NEW PARIS — National Trail (4-4) finished the year with a win as they took down Twin Valley South (1-9) 33-14 in both teams’ season finales.
Though Trail would eventually come out the victor, the Panthers controlled the game early, with South senior Michael Crews scoring an 8-yard rushing touchdown on South’s opening drive.
On defense, the Panthers forced turnovers on Trail’s first three drives via two fumbles and an interception, of which the interception by was a pick-six before it was called back due to holding on South.
In the second quarter, Trail finally got on the board with senior Jacob Ray finding the end zone on a 26-yard run, sneaking around the edge to tie the game up at 7-all.
“We made some mistakes and we didn’t let it get us down,” Trail coach Mark Hoffman said. “It’s what we’ve been preaching from the very first day. You can’t quit. Can’t give up. This team right here doesn’t have any quit in them. It’s not only the seniors, but it’s the juniors and – it’s from the ground up. We’ve got a bunch of good kids here.”
After a series of punts that stretched throughout the second quarter, Trail got the ball back with 2:45 remaining in the half at South’s 37-yard line.
On the first play of the drive, senior Dallas Smith hit junior Garrett Jones for a 33 yard gain, down to South’s 4-yard line, where Ray ran it in to give the Blazers their first lead of the game, 14-7.
Receiving the ball in the second half, Trail came out swinging, going 53 yards in five plays, including a 35-yard completion from Smith to freshman Chase Ruebush, capped off by a 3-yard rushing TD by Ruebush, making it 20-7.
With the game slipping out of reach, South needed a score on the ensuing drive, but went three-and-out after a three-man sack by junior Jonathon Mclane, junior Ethan Wilson and sophomore Brodie Strawser on third-and-10.
During the game, Wilson broke Trail’s single-season sack record, eclipsing 11.5 sacks on the shortened season.
On Trail’s next drive, a short punt and facemask on the Panthers set the Blazers up at South’s 27-yard line, and found the end zone five plays later on a 5-yard rushing TD from Ray, his second of the game, increasing their lead to 27-7.
The Panthers continued to struggle on offense, turning the ball over on downs early in the fourth quarter after a drive that made it to Trail’s 35-yard line but ended on two straight sacks by Trail sophomore Jordan Heck.
Trail would score again on its next drive, this time a 2-yard rushing TD by sophomore Yiorgo Maroulianakis.
South would then embark on a drive spanning 8:27 in the fourth quarter, eventually scoring on an 11-yard rushing TD by Crews to make the final 33-14.
“We’ve got this thing going in the right direction, and we’ve just got to keep focused,” Hoffman said. “It’s going to determine on how we approach the offseason and weights and all that stuff. The good thing about it is these guys are tight and they all hang together.”
South coach Chris Fogle’s said it was “definitely interesting” in his first season as head coach for the Panthers, though it did not go how he or anybody else wanted with the Panthers finishing with a 1-9 record.
Despite the challenging season, he was thankful to have the experience with this year’s small senior class for South.
“It was different for them, I knew coming in, but I’ve known them since seventh grade, too, so it’s not like I’m a complete stranger. They gave their heart and soul,” Fogle said. “They responded well for me and I’m really, really proud of them. It was a lot to do, and throughout their career they didn’t have the most success, but they gave us everything they had and I can’t ask for anything else.”
Trail’s season had fewer games than expected due to COVID-related cancellations, with two games being taken off the board for the Blazers.
“I tell you what, it’s been a struggle with this COVID and all that stuff,” Hoffman said. “We’re 4-4 and we missed a couple games, and we could have easily won a couple more. Of course, I’m always going to think that because I’m the head coach. I’m pleased with these guys. These guys are good. These seniors, man. They just wanted to win.”
Hoffman said that this year’s seniors for Trail did nothing but get better throughout their four years.
“They’re tough. They’re hard-nosed, and they just kept getting better and better. You’ve got guys like [senior] Clay Stiner, [he’s] tougher than a 10 cent steak. He made 16 tackles last week. Then you’ve got [Dallas] Smith at quarterback, and Jacob Ray, and every one of those kids you talk about is a huge contributor to our team. They’re just great kids, man.”
Reach Braden Moles at 937-683-4056 or on Twitter @BradenMoles