NAUGATUCK – The Tug Valley Panthers will meet the Man Hillbillies in the opening round of the WVSSAC Class A playoffs.
Tug Valley has encountered some bumps along the road to the playoffs, they lost all-state lineman Dustin Mills to an off field injury and they started on a downward slope after the loss to Class 2A Tolsia. The Panthers finished the regular season with a record of 7-3 after losing to Tolsia on the road, Buffalo at home and to Man in a overtime, nail biting, game with a final score of 14-12.
Given the history between these two teams, the game should be nothing less than great to watch. The rivalry between these two Class A powerhouses stretches back some years. In a three year time line the Panthers lead the rivalry 3-2, The Panthers won the regular season game back in 2012. Man won the regular season game in 2013, then the Panthers won both the regular season game and playoff game against Man. Now in 2015 the Man Hillbillies have won the first regular season meeting and await the Panthers in the first round of the playoffs. Tug Valley Head Coach Tony Clusky said, “We have had some good games with man. They have our respect and I believe they do us as well. Expect another good game but this means more since loser takes up equipment.”
The overtime victory by the Hillbillies was hard fought. The Hillbillies entered the game ranked No. 8 in the state Class A rankings, Tug Valley entered the game ranked No. 9. After the game the Hillbillies jumped up a few spots in the rankings and the Panthers fell a few spots, it must be fate that we witness a repeat of the 2014 matchings. The game itself could be described as upside down, the Panthers outgained the Hillbillies 452-150 yards of total offense. The game winning variable for Man was being able to stop the Panthers on several crucial drives. There were some offensive mistakes on part of the Panthers that makes you wonder, if the Panthers bring a little luck to the game could it turn out different this time?
The game was tied at 6-6 heading into overtime. Man came out firing and tossed a pass into the end zone that was brought down by Ross Osbourne on the second play of the opening overtime drive for the Hillbillies. John Thomas Keefer, the quarterback for Man, rushed in the two point conversion and the Panthers felt the pressure set in. The Panthers, filled the stadium with tension when the hopes of victory was one yard away. Tug valley stood on the lip of the cup in a fourth and goal situation. Phillip Lucas punched in the score from one yard out. Then the Panthers approached the line for one more chance to tie the game at 14 all. The Hillbillie defense stopped Lucas just short of the goal line and prevented the two-point conversion. That was two weeks ago, now these two teams meet again.
The Panthers have a slew of offensive weapons that can get the job done when they want to; TVHS relies on big plays and tough defense. The fast paced offense is conducted by Tyler Conley from the quarterback position. Conley has Jeremy Dillon and Calvin Blankenship working the sidelines. Lucas is the power runner out of the back field and Corbin Oliver is the speed.
Oliver leads the Panthers in rushing yards with 673-yards on 67 carries and also leads the team in rushing touchdowns with eight total. Lucas is not far behind with 549-yards on 83 carries with five rushing touchdowns. Dillon has seven rushing touchdowns with 368-yards on 52 carries.
Dillon also leads the team in receiving touchdowns with 20 receptions for 279-yards. Blankenship leads in receiving yards with 487-yards on 17 receptions. Conley has passed for 1,058 yards on 62 completions, he has 13 passing touchdowns and only three interceptions.
The Hillbillies run a very similar offense as the Panthers. They run out of an I-formation and the Wing-T offense. They throw out of the spread offense and also the power-I. The big accolade that the Billies bring to the game is defense, that was proven the last time these two teams met.
Clusky said, “Both of us have several seniors that have played a lot of football. We will just have to go play hard and see what happens.”
Noah Lucas leads the Panthers in tackles with 59, Conley has 57 tackles on the season and Dillon adds 52. Ike Starr has 46 total tackles but has been a huge part of the Panthers defense all season.
Tug Valley sits at No.12 and Man sits at No. 5 the winner of this match-up will advance to the next round to take on the winner of No.4 Moorefield and No. 13 Meadow Bridge. In order to make it the super six the Panthers will face some tough match-ups.
The weather will be cold but the game will be played at Gorge Queen Field in Man, so that means that the game will be played on Field Turf. Kick -off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Friday night, Nov. 13.
(William Plaster is the sports reporter for the Williamson Daily News, he can be reached at 304-235-4242 ext. 2274 or at [email protected] or on twitter @sidplaster)