GLENHAYES, W.Va. — Close only counts in hand grenades and horseshoes.
However, the Tug Valley High School football team certainly made it interesting on Friday night at Tolsia in the Panthers’ first-round Class A playoff game at Tolsia High School’s Wilt Salmons Field in Glenhayes.
Tug Valley rallied from a three-touchdown deficit to tie it up late in the third quarter. Tolsia then punched in a score to go ahead for good as the Rebels held off the Panthers, 26-20, to advance to the state quarterfinals.
It was the second time the two teams had met this year.
Earlier in the season, Tolsia went to Naugatuck and defeated the Panthers 36-16.
It would be much closer this time.
Tolsia, ranked No. 4 in the state in Class A, improved to 8-2 on the season with the win. Tug Valley, making its third straight trip to the playoffs, saw its season come to an end at 7-4.
“I knew that we wouldn’t quit,” Tug Valley coach Tony Clusky said. “That’s all that I can ask them to do, to come out and play and play four quarters and see what happens. They did that. We battled in the second half and played better.”
Tug Valley trailed 14-0 at halftime and 20-0 in the early moments of the third quarter as Tolsia’s Logan Presley took a 6-yard keeper into the end zone with 9:32 left.
The Rebels, a Class AA team last year and a Wheeling Super Six team, at that point appeared to be in full command.
It could end up being a blowout.
The Panthers, though, dug their claws in deep and started to fight back.
Four plays later, Tug Valley reached pay dirt with quarterback Jonathan Blankenship’s 24-yard touchdown run. The 2-point conversion failed but the Panthers were on the board and trailed 20-6 with 8:54 left in the third.
The score was set up on second down as Blankenship, running out of an irregular formation, flipped a shovel pass to Dawson Elia, who raced 30 yards to the Tolsia 24-yard line.
Then two snaps later after the Panther TD, the momentum continued to shift Tug’s way as Presley was intercepted by Blankenship at the Panther 38-yard line.
Then just eight plays later, Tug Valley was in the end zone again as Blankenship scrambled and fired a long pass to the end zone on the fly to Elia, who snared the ball for a 22-yard touchdown catch. The 2-point conversion failed but Tug Valley was within 20-12 with 4:11 to go in the third quarter.
Tolsia took over after the Tug kickoff on its own 36-yard line but disaster struck for the Rebels as the ball popped out on a running play and Blake Dingess was able to grab the ball and rumble 33 yards for another Panther touchdown. Elia ran in the all-important 2-point conversion as the Panthers tied it up 20-20.
The Rebels then scored what would prove to be the game-winning touchdown on ther next drive as Brian Campbell scored on a 42-yard run with 1:55 left. The conversion failed but Tolsia led 26-20.
Tolsia later looked to make it a two score game but turned the ball over on downs at the Tug Valley 29 on one drive.
With with 4:23 left, Presley tossed a deep tipped pass to Campbell, who grabbed the ball and raced to the house for a 68-yard touchdown. The score was nullified, however, due to an offensive pass interference penalty by Campbell, who pushed off the Tug defender.
The Panthers dodged a bullet as Tolsia’s drive later stalled on the Tug 30 as a fourth-and-10 pass play fell incomplete.
Tug Valley got the ball on its own 30 and still have one chance.
However, Presley was able to intercept Blankenship’s pass on the fourth play of the drive to seal the win.
Tolsia took two knees to end the game.
Tug Valley fumbled the ball away on the opening kickoff but later nearly scored on its first drive. And fourth down pass play at the Tolsia 6-yard line, however, was incomplete in the end zone.
Later, Blankenship intercepted a Tolsia pass at the Tug 30 but the drive later fizzled out as a fourth-and-14 play at the Rebel 20-yard line went for a 7-yard loss and Tolsia took over on downs.
Then with 8:18 left in the second quarter, Presley scored on a 1-yard QB plunge to make it 6-0 Rebels. The 2-point conversion failed.
Tug Valley later drove the ball again close to Tolsia’s red zone but Blankenship was intercepted at the 14.
Then with just 39 ticks left until halftime, Presley weaved his way through the Tug defense on a keeper and scored from 13 yards out. Presley passed to Campbell on the 2-point conversion play to make it 14-0.
“We had some chances in the first half. The referee got in the way of the one on the interception,” Clusky said. “We had the ball inside the 10 early but we couldn’t get it in the end zone. It just wasn’t meant to be.”
Tolsia outgained Tug Valley 352-293 in yards of total offense. The Panthers had 43 carries for 190 yards while the Rebels had 45 attempts for 331 yards.
Tolsia was just 1 for 7 passing for 21 yards. Tug Valley was 6 of 16 passing for 103 yards.
Lucas had 11 rushes for 78 yards. Blankenship had 16 carries for 66 yards. Elia had 14 totes for 36 yards. Chandler Pack had two tries for 10 ayrds.
Elia had five catches for 83 yards and a score. Blankenship had one grab for 20 yards.
Blankenship was 5 of 13 passing for 83 yards with one TD and two picks. Lucas was 1 of 3 passing for 20 yards.
Lucas led the Tug Valley defense with 12 tackles, including two for loss.
Kyle Vance had seven tackles, while Blankenship had six stops and two interceptions.
Pack had six tackles and two for loss, while Elia and Chris Ellis had five stops each.
Dingess had four tackles, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
Parker Brewer and Chandler Carey each had four tackles, Mason Layne had three and Carson May and Jared Farley had two each. Jacob Curry and Josh Deboard had one tackle each.
Blankenship punted twice for an average of 29.5 yards per boot.
The game was the final prep contest for Tug Valley’s seniors, including: Kyle Vance; Noah Sorrell; Jared Farley; Andrew Dingess; Chandler Carey; Josh Deboard; and Brady Spaulding.
The bulk of the team will be back next season and the future looks bright again for TVHS in 2017.
With the three straight trips to the post-season, Clusky said a program is being built at Tug Valley.
“We’ve got a good bunch of seniors. This team is dominated by the junior class,” Clusky said. “We’ve got like 18 juniors. There’s a lot of guys who have played a lot of football the last couple of years who are coming back. It’s big to make the playoffs three years in a row. Tug Valley’s a basketball school but we play very good football too and we’ve done a good job here lately.”
Score by quarters:
Tug Valley: 0 0 20 0 – 20
Tolsia: 0 14 12 0 – 26
(Paul Adkins is the Sports Editor of the Logan Banner. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @PAdkinsBanner).