Note: This recap appears in the Sunday, Oct. 13 newspaper on Page B1.
NELSONVILLE — Wellston head coach Mike Smith succinctly summed up his senior standout, Rylan Molihan.
“He is special,” Smith said. “He is. That’s all you can say about him.”
Molihan had another big night, and the Wellston Golden Rockets continued their best stretch of football in the last 15 years.
Molihan rushed for 257 yards on 29 carries, scoring two rushing touchdowns in Wellston’s 36-7 victory at Nelsonville-York’s Boston Field.
Wellston (3-0 Tri-Valley Conference Ohio Division) is 6-1 for the first time since 2004, after handing the Buckeyes (4-3, 2-1 TVC-Ohio) their first league loss of the season.
“No one respected us whatsoever coming into the season and we knew what we were capable of doing,” said Molihan, who also completed a touchdown pass and came up with a defensive interception.
Molihan and the Rockets have demanded the attention and respect of the area and TVC-Ohio thanks to another dominating effort. The Rockets gained 405 yards of offense, including 315 on the ground.
Wellston — which has now given up just 21 points in the last five games — forced four Nelsonville-York turnovers and allowed only a first-quarter touchdown.
“That defensive unit has played good all season,” Smith said. “The most points they gave up all year is 23 and that was to Jackson. I’m proud of these guys.”
The Rockets were able to limit Nelsonville-York playmaker Keegan Wilburn to only one big explosion.
Wilburn caught a short pass out in the flats from Mikey Seel in the first quarter, turned up field and raced past the defense for a 68-yard touchdown.
It gave Nelsonville-York a 7-6 lead at the time, but it would be short-lived.
It turned out to be Wilburn’s only catch of the night, as he added 28 yards on six rushing attempts.
Molihan, RJ Kemp, Hunter Smith and Jeremiah Frisby were part of a defensive secondary that blanketed Wilburn all night.
“That’s how we planned it out. Limit him, we win,” Molihan said. “Mikey is a good quarterback, he scrambled on us a couple times, but as long we maintain Keegan, we feel like we’re going to win the game and that’s what we did tonight.”
The Buckeyes were left to lament missed opportunities on the offensive end.
Nelsonville-York drove to the Wellston 6-yard line later in the first half, but Wilburn’s pass to Seel in the end zone just fell inches short.
The Buckeyes also had drives reach Wellston’s 23- and 15-yard line that resulted in no points.
“Hats off to Wellston,” N-Y coach Rusty Richards said. “They have a good football team. They’re really rolling, but I feel like honestly we should have had 35 points. We just left too many points on the football field to beat a good football team tonight.”
The Rockets seemingly made the big play all night that eventually broke the Buckeyes’ backs. It started on the third play of the game, when Wellston defensive lineman Josh Bodey intercepted a potential N-Y screen pass and returned it 19 yards to the 6-yard line.
Molihan scored the next play, giving Wellston the 6-0 lead.
Molihan would later strike on the defensive end. The Buckeyes, still leading 7-6, had a second-and-nine from the Wellston 23. Seel threw a pass out to Wilburn, but it got tipped in the air, and Molihan made an acrobatic interception to thwart a possible Nelsonville-York scoring drive.
The Rockets took the lead for good with 12 seconds left in the first half. On third-and-six from the 15, Kemp lofted a pass to the back of the end zone for Hunter Smith.
Smith, and Nelsonville-York cornerback Brandon Phillips, each went up for the jump ball. They wrestled for the football, with Smith eventually snagging the touchdown to give the Rockets a 12-7 halftime lead.
Smith — who caught five passes for 55 yards — also had a 29 yard catch down the sidelines on a well-covered play earlier in the drive.
The Rockets came out in the third quarter and established the running game behind Molihan. Wellston marched 59 yards in seven plays, leading 20-7 after Kemp scored on a 1-yard plunge on fourth-and-goal. Molihan’s 40-yard run down to the 2-yard line set up the score.
The Buckeyes, who felt like they should have had a lead going into halftime, were now faced with a two-score deficit.
“That was crucial,” Smith said. “We thought if we could get that one, that we could start running some clock like we did and slow things down and put some pressure on them offensively to do some things that they didn’t want to do.”
The Buckeyes advanced the ball to Wellston’s 15-yard line on the ensuing drive, by a fourth-and-five pass from Seel was intercepted by Wellston’s Brock Eggers at the 6-yard line.
Another Nelsonville-York drive had been cut down by a turnover, and the Rockets seemingly had all the momentum.
