The Wildcats thwarted East Hardy in the red zone four times and kept grinding to big rewards resulting in a 21-14 victory during the regular season finale and crashing senior night in Baker last Friday.
Pendleton County needed to get this win to seal a playoff spot and the Cougars were trying to strengthen the seeding placement, so this game was an important bookend to the season.
“Our backs were against the wall and we needed to win to get in. I got some dedicated football players who didn’t want their season to end, especially a group of hard working seniors that I can’t be more proud of tonight. We knew we needed to run the football, that’s our bread and butter and we found some other things we needed to take advantage of and we did that. We worked hard defensively covering things scheme-wise. They know we like to power and sweep it, so we had some counter moves for that and came up big in the second half. Our defensive line got after it tonight and that is a credit to our defensive coaching staff. We made the stops when we needed them,” Pendleton County coach Zac Smith remarked.
“When you go up two scores, everybody gets a little more pumped. I think got complacent for just a second and they got that big return. We couldn’t tackle [Christian] Dove in the backfield, he was running around like a rabbit. We had to make a play there. Credit to them, they are a great program and great football team. We came ready to play and we knew our backs were against the wall.”
Pendleton County had the defensive answer for the potent aerial attack the Cougars pose with a ferocious line creating havoc.
East Hardy began the opening series on its own 35-yard line with quarterback Christian Dove picking up seven yards and was tackled by Pendleton County’s Isaiah Alexander.
Dove was chased out of the pocket before being forced to the sidelines for no gain by Wildcats defenders Dillon Smith and Braden McClanahan.
Facing third down, the Cougars went airborne as Dove launched a pass to Andrew Tharp making a diving reception gaining 37 yards and a first down at the edge of the red zone at the 21-yard line.[private]
It took a group of Wildcats to bring down East Hardy’s Mason Miller on a three yard run into the red zone and Alex Miller added another yard with a stop by Pendleton County’s Josh Alt.
On the ensuing third down sequence, Dove connected with Dawson Price, but Alexander made a jarring hit causing a fumble which was corralled by Pendleton County’s Landon Colaw on the 17-yard line.
Pendleton County’s offense had a slow start not being able to collect a first down going three and out as the Cougars defense clamped down.
Wildcats play caller Isaiah Gardiner made a keeper for two yards and was brought down by East Hardy’s Mason and Alex Miller.
The handoff to Dalton Dunkle resulted in a seven yard gain for the Wildcats, but Alex Miller was there to deny chain movement.
Dunkle tripped and fell in the backfield losing one yard on third down which led to a punt after a pair of timeouts.
The Cougars commenced their second series inside Pendleton County territory at the 46-yard line and Noah Lang made a catch for three yards.
Dunkle sacked Dove for a two-yard loss, then Mason Miller was stopped or no gain by Alexander and Ryan Mitchell to force a punt.
The Wildcats made a fair catch at the 18-yard line and Gardiner rushed for seven yards before being sacked by East Hardy’s Dale Hockman.
Dove made an interception and returned the ball into the red zone giving the Cougars possession at the 18-yard line.
East Hardy went to the air with Dove lobbing the ball up for Dawson Price to make a leaping catch in the end zone beyond the reach of the Wildcats for a touchdown at the 3:57 mark and Hockman added the extra point for a 7-nil edge.
It looked like the Cougars were going to hold Pendleton County for another punt after tackles by Hockman, Dove, Tharp and Brayden Ritchie for minimal gain, but the Wildcats went into a bag of tricks with a fake punt as the direct snap was taken by Cole Day going around the corner for a first down at the 41-yard line and was brought down by Erik Flynn.
However, two plays later a deflected pass was located by East Hardy’s Dawson Price for an interception with a return to the Wildcats 39-yard line.
Alex Miller punched through the line for three yards, then Price gave a slight nudge for separation on the ensuing play making the reception and a touchdown which was negated for what was determined his own offensive pass interference backing up the Cougars near midfield to close out the first quarter.
Starting the second frame, a deep throw by Dove fell incomplete and East Hardy punted from midfield.
