Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
FRANKFORT — With the final seconds ticking off the game clock Friday night, after taking a knee in victory formation, quarterback Lane Ruby turned into his backfield and embraced Ike Diehl.
It wasn’t a regular hug.
Ruby, in full game gear, pulled Diehl in close and shared a special moment with his fellow senior. Diehl, in street clothes and a leg brace, looked elated.
Early in the Panthers’ first scrimmage this fall, Diehl suffered a torn ACL.
But in Friday’s final seconds of a 66-37 win over Adena, he took the field with his teammates … no, his brothers … to put a stamp on an outright league title — the program’s second in the past three years.
“It really does make my heart quiver,” Diehl said. “I tore my ACL and [his teammates] came out and told me they were going to play for me and they were going to win it all. I knew they had it in them. They did it.”
The conference title is the fourth in program history with the previous three coming in 2017, 2001 and 1988. This year’s crown also marks the program’s second-ever Gold Ball, which is awarded to any SVC team that finishes its conference slate unbeaten, and polishes off an undefeated regular season.
“I’m at a loss for words,” senior Tanner Chenault said. “We’ve all worked so hard for this. We always play for this guy right here [signaling to Diehl]. This one is for him.”
Adena (8-2, 5-2 SVC) started the night’s scoring with an eight-play, 60-yard drive, one that was capped by a seven-yard touchdown run via quarterback Preston Sykes. After a successful two-point try, the Warriors had an 8-0 lead.
But Ruby and the Panthers’ offense wasted no time providing an answer. The senior signal caller scored on a 2nd & 23 play from 55 yards out with 5:11 left in the first. They matched the Warriors’ two-point try to tie the game at 8-8.
On the ensuing kickoff, the Panthers recovered an onside kick — an opportunity that was given to them after they had kicked the ball out of bounds on their first try. When Adena elected to make Southeastern re-kick, the Panthers pounced and, minutes later, made the decision hurt.
With 3:50 to go in the first, Dalton Thurston found pay dirt from two yards out. After another two-point conversion, Southeastern had a 16-8 lead.
“We played together,” Thurston said. “We worked hard in practice to get this win and we came out and played with heart.”
After Adena tried and failed to move the chains with a fake punt attempt, Southeastern made it a 22-8 score when Mikey Nusser rumbled into the end zone from 13 yards out. However, with 10:16 left in the second, the Warriors cut the lead back to single digits at 22-15 when Nate Throckmorton logged a nine-yard touchdown rush.
On the Panthers’ next possession, Ruby scored from 85 yards out to make it 30-15 before. After a defensive stop, he scored again from 11 yards out, pushing the lead to 38-15 with 1:47 left in the first half.
Less than a minute later, Sykes found Logan Bennett for a 25-yard touchdown strike, cutting the Panthers’ lead to 38-22 … the eventual halftime score.
The track meet continued in the third quarter as Ruby scored with 6:57 to go on a seven-yard rush, pushing SE’s advantage to 46-22. But with 5:45 left, Bennett caught a 20-yard pass to make it 46-30. Not to be outdone, Nusser made it 52-30 with a one-yard touchdown run just before Ruby made it a 60-30 ballgame with 10:56 left in the fourth quarter via a one-yard score.
The final two scores of the evening came when Adena’s Dakota Cottrill scored from 10 yards out at the 5:52 mark, just before Ruby scored from 45 yards out at the 3:32 mark, producing the 66-37 final.
The Panthers then got another defensive spot and created the special moment with Diehl before time ran out.
“There’s nothing bad to say about going 10-0 and going into the playoffs,” Thurston said. “It was awesome when Ike came in. At first, I was like, ‘Coach is crazy.’ But then I knew it was awesome, you know? I’m happy for us.”
Statistically, Ruby ended the night with 298 rushing yards and six touchdowns on 21 carries. He was also 8-of-11 passing for 175 yards. Nusser carried the ball 14 times for 45 yards and two scores.
For Adena, Sykes logged six rushes for 57 yards and a score. He completed 5-of-8 pass attempts for 66 yards and two touchdowns. Throckmorton ended the night with 10 carries for 109 yards and a touchdown. Bennett finished with two catches for 45 yards and two scores.
Both teams are projected to host playoff games next week.
Although it’s not concrete, the Panthers should finish as the top seed in Division VI, Region 24. Unofficially, that means they’ll most likely meet with Dayton Christian in Week 11 while the Warriors host Mechanicsburg.
“[Coach Evan Gallaugher] is always pushing us,” Thurston said. “We were up 60-30 tonight and he’s still ripping my head off. I’m not complaining. He’s just always pushing us. He’s a great coach. [In Week 11], we just have to practice hard for it. We just have to stay together.”