MOUNT ORAB, Ohio — Philistines never possessed this much speed.
The battle of David and Goliath quickly turned into an alternate ending Saturday night as the Gallia Academy football team suffered a 68-9 setback to Dayton Thurgood Marshall in a Division III, Region 12 semifinal at Kibler Stadium on the campus of Western Brown High School.
The fourth-seeded Blue Devils (9-3) were simply overmatched by the top-seeded Cougars, who clinched their first regional final appearance in school history with the triumph. Thurgood Marshall (11-1) led 55-0 at the intermission and gained twice as many offensive yards in the first half (387) than GAHS had (187) in the entire contest.
The Cougars — who amassed 616 total yards of offense, all on the ground — will face third-seeded Athens (11-1) at 7 p.m. Saturday in the Region 12 championship game at Reynoldsburg High School. The Bulldogs — who lost 52-34 to GAHS in the 2012 season opener in The Plains — knocked off seventh-seeded Springfield Shawnee by a 36-35 margin in the other Region 12 semifinal Saturday night.
Thurgood Marshall scored on its first two drives of the game and seven of its eight first half possessions overall, plus had a defensive touchdown to end the first half with a sizable cushion at the break. The Blue Devils, who had only three first downs and 44 yards of total offense in the opening two periods, were never within 50 points the rest of the way.
After pulling most of their starters at halftime, the Cougars built for the future while allowing Gallia Academy to keep things more respectable in the second half. Neither team scored in the third quarter, then both teams came up with multiple scoring drives down the stretch to wrap up the 59-point outcome.
The deficit is the largest for Gallia Academy in its 16 postseason games alltime, but the final outcome had nothing to do with a lack of effort or talent. As fourth-year GAHS coach Mike Eddy noted afterwards, the Blue Devils kept giving it their all against a great team as the night progressed. And much to their credit, the Blue Devils had a few rewarding things happen along the way.
“I knew we wouldn’t give up, but it was rather about how much we had left in the tank. We played so hard just to keep the score the way that it was at halftime,” Eddy said. “But, like we always do, we found a little extra gas in the tank and came out and played a good second half.
“We were able to get all of our seniors out on the field in the fourth quarter and give them that last chance to play together as brothers. Our fans stayed and supported us until the bitter end. In a small way, it was a fitting end for a great group of young men.”
After a three-and-out by Gallia Academy on the opening drive of the game, Denzel Norvell gave TMHS its permanent lead with 7:47 remaining in the first after capping a seven-play, 68-yard drive on a 21-yard run to paydirt for a 7-0 advantage.
GAHS was forced into another three-and-out and the ensuing punt by Logan Allison was blocked, allowing Brandon Flucas to recover the loose ball and return it to the Devils’ eight-yard line. Norvell had back-to-back carries of seven yards and one yard, with the latter capping the scoring drive with 6:20 left in the period for a 14-0 advantage.
The Blue Devils were again forced to punt on their ensuing possession, but they got the ball right back after Nick Clagg intercepted a pass by Jamahl Manley with 4:22 left in the opening stanza. That interception was the only defensive stop GAHS had in the first half, but it was also the first time Manley had been picked off all season long.
Gallia Academy — which did not have a first down in the first quarter — lost the ball on downs with 2:14 left in the opener, then TMHS marched 60 yards in six plays during that time frame to take a 21-0 edge. Vayante Copeland busted loose for a 33-yard TD scamper as the first quarter clock expired to cap that drive.
GAHS picked up its first first down of the night on the opening play of the second quarter, an 18-yard pass completion from Wade Jarrell to Cody Russell. The Blue Devils, however, had that drive stall and were forced to punt.
The Cougars retaliated by marching 82 yards in four plays, as Copeland rumbled 53 yards to paydirt for a 28-0 lead with 8:23 left in the second period. Another GAHS punt followed, and Thurgood Marshall marched 82 yards in six plays for a 35-0 advantage when Copeland capped things with a 13-yard scamper at the 3:48 mark.
