By RICH KELLY
For the Star Beacon
ANDOVER TOWNSHIP —
After scoring on the first drive of its contest last week against Southington, the Pymatuning Valley football team upped the ante quite a bit Friday night against Lutheran East.
Quintin Ratliff took the first snap of the game and followed a wall of blockers to the end zone for a 6-0 lead. That score ended up being the final.
Whereas big offensive plays in the last 29 seconds last week led to an Austin Nowkowski field goal for the win, it was the Laker defense that made big plays at the end to seal this non-conference victory over the Falcons.
“Credit Lutheran East for being a very improved team,” PV coach Neal Croston said. “We moved the ball well at times, but so did they. On defense, we wanted to grind it out as much as we could to stop their big play potential. We knew we needed some big stops on third downs, especially late in the game, and the kids got them.”
After Ratliff got things going, the Falcons came right back with a drive of their own.
The Falcons drove down into Laker territory, but a long pass on fourth down was picked off by Grant Nowakowski at the PV 12.
Played in a sporadic heavy shower much of the first half, both teams moved the ball on occasion, but not consistently.
“We just haven’t been able to put a complete game together this year,” Lutheran East coach Donald Dawson said. “We’ve been in many of our games, but when we have needed a special play in crucial times, our lack of discipline has hurt us either with penalties or turnovers.”
Nowakowski’s pick illuminated that point, but when it became clear that a tough battle in the trenches would decide the game, it was the Laker defense that made the key plays to hang on to the lead.
Good field position set the stage for a possible replay of last week’s PV game, but a bad snap on a fourth down play in the second possession of the second half for the Falcons, in Laker territory, saw a host of Lakers stop the punter-turned-ball carrier at the line of scrimmage.
On fourth down early in the fourth quarter, this time at the Laker 15, quarterback Thomas Jackson was stopped a yard short on a quarterback draw, again turning the ball back over to the Laker offense.
Lutheran East was ready for the challenge and forced another PV punt.
Robert Drake returned the punt 40 yards, to the Laker 48, but a holding penalty forced the Falcons (1-9) to start from their own 24.
Again, they moved the ball into the middle of the field, but Jimmy Blascak and J.T.Willis combined to break up a fourth down attempt for the Lakers.
That came with 2:35 to play, and on their next possession, East looked at a fourth down play from their own 31 after Kyle Conger sacked Jackson. In his atttempt to stop the clock, the young signal caller inadvertently spiked the ball with 7.7 seconds left and the Laker win was sealed.
“We were able to move the ball tonight at times, but the defense really was a team effort,” Croston said. “Cody Ellis and Evan Pilson really had some big plays, as did many of the other kids. We played tough our last five games.
“I knew they (East) could come up with big plays, so I felt we needed to work to an edge in field position to stop their big plays, and it worked out well for us.
“It wasn’t pretty,” he added, “but a win is a win and that has been our goal in every game, to get that win. It didn’t happen too much early in the season, but the kids worked hard and improved a lot.”
Dawson lamented the game’s initial play.
“That big first play was the difference in this game, plain and simple,” he said.
“We’re just trying to do everything we can to win some games. We are far better a team than we were last year, and that’s a tribute to the hard work the kids put in.”
Kelly is a freelance writer from Jefferson.
Click here to subscribe to The Star Beacon print edition.
Click here to subscribe to The Star Beacon replica edition.