By Carl Holcomb
The Vikings were the last team standing in the way of perfection and East Hardy muscled past Class AA Petersburg to remain undefeated in the regular season for the third time in school history with a 37-16 victory last Friday.
The Cougars (10-0) return to the Class A state football playoffs with back-to-back perfect seasons with the goal to return to Wheeling Island for a third consecutive year.
“I think it was pretty apparent that we had some just going through the motions to finish the season. It was understandable, because we had a huge win last week and had home field advantage locked up. They’re kids and it’s hard to get up for a game every single week. It is nice to see we can play like that and still come away with a win,” East Hardy Coach Chad Williams commented.[private]
“We forced a couple nice turnovers and I thought Dakoda Sager played a great game on the defensive line. He had a monster game. We don’t like giving up two touchdowns, but it happens from time to time. I’m not happy with anything right now. It’s tough after a win like last week and knowing this game didn’t mean anything. We’re glad to be 10-0. I remember standing on this field when we capped off our first undefeated season and it was 20 degrees and Jamie Miller just dumped an ice cooler on my head. It feels better now after doing it a few times. It is a great accomplishment. I’m proud of them. The goal at the beginning of the year was to get home field advantage up until Wheeling Island and feels good to be the only undefeated team.”
Petersburg refused to go down without a fight on senior night, preventing a score for nearly an entire quarter before the Cougars pounced for 25 points to close the first half with a 25-8 lead.
The opening sequence for the Vikings didn’t yield a first down even with an encroachment penalty as quarterback Jacob Hartman slipped and fell nine yards behind scrimmage on a scrabble being chased by East Hardy linebacker Clay Skovron on second down leading to a punt after an incompletion.
A deep punt put the Cougars at their own five yard line and failed to get breathing room as Petersburg’s Doug Morral and Kile McKeyin applied pressure making East Hardy back pedal and a deflected pass forced a punt.
The Vikings took over at the East Hardy 25-yard line and Hartman’s pass was intercepted by Phillip Mullin and returned for a pick six touchdown, but it was negated on pass interference setting up Petersburg at the 12-yard line.
Petersburg failed to take advantage of the red zone with only a two yard gain before three errant passes killed the opportunity.
Skovron picked up a first down on a keeper reaching the 20-yard line where Morral made a tackle.
A deep pass to Brett Tharp from Skovron resulted in defensive pass interference as Petersburg’s Trad Harman tackled Tharp prior to the ball’s arrival moving the chain again at the 35.
After a run for no gain, Skovron got a block by Tharp and reached midfield before being forced out.
Mullin added a few yards, then Skovron connected with Aden Funkhouser for an 11-yard first down catch.
The Cougars gained another first down as Skovron carried the ball to the 25-yard line, then the drive came to a screeching halt as tight defense by Petersburg prevented a couple of passes around a two yard run by Mullin plus a scramble eluding defenders in the backfield bought time for Skovron to release the ball only to have it deflected away by Harman and Tyce Wisnewski on fourth down.
Petersburg covered 28 yards in seven plays moving past midfield before East Hardy’s Brett Tharp made an interception darting back and forth on the gridiron to setup the Cougars at the 26-yard line.
There were four minutes remaining on the clock in the first quarter and East Hardy used a dozen plays to wind the clock down and score on the 74-yard drive.
The drive was highlighted by a 32-yard diving catch by Tharp to reach the Petersburg 33-yard line.
Mullin added eight yards on two carries, then Skovron picked up the first down at the 23.
Mullin made a leap for the ball and was nailed by Hartman which caused the ball to bounce from grip.
Funkhouser caught a nine yard pass, then Austin Alt converted third and one at the 13.
Two plays later, Tharp was found in the end zone making a diving catch from 11 yards out with 16 ticks on the clock for a 6-nil edge as the kick missed.
The onside kick was recovered by East Hardy’s Brayden Ritchie.
A holding penalty and offensive face mask penalty plus two incomplete passes defended by Hartman and Wisnewski led to a punt.
Mullin made an ankle tackle on Hartman on a two yard keeper, then Harman made a five yard catch and a pride of Cougars tackled him.
A chop block during a run by Hartman with a tackle by Nick Miller pushed the Vikings back for a punt.
A personal foul put East Hardy at its own 18-yard line, then Skovron erased the negative yardage gaining a first down at the 31-yard line.
Mullin added a yard and Skovron bounced outside for another chain moving play at the 42.
Mills took a pitch three yards, then made a brilliant catch for 28 yards into the red zone.
Andrew Tharp made a diving catch at the five yard line and three plays later the Cougars found pay dirt as Skovron reached over the goal line from one yard out for the touchdown at the 5:34 mark of the second quarter and Morral blocked the kick, 12-0.
“It feels great, definitely a hard fought ball game. We didn’t come out with the same intensity as last week, but we pulled through and the playoffs are here. It’s definitely a great accomplishment that we are number one going into the playoffs, but we have a lot to do and we have a target on our backs,” East Hardy senior Clay Skovron remarked.
East Hardy’s Adam Baker tackled Petersburg’s Zach Rohrbaugh on a three yard run, then Funkhouser deflected a pass and another went awry before a diving interception by Brett Tharp was ruled incomplete on the sidelines forcing a turnover on downs at the 42.
Rohrbaugh tackled Funkhouser drawing pass interference which moved the ball to the 27-yard line.
Mullin was tackled by Rohrbaugh and McKeyin after a first down run to the red zone at the 15.
Skovron connected with Brett Tharp on tight coverage by Harman for a touchdown at the 4:13 mark and Nick Miller’s kick made it 19-0.
Petersburg managed to get five yards on the next drive as stops by Tharp, Funkhouser and Dakoda Sager forced a third down and Baker’s chase created a low pass not scooped up by Harman.