The Blue Devils lost possession on downs during their ensuing drive, then TMHS went 40 yards in four plays for a 41-0 cushion after Norvell scored from six yards out with 1:51 remaining until halftime. Thurgood Marshall followed with a successful onside kick, then rumbled 47 yards in three plays for a 48-0 edge following a Deangelo Worthy 41-yard scoring run with 60 seconds left.
With the Blue Devils facing a third-and-10 at their own 43 just before the half, Ty Warnimont ran for seven yards before fumbling the ball at the TMHS 48-yard line. Copeland scooped up the loose ball and rumbled 52 yards to paydirt, allowing the Purple and Gold to take a 55-0 advantage into the intermission.
Thurgood Marshall had 32 carries for 387 yards and 17 first downs at the break, compared to just 19 rushes for 34 yards and 2-of-10 passing for 10 yards for GAHS. Only one penalty was called in the opening 24 minutes of regulation. The Blue Devils also had only four offensive snaps inside TMHS territory in the first half.
Both teams traded possessions in the third canto, and Gallia Academy finally came away with some points early in the fourth after Dylan Saunders connected on a 33-yard field goal for a 55-3 deficit. Saunders’ successful boot capped a 10-play, 56-yard drive that ended with 11:50 left in regulation.
TMHS followed with a quick one-play scoring drive, as Daryl McClesky rumbled 60 yards to give the hosts a 62-3 edge with 11:39 remaining.
Both teams again traded possessions, then Gallia Academy followed with a three-play, 46-yard drive that ultimately turned into the guests’ only touchdown of the night. Nick Clagg bullied his way into the endzone from five yards out with 4:13 left to pull the Devils within 62-9.
McClesky wrapped up the scoring with 2:29 remaining after rumbling seven yards to cap a four-play, 69-yard drive for a 68-9 finale.
The Blue Devils finished the night with 40 carries for 129 yards and went 5-of-20 passing for 58 yards. The Blue and White had 13 first downs total and were also flagged six times for 35 yards. GAHS also punted five times for an average of 30 yards.
Clagg led Gallia Academy with 46 rushing yards on four carries, followed by Kole Carter with 28 yards on two totes. Warnimont added 21 yards on six tries, while Russell and Luke Pullins had 19 yards apiece on four and five attempts respectively.
Wade Jarrell finished the night 4-of-13 passing for 49 yards, while Cody Call was 1-of-7 passing for nine yards. Clagg had two catches for 10 yards, while Allison (9 yards), Reid Eastman (24) and Justin Bailey (15) each hauled in a reception apiece.
Pullins and Austin Gragg each had a fumble recovery in the second half, and both takeaways ultimately led to offensive points on the ensuing GAHS drives. Including the blocked punt, the Blue Devils were still plus-1 in turnover differential.
It was the final football game for seniors Nick Clagg, Justin Bailey, Lonnie Taylor, Luke Pullins, Cody Call, Cody Russell, Mark Allen, Caleb Campbell, Brad Swisher, Chris Elliott, Austin Gragg, Briggs Shoemaker and Scott Warren in the Blue and White.
Eddy believes that this team, and particularly those upperclassmen, are still true champions — regardless of the final outcome Saturday night.
“Watching these young men give it all they had for 48 minutes is why this hurts so much. I’ve lost games in the past, and the scoreboard part of this isn’t what hurts,” Eddy said. “This is my first four-year group, and these guys have meant so much to me over my years here.
“Watching these guys battle like they always have, that’s what makes it hurt. Knowing that I have to say goodbye after four years, that’s what is tough for me right now. It’s been an honor to be their coach, and I am proud of each and every one of them for what they have accomplished over the years. It’s family forever.”
Copeland led the Cougars with 183 rushing yards on 12 carries, while Norvell added 142 yards on 13 attempts. McClesky had 120 yards on nine totes in the second half, while Robert Brown II added 102 rushing yards on 12 tries.
In retrospect, Eddy acknowledges that Gallia Academy accomplished just about every possible goal it had before the beginning of the 2012 campaign. The Blue Devils beat Jackson, won an SEOAL title outright, made the postseason and hosted a playoff win.
Even in defeat, the positives were still shining through.
“We played as long as we could play this year, and that is always a goal for any team at the start of the season,” Eddy said. “We have no regrets. These guys have a lot to be proud of for the rest of their lives.”