BELLVILLE -- With a conference title on the line and another state playoff berth possibly in the offing, Clear Fork coach Dave Carroll will take an ugly win this time of year.
His Colts -- coming off an emotional victory against previously unbeaten Galion last week (and with perennial power Marion Pleasant just ahead) -- did what they needed to do Friday night in a 43-7 win against Ontario at the Colt Corral.
The Homecoming win improved Clear Fork to 5-2 overall and 2-1 in the wide-open Mid-Ohio Athletic Conference. Ontario slipped to 2-5, 0-3.
"I am not gonna be too negative to them," Carroll said. "After the two losses we have suffered (to unbeaten Granville and 5-2 River Valley), I can't complain too much.
"It was ugly as far as the penalties (11 for 89 yards) and the turnovers (losing two fumbles). But we scored 43 points, we got all of our JV kids in, they even scored a touchdown, and we came out injury free.
"The kids did a lot of things right. It was ugly, but I will take it."
SOLID START: Clear Fork built an 18-0 halftime lead on the strength of two TD runs by senior Elijah Hughes (18 yards, 2 yards) and a 21-yard TD pass from senior QB Brennan South to junior Ashton Lyon.
Ontario showed it could move the ball in the first half, but the Warriors hurt themselves with four interceptions in the first 24 minutes, including one at the goal line to end the first half.
"We made some nice adjustments in the run game," Ontario coach Chris Miller said. "We hadn't really stopped them defensively, but we possessed the ball in the second quarter and we haven't done that in a couple of weeks.
"The little things here and there make a difference. It came down to blocking and tackling late in the game. That's plagued us a little bit, not being sound tacklers late in a game."
Clear Fork fumbled the kickoff to start the second half and the Warriors pounced. Junior Jaylon Scott scored on a 4-yard run and Ontario trailed just 18-7 less than two minutes into the third quarter.
Clear Fork responded quickly, putting 18 unanswered points on the board in the final 6:40 of the third period with a 5-yard TD run by senior Collin Crider, a 6-yard scoring pass from South to senior Gabe Blauser and a 33-yard FG by Blauser.
The final score came with 53 seconds left in the fourth when sophomore Deven Freeman took a hand-off and raced 83 yards for a TD.
NUMBERS GAME: Clear Fork dominated statistically with 433 yards of offense (240 rushing, 193 passing) compared to just 143 for the Warriors (119 on the ground, 77 passing).
South continued a strong season, completing 14 of 18 passes for 193 yards and two TDs. He also had two of the Colts' four interceptions with Crider and junior Brady Tedrow each grabbing one.
In seven games, South has completed 69 percent of his passes (113 of 164) for 1,430 yards with 15 TDs and just three interceptions. He has also rushed for 365 yards on 110 carries with five more scores.
Freeman's one carry for 83 yards led the Colts in rushing. Crider had 52 yards on eight attempts and Hughes had three for 19 with the two TDs. Lyon had four catches for 81 yards and a score.
Sophomore QB Brock Hill completed eight of 17 passes for Ontario, good for 65 yards. He also led the Warriors on the ground with 83 yards on 14 carries. Junior Kolten Kurtz had three catches for 49 yards.
WILD RACE: With Shelby's 13-12 loss to Galion on Friday night, no MOAC team has an unblemished league record.
The Tigers (6-1) and Whippets (5-2) are both 3-1 in the league. Clear Fork plays at Shelby in Week 10. Other teams still with titles hopes are Marion Pleasant (5-2, 1-2), River Valley (5-2, 2-2) and even Marion Harding (3-4, 1-2).
Galion leads Division IV, Region 14, in the battle for playoff spots. Clear Fork is fifth and Shelby slipped to 10th. The top eight teams will earn postseason berths.
It's exactly the way Carroll, whose team has won the league in its first two years in the MOAC, saw the season playing out.
"We knew back in the summer, we knew it from last winter. We knew Shelby would be good. Pleasant is always good. Galion is even better than I thought they were," he said. "River Valley is having a good season.
"We're getting healthier, getting some kids back. We are starting to gel a little bit. This time of year is why you work your butt off in the weight room and do the summer stuff in two-a-days. It wouldn't be as much fun if we had three easy teams left on the schedule. It's gonna be a battle for everyone."
The MOAC is also a tough place in which to be young, especially for an Ontario team with just 10 seniors and staring at home games against Galion and Pleasant in the next two weeks before finishing the season at Marion Harding.
"Our kids, and I say this every week, they fight. The want to win. They want to compete. They want to come into the locker room after a game and celebrate just like any team would.
"This is a very competitive football league. We just have to raise our level from year to year," Miller said.