On fourth down, the ball was mishandled on the snap causing a fumble with Sager, Quinton Cook and Miller making the tackle.
East Hardy had great field position at the Petersburg 25-yard line, but the first two passes were deflected by Harman and Wisnewski, then a diving attempt by Andrew Tharp came up short.
Brett Tharp converted fourth down with a 13-yard catch reaching the 12-yard line with Harman making the stop.
Three plays later, Skovron rushed into the end zone from four yards out and the conversion was denied with 1:29 left in the first half with the Cougars ahead 25-0.
A scramble on third down by Hartman put the Vikings at the East Hardy 43-yard line for a first down with 46 seconds to go.
Andrew Tharp deflected a pass, then Harman snatched a 41-yard pass to the Cougars 5-yard line with 29 seconds on the clock and Tharp got the stop.
After an incompletion, Hartman raced down the sidelines and squeezed into the end zone for Petersburg touchdown and Peyton Sindledecker caught the two-point conversion for a 25-8 score with 19 seconds in the half.
“There’s not enough good words to say about these guys [seniors]. When we took over as staff three years ago, we knew these guys would be special. Tonight they fully showed what they’ve got. We just gave the number one team in the state one of their best games they had to play all year. We played well and played tough and fought them to the end,” Petersburg Coach Kevin Board stated.
East Hardy reached Vikings territory again to close the half, then a last second throw fell incomplete.
The Cougars opened the second half with a six play, 64-yard scoring drive.
After two passes were denied, Brett Tharp converted third down with a 13-yard catch.
Mullin rushed for nine yards, then picked up a first down on the following carry to the 39.
Funkhouser made a 39-yard touchdown catch to put East Hardy up 31-8 at the 10:46 mark.
Alt made a tackle for loss, then Hartman fell reaching the original line of scrimmage before an interception by East Hardy’s Adam Larson.
Offensive pass interference was called on tight defense, then Tharp made a pass to Skovron for ten yards reaching the 27.
Mullin created a 25-yard run and was ushered out of bounds past midfield by Rohrbaugh and Hartman.
Harman bumped Tharp and made an interception at the 13-yard line.
The Vikings moved the chains four times on the drive which included a 21-yard catch by Wisnewski with Andrew Tharp making the stop and 16-yard keeper by Hartman reaching the East Hardy 24-yard line in eight plays prior to Funkhouser making an interception in the end zone.
Sindledecker recovered a fumble for the Vikings in the red zone at the 19-yard line.
Three plays by Rohrbaugh put Petersburg at the four yard line, then Hartman made a four yard touchdown run even with a hit at the goal line by Funkhouser and Halterman added the conversion to close the gap 31-16 at the 2:30 mark.
Petersburg was whistled for an illegal kickoff coming out of the huddle to make the kick, then East Hardy wasn’t able to generate a first down starting at midfield with a punt to close the quarter.
Mills recovered a fumble for the Cougars as Andrew Tharp made a jarring hit on Sindledecker just beyond midfield.
After a penalty by East Hardy, a diving catch by Brett Tharp was ruled incomplete.
Tharp would drop a screen pass, but Funkhouser got the Cougars out of trouble on a third and long catch for 27 yards to the red zone.
Skovron converted fourth and inches reaching the five yard line before being forced out of bounds.
Brett Tharp made a five yard catch look routine for a 37-16 advantage with 9:06 remaining in the game.
Sager made a sack for the Cougars near midfield plus Baker and the Tharp brothers made stops for minimal gain.
Hartman eluded backfield trouble and connected with Harman for a 24-yard play to the 24 where the Tharps brought him down.
Alt, Cook and Sager made tackles on Rohrbaugh tom force a fourth down, but Hartman converted it and was halted by Funkhouser and Miller at the nine yard line.
Sacks by Sager and Hinton Shifflett moved the Vikings back to the 21-yard line, then Harman received a six yard pass.
“It’s great. We put in work in practice and came out here to fulfill it. We knew what we had with a tougher schedule this year and we just had to come out and give it everything we had. Hopefully we will have a chance to go back to Wheeling,” East Hardy senior Dakoda Sager stated.
Shifflett rocked Hartman on the release and Andrew Tharp made an interception with 2:20 remaining in the contest.
The Cougars ran down the clock on carries by Alt and an offsides call created a first down to seal the 37-16 victory.
Skovron went 13-of-32 for 224 passing yards with four touchdowns and carried the ball 79 yards with two more scores.
Skovron finished the regular season with 2,260 passing yards in first season as quarterback.
Aden Funkhouser led the Cougars with four catches for 114 yards and one touchdown, followed by Brett Tharp with four catches and three touchdowns.
“It feels good to go undefeated at 10-0 for another year. Everybody is hyped. We didn’t play very well tonight, but we got the win. We entered last year as number two, but this year we’re number one and everybody is looking up to us. We’re saying we’re good and just have to show it now. It is great to see all of the support, it is loud and a great environment. As senior leaders we are making sure everybody practices hard and plays well so we can get back to the Island. It is good playing with my brothers [Andrew & Bryce]. Andrew is really stepping up and playing well in place of Chance Dove,” East Hardy senior Brett Tharp commented.
Mullin contributed 87 rushing yards on 15 carries for East Hardy.
“It’s awesome to be undefeated and that was one of our goals. I’m really glad to get an undefeated season, but we still have more games to play. Obviously the focus is to practice hard every week and keep playing the way we know how to play and ultimately win a state championship,” East Hardy senior Phillip Mullin noted.
No. 1 East Hardy hosts No. 16 Williamstown (5-4) this Friday night in the first round of the state playoffs, while the Vikings season comes to a close at 5-5.[/private]