156(TD); Nelsonville-York — Drew Carter 3-4-0-38.

RECEIVING

Centerburg — Evan Merklin 5-76(TD), Hunter Parker 2-26, Jesse Rings 2-24, Jarred Rings 2-19, Alex Johnson 1-13, Tyler Johnson 1-(-2); Nelsonville-York — Leighton Loge 1-22, Gavin Richards 1-8, Makhi Williams 1-8.


Email at kwiseman@athensmessenger.com; follow on Twitter @KevinWmessenger

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