Pendleton County needed 81 yards to score on the next possession and took 13 plays to accomplish the task in a span of six and a half minutes.
Gardiner notched nine yards on the first play, then connected with Mitchell for a first down play totaling 13 yards.
Pendleton County’s Braden McClanahan created another first down on an 11-yard reception sneaking into Cougars territory.
Gardiner was forced out of bounds by East Hardy’s Noah Lang, but an offensive face mask was called on the play.
Day made a catch for one yard and was hammered by Dove, then McClanahan snatched a pass for nine yards and was taken down by Price.
The Wildcat converted third down as Gardiner raced to the outside and was finally brought down by Riley Mongold on a five yard gain to the 38-yard line.
Two plays later, Mitchell made a 14-yard catch into the red zone and was forced out by Dove.
Gardiner added five yards and Day notched seven more to bring Pendleton County to the six yard line poised to strike.
Gardiner eluded a tackle attempt by Mongold in the backfield and dashed toward the sideline racing in for a touchdown and Alt garnered the extra point to tie the game at 7-all with 5:11 remaining in the first half.
East Hardy’s Christian Dove returned the kickoff to the 45-yard line, then Alex Miller grabbed a huge first down cutting to the sideline and stopping on a dime to return to the middle of the field finding open space to jet 32 yards to the Wildcats 23-yard line with a first down to boot.
Mason Miller made two carries to punch into the red zone at the 15-yard line, then Dove lost control of the ball on the snap and collected it just as Alt swooped in for the tackle losing seven yards.
Facing fourth down-and-nine, the Cougars went for it and couldn’t muster enough to move the chains as Dove only got four yards before being forced out of bounds.
Pendleton County took over on downs with 2:44 left in the second quarter.
On second down, East Hardy’s Andrew Tharp rocked Wildcats receiver Connor Armentrout causing the ball to pop out for an incompletion.
The Wildcats responded with a ten-yard first down catch by McClanahan and another for seven yards to reach the 37-yard line.
East Hardy’s defense stopped the run twice with tackles by Dayton Miller, Erik Flynn, Dale Hockman and Mason Miller before timeouts were called.
Day made a catch for no gain and was tackled by Alex Miller.
Dayton Miller appeared to have Gardiner in his grasp slamming him to the ground, but a pass was made to an empty field on third down.
After a timeout, the Wildcats threw an incomplete pass with two seconds left.
East Hardy’s Brayden Ritchie made a catch and plowed through the defense gaining about 20 yards from near midfield to close out the half.
“We knew we were going to get a good rush out of that defensive line over there, numbers 75 and 84 especially, did just that. In terms of pressure, we did a better job on handling it in the second half than we did in the first half. We made the adjustments for that and gave the help where it was needed, but at the end of the day we have to capitalize in the red zone. Not very good execution and we need to identify our miscues there. It came down to execution and we will take a look at it on game film, but we saw some guys just standing there in the end zone wide open. We should be better than that and we weren’t tonight. We have to regroup and learn from this and come back next week as long s we are still alive,” East Hardy coach Devon Orndorff commented.
“Explosive offense and explosive plays are great, but it also leaves the defense on the field a lot more. We do hang are head on defense and to allow 21 points is very uncharacteristic of it and that is because we had a very solid opposition with an explosive offense when it wants to and they had the capability to drive on us tonight. I felt there were several momentum changes in the game tonight…we capitalized on one and and were living in the red zone and thought we were going some momentum back, but hats off to them for making just enough first downs to get out of trouble. They have a good team and coaching staff over there.”
Pendleton County played it smart in the second half burning the clock having the first possession and chewing up over six minutes of action with a dozen plays moving from the 47-yard line down to the five yard line before the Cougars notched a goal line stand with tackles by Dayton Miller, Dove, Flynn and a fourth down pass defended by Lang.
It looked like a little breathing room for East Hardy on third down with a keeper by Dove, but there was a holding call and the ensuing pass was in the palms of Lang making a dive before ricocheting out during the crash to the ground leading to a punt from the five.
