NAUGATUCK — The Man-Tug Valley football series is turning into quite a rivalry.
In a game with playoff implications written all over it, Class A No. 8-ranked Man High School traveled to Naugatuck on Friday night and beat No. 9-ranked Tug Valley, 14-12, in an overtime thriller.
With the win, the Hillbillies improved to 7-2 on the season ahead of next week’s regular season finale at home against Van (7-2) and received a huge boost in their quest to gain homefield advantage for the upcoming playoffs.
Tug Valley dropped to 7-3 and closed out the regular season.
Since the Panthers are off next Friday night, Tug Valley will have to await their playoff fate.
It was a sweet win for Man, which was foiled twice last season by Tug Valley, including a 16-12 Class A playoff loss to the Panthers at Mingo Central and a 26-20 setback to TVHS at home last year on a rainy Halloween Night.
Tug Valley dominated the game statistically, outgaining Man 452-150 in yards of total offense but could not convert several drives in the red zone into scores as the Billies were able to stop them when it counted.
Tug Valley had 50 rushing attempts for 245 yards for the game to just 82 yards on the ground on 30 tries for Man. TV also outgained the Billies 207-68 in the air and had a 23-10 edge in first downs.
The Panthers also dropped a possible touchdown pass late in the second quarter as the ball went off the TV player’s shoulder pads.
Man, though, was able to hold on, playing a bend-but-not-break defense and bouncing back from last week’s 40-14 beatdown at the hands of Pocahontas County.
“It was tough game all night. The defenses played outstanding all night,” a happy Man coach Harvey Arms said after the game. “The kids just dug in and really played well. It’s a big win for us. Starting with the Pocahontas County game last week, all of our remaining games are like playoff games now. This was like a playoff game and next week will be the same thing because we’ve got Van coming in. They have seven wins and they are ranked. It was very important for us to get this one tonight.”
Tied 6-6 going into overtime, Tug Valley won the coin flip and elected to go on defense.
Man put the pressure on the Panthers right away as senior quarterback John Thomas Keffer rolled out and found Ross Osborne on a 19-yard touchdown pass on the second play of the drive. Keffer then ran in the two-point conversion as the Billies led 14-6.
It turned out to be the game winning score.
“That was a good catch there and John Thomas threw the ball well,” Arms said. “That’s what you need in those kinds of situations.”
Needing a score and a two-point conversion to send the game into a second OT, Tug Valley reached pay dirt with a 1-yard TD plunge by Phillip Lucas on a fourth-and-goal play. That put the Panthers to within 14-12.
Man’s defense, however, stopped Lucas short of the goal line on the two-point conversion play as the Billies preserved the big road victory.
“They ran it in well and scored one time and they ran the same play. Our guys dug in and stopped them,” Arms said. “They (Tug Valley) are a good team and they have a lot of talent. They hit you with the big plays. They have good speed and good size and they have players that can get down field. Our kids, though, just gave a super effort. I just can’t say enough about them.”
After a scoreless first quarter, Man took advantage of a Tug Valley fumble on a punt as Matt Sanders fell on the ball at the Man 42-yard line.
Seven snaps later, Sanders reeled in a 28-yard touchdown pass from Keffer to put the Billies on the board. The two-point conversion failed but Man led 6-0 with 4:43 left until halftime. Sanders would later leave the game after a suffering a hyper-extended leg.
That’s the way the game stayed at the intermission.
Man was able to stop Tug Valley twice in the red zone in the first half. On the Panthers’ first drive, TVHS made it all the way to the 4-yard line but QB Tyler Conley was stopped for no gain on a fourth-and-goal.
Later on, Tug Valley fumbled the ball away at the Man 4-yard line as Tyler Blair recovered for the Hillbillies.
Early in the third quarter, the Panthers were stopped in the red zone again. Tug Valley made it as far as the Man 15-yard line but turned the ball over on downs there after three straight incomplete passes by Conley.
Still down 6-0 in the early part of the fourth quarter, Tug Valley got the ball at the Man 47 after a fumble by the Billies with 11:43 left in the game.
The Panthers drove down and were able to punch in the game-tying touchdown with Conley’s 22-yard screen pass and score by Jeremy Dillon. The two-point conversion pass fell incomplete as the game remained tied 6-6 with 8:27 remaining in the ballgame.
Man was forced to punt the ball away after Tug’s Dylan Dotson sacked Keffer for a 14-yard loss.
Tug Valley was then in business after Conley’s 62-yard pass to Oliver at the Man 15-yard line.
The Panthers looked to go ahead late but TVHS turned the ball over on downs at the 6-yard line after Dotson was stopped for no gain on a fourth-and-two play.
Man went three-and-out and had to punt again.
The Panthers had one more chance after Conley found Calvin Blankenship for a 21-yard completion to the Man 19.
The Billies, however, halted Tug Valley inside the red zone once again as Conley’s fourth-and-15 pass at the 20 was intercepted by Nelson at the 4-yard line with 1:17 left in the game.
Man then ran two plays after getting flagged twice back to the 1-yard line and Keffer took a knee to run out the clock, sending the game to overtime.
Keffer was 5-for-15 passing for 68 yards with two touchdowns and one pick. Conley was 12-for-25 for 207 yards with one TD and one interception.
Jace Duba had 12 carries for 49 yards to lead Man. Dustin McCoy couldn’t find the holes and had only 16 yards on 10 carries. Jake Frye had three tries for 15 yards.
Lucas led Tug Valley with 13 rushes for 88 yards. Oliver had 10 tries for 70 yards and Conley had another 28 yards on 12 attempts. Blankenship rushed four times for 20 yards. Dotson had seven attempts for 20 yards and Dillon had 12 yards on three totes. Dawson Elia had one rush for seven yards.
Osborne finished with three catches for 29 yards, including the game winner. Jake Adkins also had a leaping catch for 10 yards. Sanders had his TD grab.
Oliver reeled in three passes for 105 yards. Dillon had five grabs for 62 yards, while Lucas snared three passes for 20 yards. Calvin Blankenship had one catch for 20 yards.
Blair led the Man defense with 13 total tackles. Christian McCoy had 12, Tanner Bailey nine, Nelson eight and Nick Collins seven. Keffer, playing his first game on defense at free safety, had five tackles as did Osborne and Kayne Brown. Keffer also made a big hit on a Tug Valley ball carrier.
“We watched our film last week and we saw some things that we thought could toughen the team up, so we put him (Keffer) in there and it worked well,” Coach Arms said.
Christian McCoy was also moved to middle linebacker for the first time this season.
Dennis Browning and Tyler Vance each had three tackles. Trey Whitt and Duba had two each. Dustin McCoy, Sanders and Jacob Asbury had one each.
Noah Lucas led the Panthers with eight total tackles. Phillip Lucas and Chandler Pack had six each, John Hall and Jonathan Blankenship and Conley had five apiece.
Tug Valley was penalized 13 times for 110 yards. Man had 10 flags for 54 yards.
Adkins punted six times for an average of 32.2 yards per kick. The Panthers didn’t punt any.
(Paul Adkins is the Sports Editor of the Logan Banner. He can be reached at 304-752-6950 ext. 1730, by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @PAdkinsBanner).