Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
CHILLICOTHE — You may recall that, in Week 4, Paint Valley quarterback Bryce Newland was carted off the field with a broken fibula.
It was at that moment when the Bearcats’ season took a detour and — although they’d certainly tell you they’d rather have him still playing — Newland’s teammates found a rallying cry.
Since the signal caller’s injury, heading into Friday’s matchup at Unioto, the Bearcats had won two straight games while outscoring their opponents 99-38.
Against the Shermans, that trend continued.
In a matchup most thought could be close, Paint Valley (6-1, 4-0 SVC) ran away with a 41-7 win … and they didn’t need any extra motivation to do so.
The win likely puts the Bearcats at the top of the Division VI, Region 24 playoff rankings and, of course, creates even more momentum going forward.
“Our kids just love to play football. Tonight … we always take this game personal,” Paint Valley coach Pete Hollon said. “We’re the smallest school in the conference and [Unioto] is the biggest school. If you don’t think our kids don’t take this game personal, you’re crazy. Because they do. This is the game our kids love to play in.”
Seniors Brayden Ison and Cruz McFadden spearheaded the win.
Ison got the scoring started with 11:41 left in the second quarter, finding the end zone from 32 yards out to give the Bearcats a 6-0 lead (missed PAT).
On Unioto’s next possession, McFadden used just his right hand to intercept a pass deep in Paint Valley territory. Paint Valley cashed in on the opportunity, taking a 13-0 lead with 7:40 to go in the first half when Iann Cockrell logged a one-yard scoring plunge to cap an 18-yard drive.
After Paint Valley took a 13-0 lead into the break, Unioto threw a counter punch early in the third quarter.
On the Shermans’ first second half possession, Jamarcus Carroll led a six-play, 61-yard scoring drive, in which he ended with an eight-yard touchdown run to cut the deficit to 13-7.
But, by far, that was the only time Unioto (4-3, 2-2 SVC) sniffed the end zone.
Paint Valley’s defense held its own, forcing four turnovers and even scoring on two second half occasions. What has been criticized as the Bearcats’ weakness became their strength.
“We’re very happy [with the defense]. The biggest things for us were that we were able to blitz in positive situations tonight and our tackling was so much better,” Hollon said. “We tackled from the waste down and when you tackle a guy like [Unioto’s] Jamarcus [Carroll] time after time, that’s the biggest difference. We won with special teams and defense tonight. They were outstanding.”
After Carroll’s score, the Bearcats regained a two-touchdown lead, going up 21-7, when Ison scored on a seven-yard touchdown scamper. On the Shermans’ next drive, Paint Valley’s Andrew Walker picked off a pass and returned it 50-plus yards to the house for a 28-7 score.
The Bearcats’ final two scores came at the 6:12 and 5:20 marks in the fourth as Ison scored for a third time from a yard out, before recovering a fumble and returning it 24 yards for his fourth and final touchdown of the evening.
He ended the night with 21 carries for 100 yards and three touchdowns as well as the score on the fumble recovery.
“Anytime you have that kind of speed, you try to get him as many touches as possible,” Hollon said. “Now, people are seeing the tendencies that we have and we’re still playing Paint Valley football. We just do what we do and say [to opponents], ‘Stop it.’ When [Ison] turns the corner, and he did a couple of times tonight, you better stop it. It’s a credit to him and the guys up front.”
McFadden also had a big night, doing a little bit of everything, hauling in three catches for 76 yards, rushing one time for 29 yards and picking off a pass on the defensive end.
“We’re trying to be creative in ways to get [McFadden] the ball. The good thing is we’ve been able to conceal some of the things we have for him going forward,” Hollon said. “We’re getting better each week and we’re being as patient as we can. Cruz is special. He’s awfully good.”
Unioto was led statistically by Carroll, who rushed the ball 22 times for 98 yards and a score.
Paint Valley will try and stay perfect in conference play next week, traveling to Zane Trace. Unioto, meanwhile, will try and bounce back with a trip to undefeated Southeastern.
“Our kids, they just love to play,” Hollon said. “We tell our kids we never get too high or too low. That’s where we’re at going forward.”