By Carl Holcomb
Class A No. 1 East Hardy rode the wave over the No. 9 Tide to shore up a 42-14 victory in the state quarterfinals last Saturday in Baker earning a third consecutive berth in the semifinals.
“We had a great week of practice, the best week of practice we’ve had all year and that definitely translated to the game. They came out fired up and were excited. Those great weeks always correlate into great games,” East Hardy Coach Chad Williams remarked.[private]
“Early in the week we were worried about the forecast, because they were calling for 20-30 mph winds and some rain. This turned out to be a beautiful day. I think regardless, when we come out with that type of intensity and come out that focused, we will play good football. Our defense did a great job, that veer offense is tough to defend. You really have to play assignment football and we preached that this week. Our guys did a great job doing their own assignments and not trying to do someone else’s job. We played solid assignment football and it showed, everybody did their own job. I feel pretty good. I still maintain that Williamstown is a top four of five team in the state, not number 16. I didn’t feel bad last week. We have St. Marys coming and whoever gets past them will probably have Wheeling Central. It is time to tighten up these next two weeks and hope there are two more weeks.”
The Cougars warmed up the fans with an early touchdown and the noise rose for a 34-0 halftime advantage over Sherman.
Forcing the Tide (9-3) out to sea created a rematch of last year’s state championship with St. Marys on Black Friday in the state semifinals with the winner purchasing a return ticket to the Super Six on Wheeling Island.
East Hardy (12-0) opened the state quarterfinals from the 33-yard line and needed eight plays to score in two and a half minutes.
Phillip Mullin took a pitch from quarterback Clay Skovron and gained eight yards on second down for the Cougars, then Sherman was whistled for offsides to move the chains.
East Hardy’s Brett Tharp caught a pass from Skovron and entered Tide territory and was tackled by J.T. Hensley at the 47.
Mullin was brought down in the backfield by Sherman’s John Dickens and Layne Daniel.
Skovron connected with Jeffrey Mills for a 45-yard catch deep in the red zone at the five yard line.
Two plays later, Skovron reached in for a touchdown on a keeper from four yards out and Nick Miller added the extra point for a 7-nil edge at 9:25.
Sherman began on its own 14-yard line and Benjamin Salmon dodged tackles on second down for a 31-yard run before being tracked down by Tharp along the sideline.
East Hardy’s Adam Larson tripped up Salmon on the next play during a 10-yard gain to the Cougars 44.
Skovron knocked the ball loose on a hit delivered to Hensley, but Salmon recovered it.
Salmon picked up a handful of yards with stops by Miller and Brett Tharp, then Andrew Tharp made an interception and a huge return was cut short with a block in the back.
East Hardy took over on the 47-yard line, but in seven seconds the Tide turned as Sherman’s Eli Deboard snatched an interception.
In five seconds, the Cougars had the ball back as Miller rocked Salmon and the ball popped loose with Dakoda Sager recovering the fumble at the Sherman 40.
After two plays for a loss with stops by Colton Bassham, Skovron connected with Aden Funkhouser for a 44-yard touchdown catch and Miller’s kick made it 14-0 at 4:22.
East Hardy’s Quinton Cook slammed Sherman’s Seth Rinchich to the gridiron for a two yard loss to open the next possession at the 33.
After an incompletion, Hensley was tackled by Cook and Skovron for a four yard loss leading to a punt.
The punt was blocked by a pride of Cougars and Andrew Tharp recovered the ball at the Tide 9-yard line.
Facing fourth down from the two yard line, Skovron carried the pile into the end zone for a touchdown pushing through with a block by Mullin with 1:31 remaining for a 20-0 lead.
Sherman began at the 27-yard line and Dickens was tackled by Brett Tharp on a six yard pickup, then Salmon was stopped for no gain with a hard hit by Sager and Cook.
Salmon garnered six yards for a first down and was dropped by Brett Tharp.
The Tide made a first down as Rinchich reached the East Hardy 42-yard line and was tackled by Mullin and Andrew Tharp.
Skvoron tripped up Rinchich on a two yard pickup, then Miller wrestled Salmon down for a loss.
Two plays later, Sherman went for it on fourth down and Brett Tharp made an interception at the seven yard line.
Rinchich knocked the ball away on first down with Andrew Tharp nearly saving it, then Brett Tharp garnered a first down at the 35.
Skovron fumbled the ball and it was recovered by Sherman’s Daniel.
The Tide had short field position at the Cougars 33-yard line, but the initial play was a two yard loss with a tackle by Skovron and Ryan Rogers.
Hensley spun away from a tackle for a 25-yard gain into the red zone at the 10-yard line where Cook made the stop.
Cook and Casey Connelley brought Salmon down, but he bounced up and raced to the end zone with the whistle blowing the play dead at the nine.
Two plays later, Miller made a fumble recovery for East Hardy at the one yard line.
Skovron tried to give the Cougars breathing room, but was tripped up by Dylan Richmond and fell on the three.
An offsides penalty provided some space, then Mullin gained a first down at the 14.
During a run on the next play by Mullin there was a face mask penalty moving the chains at the 24-yard line.
Mullin found an opening again and dashed through the Tide defense for a 76-yard touchdown run at the 5:20 mark of the second quarter and Miller added the extra point for a 27-0 advantage.
Funkhouser crushed the ribs of Rinchich forcing the ball to be jarred loose on a pass play for an incompletion on the first play from the 31-yard line.
A catch by Will Hensley on third down was coupled with a pass interference creating a first down at the 46.
Sherman entered Cougars territory and on third down Salmon was nailed in the backfield by Miller stripping the ball and Tide quarterback Hensley made the recovery.