“I think it was four turnovers to zero,” Richards said. “We never did get one back. Just didn’t seem like the ball bounced our way tonight.”
Molihan found another way to hurt the Buckeyes on Wellston’s next drive, an 11-play, 82-yard march. Molihan threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to the back of the end zone to Smith, and Jonathon Garvin’s 2-point run gave Wellston a commanding 28-7 lead.
“They wore us down a little bit,” Richards said. “He’s a real good back, so hats off to Molihan. We knew he was a tough player.”
Molihan capped off the scoring with 19-yard touchdown with 5:33 left in the fourth quarter. Garvin (10 carries, 57 yards) ran in his third 2-point conversion for the 36-7 lead.
“You turn Garvin loose back there after that, it’s a good 1-2 punch,” Smith said. “They had a great game.”
Molihan gained 154 yards rushing in the second half.
“I’m very thankful for my line,” Molihan said. “I may get the stats. I may get the carries. I may get the touchdowns, but the line is where it starts. They’re the workhorses. It’s all a credit to them.”
Seel led the Buckeyes with 87 yards rushing on five carries, but was held to 6 of 19 passing for 103 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions.
After the game, the Rockets’ players filed down the fence behind their bench, handing out high-fives to every Wellston fan they saw. Wellston ended a three-game losing streak in the series, beating the Buckeyes for only the 12th time in 47 meetings.
The six-game winning streak is also Wellston’s first since 2004. The Rockets have clinched their first winning season since 2006, which was also their last playoff appearance.
Molihan spoke about what the current winning streak means to the program, and the community.
“This hasn’t happened for about 15 years and it means a lot to the community, to the town,” he said. “Community hasn’t had anything to cheer about for a long time when it comes to football. We finally gave them something tonight. We really showed that we’re here to stay. It’s just an amazing feeling. I couldn’t explain it.”
The winning season clinched, the Rockets can now try to win their first TVC-Ohio title since 2002. They host defending league-champion Athens on Friday, as the Bulldogs are also 3-0 in the TVC-Ohio after a 60-24 win over Meigs.
Wellston, which hasn’t defeated Athens since 2008, has a chance to add another milestone accomplishment for the program.
“Athens has alway been tough,” Molihan said. “They’re never going to be an easy opponent to look over. We are confident in the fact that we can play their defense. We really believe that we’re going to win the TVC this year. We know Athens is the team to beat. It’s not questionable. They’re the team to beat, but we feel like if we can come out and play like we did against Nelsonville, we play four quarters the way we play Wellston football, then we’re definitely going to win the game. We’ll take home the TVC title.”
Wellston 36, Nelsonville-York 7
Wellston 6 6 8 16 — 37
Nelsonville-York 7 0 0 0 — 7
W — Rylan Molihan, 6-yard run (pass failed), 10:55, 1st
NY — Keegan Wilburn, 68-yard pass from Mikey Seel (Alec Taylor kick), 10:42, 1st
W — Hunter Smith, 15-yard pass from RJ Kemp (run failed), :12, 2nd
W — RJ Kemp, 1-yard run (Jonathon Garvin run), 8:55, 3rd
W — Hunter Smith, 5-yard pass from Rylan Molihan (Jonathon Garvin run), 11:49, 4th
W — Rylan Molihan, 19-yard run (Jonathon Garvin run), 5:33, 4th
First downs 17 8
Plays from scrimmage 63 38
Rushing (plys-yds) 48-315 17-142
Passing yards 90 111
Total net yards 405 253
Passes (cmp-att-int) 10-15-0 7-21-3
Fumbles (no-lost) 1-0 1-1
Penalties (no-yds) 9-76 4-40
Punts (no-avg) 4-31.3 3-33
Wellston — Rylan Molihan 29-257 2 TDs, Jonathon Garvin 10-57, RJ Kemp 8-6 TD, TEAM 1-(-5); Nelsonville-York — Mikey Seel 5-87, Keegan Wilburn 6-28, Brandon Phillips 2-19, Colton Snyder 3-14
Wellston — RJ Kemp 9-14-0-85 TD, Rylan Molihan 1-1-0-5 TD; Nelsonville-York — Mikey Seel 6-19-3-103 TD, Drew Carter 1-1-0-8, Keegan Wilburn 0-1-0-0
Wellston — Hunter Smith 5-55 2 TDs, Jonathon Garvin 4-34, Jeremiah Frisby 1-1; Nelsonville-York — Keegan Wilburn 1-68 TD, Ethan Gail 2-15, Brandon Phillips 2-15, Mikey Seel 1-8, Drew Carter 1-5