John Bruce, Contributor
McARTHUR — There are three phases to every football game and Friday night, Unioto and Vinton County were even in two of those.
That third phase, however — special teams — is what made all of the difference for Unioto in a season-opening 14-13 win.
When Vinton County’s Zack Radabaugh broke free for a 31-yard touchdown run with 1:03 left in the fourth quarter, it seemed like the Vikings would simply kick the extra point and force overtime. However, the PAT was both wide and short as it appeared that Unioto’s line was able to pressure either the kicker or the holder into a miss.
When the game seems to be even, you can always look at the so-called “little things” to help determine a winner. Tonight, the “little thing” was the long snapper-holder-kicker combination that’s typically overlooked, especially the first two pieces of that combo.
Unioto’s combination of Connor Valentine, DC Dailey and Gage Stout was flawless in their two-point after attempts, which ended up making all the difference in a one-point game.
From the first play from scrimmage, it was obvious the Vikings were not going to be intimidated by the Shermans as Logan Baker bullied his way for a 13-yard gain, despite appearing to have the entire Unioto roster attempting to take him down.
It appeared that the Vikings were in business as they entered Unioto territory, but on a 4th and 1 play, Unioto’s Timothy Diamond put his first stamp on the game. The senior flashed through the line and brought down the burly Baker short of the line to gain.
After the team’s each exchanged punts, Unioto began to move the ball, with junior quarterback Isaac Little connecting with receivers Byrd Green and Caleb Smith for first downs. However, a fumble would halt the drive.
Following the fumble, the Vikings drove 58 yards on 10 plays, taking 4:05 off the clock, to put up their first points of the contest. On 3rd and goal, sophomore quarterback Braylon Damron scored on a bootleg, just reaching the pylon before being forced out of bounds. The PAT barely snuck inside the left upright to give the Vikings a 7-0 lead entering the second quarter.
It wouldn’t take the Tanks long to answer as they pieced together an 11-play, 90-yard drive to even the score. On 2nd and goal from the four-yard line, Little reversed field and reach the end zone untouched, thanks to an outstanding block from Chris Scaggs, before Stout converted his first PAT of the evening. A key play on the drive was a 27-yard completion from Little to Green on a 3rd and 15 to keep the Tanks rolling forward.
Late in the second, Scaggs displayed why he’s considered a standout player on both sides of the ball. With just 22 seconds remaining in the half, the senior forced a fumble, which the Shermans recovered at the Vikings’ 47-yard line.
After a long completion from (you guessed it) Little to Green brought the Tanks inside the red zone, Scaggs caught a pass from Little and ran 19 yards to the house to give the Shermans their first lead of the game. The combination of Valentine-Dailey-Stout was perfect again and the Tanks took a 14-7 advantage into the locker room.
Unioto’s offense didn’t have a second half to write home about as they only earned three first downs on four second half drives, although their defense would play nearly lights out the rest of the evening, only allowing two first downs themselves. All until Radabaugh’s race to the end zone, which would set up all of the dramatics of the Vikings’ PAT attempt.
Much credit for the disruption must go to the Unioto defensive front as Diamond, Carter Wisecup, and Dalton Ford all appeared to get great leverage to cause added pressure to the kick. As it fell short, Unioto’s sideline and crowd appeared to be relieved, even though they knew that an onside kick would still need to be secured.
After the Vikings opted to pop up the kick, Little calmly signaled for a fair catch and secured the win for the Tanks. Or so you thought … on a night where nothing came easy, even taking two knees in the victory formation was difficult.
On the first snap, the exchange was mishandled, but Little recovered the ball. That wasn’t that though, as the Shermans were called for their sixth penalty of the night, which stopped the clock. The second snap and kneel down was successful, which forced the Vikings to call their final timeout with 48 seconds remaining. It appeared the Tanks would have to run over eight seconds off the clock to gain the victory or have to snap it on fourth down if they couldn’t.
Luckily for the Sherman faithful, Little was able to scamper around for enough time to finish the game off and move the Tanks to 1-0 in 2019.
Little finished 7-of-13 passing for 141 yards and a touchdown while adding 18 carries for 62 yards and a score to his stat sheet as well. Carroll had eight rushes for 41 yards and Green caught three passes for 79 yards.
For Vinton County, Zack Radabaugh finished with two rushes for47 yards and a score while Jacob Wells posted 11 attempts for 59 yards. Logan Baker was also a factor on the ground, chipping in 40 yards to the Vikings’ totals.
Next Friday, the Shermans will be back in action as they host the Amanda Clearcreek Aces (1-0). The Vikings will travel north along U.S. Route 50 to Londonderry to face the Southeastern Panthers (1-0).
NOTES: Unioto welcomed back Jamarcus Carroll from a knee injury that cut his season short in 2018 … Unioto had won the past five meetings by an average of 18 points … Smith had an acrobatic interception in the second quarter … Diamond, Scaggs, and Nick Crowe also made their returns for the Shermans after missing the end of last season as well.