On fourth down, Hensley was pressured and released a pup pass which was intercepted by East Hardy’s Adam Baker with 1:22 left in the half.
Facing third down from the 45-yard line, Skovron connected with Mills for a 36-yard catch into the red zone at the 19-yard line with 36 ticks on the clock.
Mills made a leaping catch, but landed out of bounds on the next play.
Skovron dashed to the outside and was forced out of bounds at the six, but a late block by Tharp created a personal foul backing the Cougars to the 21-yard line.
Mullin made a nine yard catch to the 12-yard line with 13 seconds to go.
Funkhouser snatched a 12-yard touchdown pass from Skovron with six seconds remaining and Miller’s kick made it 34-0 at the break.
The second half opening kickoff had some sparks as a comment by a Tide player resulted in an unsportsmanlike penalty putting the ball on the 15-yard line.
Sherman managed to gain two first downs on the drive reaching the 45-yard line before punting and East Hardy defense had five tackles made by Cook on the series.
The Cougars went three and out on their possession with a four yard gain by Mullin and two incompletions.
Miller and Rogers stopped Hensley for no gain, then the Tide had two errant passes with Larson forcing a drop on a hit on one leading to a punt.
Sherman’s Jonathan Atkins recorded a tackle for loss and a sack to back the Cougars up to the 20-yard line.
After an offside call, there were offsetting penalties for offensive holding and a personal foul.
Tharp made a catch and was hit by Salmon with the ball coming loose as the Tide recovered in the pile with an unsportsmanlike penalty on Sherman.
The Tide reached the East Hardy 26-yard line in eight plays spanning 45 yards to close the third quarter.
Big hits for minimal gain by Andrew Tharp and Miller, then a sack by Rogers, Sager and Miller forced a fourth down situation and Hensley wasn’t able to grab a first down when forced out by Brett Tharp.
East Hardy started at the 18-yard line and a pitch back to Mullin with a hit from Deboard forced a fumble and Sherman’s Ian Beller recovered it at the 13.
Larson made a tackle on third down at the six yard line saving a touchdown on a run by Austin Cooper, but the Tide converted the fourth down into a touchdown as Hensley scored and the extra point made it 34-7 with 9:02 remaining.
Mullin muffed the kickoff, but regained composure for a 23-yard return.
The Cougars weren’t able to connect on the drive leading to a punt, but got the ball back immediately as Funkhouser made an interception on Sherman’s first play at the 44.
Brett Tharp made a diving catch on second down for a 10-yard chain moving play.
Mullin rushed for six yards and seven yards for another first down, then added marker mover on a 14-yard gain at the five yard line.
Skovron punched through the line for a five yard touchdown and passed to Andrew Tharp for the two-point conversion as Miller cramped up prior to the kick for a 42-7 score with 4:30 left.
Facing third down against the East Hardy second defense, the Tide made a 64-yard touchdown with the catch made by Will Hensley and the kick created a 42-14 final at 2:42.
East Hardy backup quarterback Preston Dove made two passes to Casey Sine and Cole Pusl in the final drive of the game.
Skovron went 11-of-23 for 220 passing yards with two touchdowns plus ten carries for 31 yards and three touchdowns on the ground to keep the Cougars pouncing forward in the playoffs.
Brett Tharp had five catches for 85 yards, Mills made two catches for 71 yards and Funkhouser’s two catches for 56 yards both resulted in touchdowns.
East Hardy’s ground attack was solid with Mullin making 12 carries for 120 yards and one touchdown.
Sherman was under pressure all night and quarterback Hensley only made one pass for 11 yards out of 11 attempts with four interceptions and rushed for 28 yards on 15 carries.
Salmon led the Tide with 18 carries for 83 yards and made the lone touchdown pass.
“This is one of the biggest seasons in our program’s history. I think this last week was our fifth playoff win in program history. It’s another step in the direction we want to go, two years ago we were a 1-9 football team. A year ago 8-2 and out in the first round and this year we took it another step further. I couldn’t be more proud of our boys and our community. This has been a great year to be a part of Sherman Football,” Sherman Coach Mike Showalter remarked.
“I think we got exactly what we expected. A very physical and very athletic football team, well-coached. Very explosive and difficult to slow down, they’re going to be a tough opponent for anybody that has to go with them. We got exactly what we expected, they have a great group of receivers and a great quarterback who can hurt you running and throwing the football. We knew what to expect and we got it, they played a great football game and executed well. Turnovers killed us today, we had five or six of them. We were making drives and getting looks we wanted and things that were there, but there were turnovers and we couldn’t execute. When you are playing an offense like this, you’ve got to put points on the board.”
East Hardy (12-0) will play No. 5 St. Marys (10-1) for the fifth time since 2006 in the playoffs and this time will be for an opportunity to reach Wheeling Island again.
St. Marys beat the Cougars last year in the title game 23-8, but East Hardy won the 2015 semifinal match 36-19.
“It’s pretty awesome. If you look over the past few years, we’re probably the top two programs in recent memory. We played in the semifinals two years ago and the championship last year. This will be three years in a row and four out of the last five that we’ve met in the playoffs. There is probably a little bit of a rivalry there and it’s a good thing. The kids and the community, everybody should be excited that St. Marys is coming to town,” Coach Williams concluded.
The Blue Devils defeated Tug Valley 47-0 to advance with Jaiden Smith leading the way with 14 carries for 206 yards.
The Cougars are seeking a third consecutive Super Six appearance with this Black Friday sale for state championship tickets.[/private]