JOHNSTOWN – Woody Hayes would be proud.
The legendary Ohio State coach must have been smiling while watching the Centerburg Trojans and Northridge Vikings combine for 44 yards in the air Friday. Both teams chose instead to run directly at each other.
But it was a defensive stance on a two-point conversion that made the difference in the Trojans’ 7-6 grind-it-out victory.
The deciding play came with 4:21 to play, following a three-yard touchdown run by Northridge’s Cole Fox. Down by one, the Vikings chose to go for 2 in an attempt to seize the lead. Fox took the handoff and ran behind the left tackle. But the Centerburg line held its ground and didn’t allow Fox into the endzone.
“They just buckled down,” Centerburg coach Andy Colella said of his defense. “It came down to their 11 guys versus our 11 guys. Our 11 guys wanted it a little bit more. Nothing fancy.”
Northridge never got the ball back. Centerburg (2-1) stayed on the ground, getting first downs by Donnell Marshall and Trey Kendrick to run out the clock.
The Vikings (0-3) controlled the ball for most of the second half. In their prior drive, they held the ball for over eight minutes, driving from their own 29 to Centerburg’s 13. A 15-yard blocking penalty effectively ended the drive, and Northridge came away with nothing.
Centerburg was predicted by many to be Knox County’s most improved football team in 2019. A showing like Friday – especially by the defense – lends credence to that belief.
“We’re getting there,” Colella said. “We have to win close ball games. It’s not always going to be pretty, but they found a way to win. That’s only going to make us stronger.”
Marshall led the Trojans with 85 yards on 17 carries. He scored Centerburg’s lone touchdown early in the second quarter on a 14-yard sprint.
Kendrick added 56 yards on 15 carries. Quarterback John Sheasby run 11 times for 37 yards. Overall, the Trojans rushed for 167 yards on 45 attempts – slightly above Hayes’ “three yards and a cloud of dust” offense, but with the same spirit that the Buckeyes’ former coach would instill on his players.
“We were able to move the ball between the 25s. We just had trouble to punch it in,” Colella said. “We’ll go back to work on that.”
Sheasby and Jack Gregory combined for eight pass attempts. They completed just two for 15 yards. Three other plays were originally ruled pass completions, but home statisticians considered them to be laterals.
Northridge’s fortunes in the air were even worse. Travis Neumeyer’s first pass attempt was intercepted by Hayden Sutton. Neumeyer went on to complete two passes out of six attempts for 29 yards.
The game was one of the few in the area to be played without a weather delay. Lightning was seen north of the stadium throughout the fourth quarter; per revised OHSAA bylaws, the officials did not have to stop the game since thunder was never heard.
Centerburg begins its Knox-Morrow Athletic Conference schedule next Friday at Northmor. Northridge will look for win number one next Friday when the Vikings host Lakewood.