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By a fingertip, Hillbillies rally for 22-21 win over Panthers, secure Class A playoff berth

Bill Lusk | WVOW Sports

MAN In football, games are won and loss by inches or as in the case last week for Man and Tug Valley, the outcome was decided by a fingertip.

Trailing 21-14 with the possession of the ball at its own 35-yard, the Man Hillbillies were in despite need of a miracle if they were to keep their hopes alive for securing a first round home game for the upcoming Class A playoffs.

Man had failed to convert on its prior offensive series and turned the ball over on downs to Tug Valley with 1:57 to play. With two timeouts in his pocket, Man coach Harvey Arms needed his defense to come up with a stop to give his team a chance for a final second victory.

The Hillbillies defense rose to the occasion forcing Tug Valley to punt and on the very first play from scrimmage quarterback Devon Sanders threw a pass down the left sideline that was tipped by Tug Valley’s Gavin Fitzpatrick and into the arms of Man wideout Trey Ward, who outraced the defense for a 65-yard touchdown with 0:37 remaining to bring Man to within one, 21-20.

All that was left was for Man to convert on the ensuing point after attempt, but Arms, whose Hillbillies had an extra point kick blocked in the second quarter, elected to go for two and the win.

Sanders faked a jet sweep, rolled to his left and found his tight end Lukas Haney for the go-ahead two-point conversion giving Man a 22-21 lead.

The ninth-ranked Hillbillies stopped the fifth-ranked Panthers on downs and escaped George A. Queen Memorial Field with a 22-21 victory on Oct. 27 in a battle of two of the top nine teams in Class A.

The win locked up a playoff berth for Man, who improved to 7-2 on the year, for the second consecutive season, but a win in its regular season finale Friday night at county rival Chapmanville will secure the Hillbillies first home playoff game in eight years.

Despite having just six yards of total offense in the first half and trailing 14-6 at halftime, the Hillbillies used a big night from Ward and Dusten Baisden to rally for the come from behind win.

Not long after Tug Valley had taken a 7-0 lead on Bryson Eli’s 5-yard pass to Ashton Davis with 7:51 to play in the second quarter, Ward electrified the Man faithful with an 85-yard kickoff return that cut the deficit to 7-6.

It would be the first of three touchdowns for Ward, who caught two passes for 100 yards and two scores on his father’s, Mikee Ward, birthday.

A 7-yard pass from Eli to Brady Brewer with 0:26 to play in the first half gave Tug Valley a 14-6 lead.

The Panthers appeared to be in great position for their eighth straight win and received the kickoff to start the second half, however, on the Panthers first play from scrimmage disaster struck as Baisden rushed through to sack Eli forcing a fumble, which Kaleb Mullins recovered at the Tug Valley 33.

Four plays later, Sanders found Ward for a 35-yard touchdown pass to cut the deficit to 14-12. Sanders tacked on the two-point conversion to tie the score at 14 with 9:46 remaining in the third quarter.

Baisden had a monstrous night on the defensive side of the football for the Hillbillies with 14 tackles, three tackles for loss, one sack and one forced fumble. Baisden was also Man’s leading rusher, rushing for 32 yards on seven carries in the win.

Jacob Endicott and Mullins also had big nights for the Hillbillies on the defensive end with eight and seven tackles respectively on the evening. Endicott had three tackles for loss and one sack while Mullins registered 2 ½ tackles for loss and recovered a fumble.

Eli’s 35-yard run with 8:33 to play in the fourth quarter gave Tug Valley a 21-14 lead.

Eli, starting at quarterback for the injured Preston May, who missed Friday’s game with a broken collarbone, completed 9 of 15 passes for 99 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 116 yards and one touchdown on 27 carries.

Adam Slone rushed for 33 yards on seven attempts, Brewer hauled in three receptions for 35 yards and one touchdown and Cameron Slone had two catches for 33 yards.

Tug Valley (7-2) had great field position all night with five of its 10 offensive drives starting in Man territory, however, the Panthers were victimized by penalties and bad snaps.

Tug Valley was penalized 15 times for 108 yards. Eight of the Panthers 15 penalties were called for false starts including four consecutive false starts on the Panthers opening drive of the game.

Tug Valley held a decisive edge in total offense, 144-6, in the first half but the Hillbillies defense held the Panthers to 89 total yards in the second half.

Sanders completed 5 of his 10 passes for 145 yards and two touchdowns. Haney had one reception for 18 yards, Baisden one catch for 17 yards and Mullins one for 10 yards.

Tug Valley, who had its seven-game winning streak snapped to fall to 7-2 on the season, can lock up a first round home game in the Class A playoffs with a win over Van Friday night on Senior Night in Naugatuck.



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