The Wildcats were back in business at the East Hardy 36-yard line with Day making a catch for a dozen yards and holding on to the ball on a hard hit by Mason Miller.
Mongold chased Gardiner out of the pocket and Alex Miller forced him out of bounds after just one yard.
Mitchell added six yards on the ensuing reception into the red zone, then Pendleton County converted third down as Dalton Dunkle snatched a pass for six more yards.
Dunkle rushed for an 11-yard touchdown and Alt’s kick gave the Wildcats the lead at 14-7 with 2:15 remaining in the third quarter.
Pendleton County failed to execute an onside kick and the Cougars took advantage of the field position on the first play as Dove connected with Tharp on a diving play picking up 37 yards reaching the red zone at the 15.
East Hardy’s Alex Miller carried a group of Wildcats for almost ten more yards, then Dove grabbed the first down at the three yard line.
Pendleton County turned up the heat with a goal line stop as Day tackled Miller for a six yard loss, then Alt chased Dove out of the pocket and the result was an incompletion.
Lang made a catch to return to the original line of scrimmage flying over Gardiner out of bounds on third down.
Dove eluded a defender and tried to make a throw on the run, but the ball fell just in front of Price, who was knocked down from behind in the end zone for a turnover on downs with 25 seconds left in the third quarter.
Facing third down early in the fourth quarter from their own five yard line, Pendleton County caught a break as Mitchell’s reception spanned 25 yards for a first down conversion with Mason Miller making the stop.
Tharp and Alex Miller tackled Day on a two-gain, then Gardiner lost a yard being forced out by Ritchie.
A catch by McClanahan with a tackle by Dove and Price was inches away from the first down marker and measurement was made as the Wildcats huddled along the sideline without a timeout.
It was fourth and inches, but Pendleton County got the first down as the Cougars were penalized for being offsides.
Hockman, Ritchie and Mason Miller denied advancement by Dunkle, then Dayton Miller and Flynn dropped Gardiner for a loss.
Gardiner flipped the ball to Mitchell, who cut to the outside and dashed 56 yards for a touchdown cushion with 8:10 to go in the game and Alt added the extra point for a 21-7 advantage.
East Hardy’s Mason Miller made a huge kickoff return down to the Wildcats 30-yard line, but the Cougars failed to score inside the ten yard line again.
Dove escaped danger and passed to Lang for 17 yards in the red zone to the 13-yard line, then Ritchie caught a pass for four more yards with Day making the tackle.
Alex Miller added one yard and Alexander joined Day for the stop.
Dove eluded backfield trouble again, but was tripped up by Dillon Smith at the line of scrimmage gaining just one yard on third down and the fourth down pass went awry with 5:40 left.
A personal foul face mask on the Cougars gave Pendleton County breathing room at the 25-yard line, but the defense didn’t fold as Hockman, Dayton Miller, Alex Miller and Mason Miller made tackles on short yardage to face a punt from the 28-yard line with 3:32 on the clock.
Dove returned the punt 15 yard to the Pendleton County 46-yard line, then passed to Ritchie for a first down covering 14 yards.
Lang made a catch for a dozen yards to reach the border of the red zone for another first down as the Cougars were preparing to pounce for pay dirt.
Dove found Tharp for the 20-yard touchdown strike and Hockman added the extra point as the Cougars sliced the deficit to 21-14 with 2:58 remaining.
East Hardy made deep kickoff and the Wildcats started at their own nine yard line.
Time was not the Cougars friend and stops needed to be made with just a couple timeouts to work with in the game.
Gardiner rushed for nine erased and Price joined Mason Miller for the stop, then Dunkle garnered a first down at the 21-yard line and Dayton Miller made the tackle before a timeout.
After a reverse by McClanahan garnered a first down going a distance of 17 yards, a timeout was called.
Pendleton County sealed the 21-14 win with two kneel downs by Gardiner.[/private]
The No. 8 Wildcats (5-2) will host No. 9 Moorefield (4-2) in the first round of the state playoffs this Friday night, while No. 14 East Hardy (5-2) visits No. 3 Doddridge County (6-1) on Saturday afternoon at 1:30 p.m.