NEW PARIS — National Trail lost a home Cross County Conference game to Tri-County North on Friday night by a final of 14-7. The Blazers accumulated over 350 yards of offense, including 235 on the ground but suffered critical penalties and failed to reach the end zone in the fourth quarter prevented a victory for the home team. This was the final game of the season for both teams.
“I think that our guys adopted a ‘bend but don’t break’ philosophy on defense,” said North coach Bill Derringer.
“We talked about those 5-and-out pass patterns that Trail did against us. We were willing to give those up and not give up any big plays,” Derringer said. “I want to give National Trail a lot a credit. We didn’t think they were going to hit those and they did it consistently on us. We knew this was going to be a physical game with their big back (Ben Sullivan) and we would have to gang-tackle him. Very rarely is he going to be tackled by one man. They were able to move the ball on us effectively, while they packed eight to nine guys up close to the line of scrimmage against our offense. Basically, our defense had to step up for us.”
“Tough one — our kids played really well and hard today,” said National Trail coach Randy Kerns. “It’s hard at 2-7 to get motivation for the kids to play hard. But I thought the kids gave it everything they had and I literally can’t ask anything more of what we just did. We just had some breakdowns with penalties.”
Trail received the opening kickoff to start the first drive of the game. The Blazers marched down to the Panthers’ 39-yard line before suffering a turnover on downs.
On North’s first drive, the team was held to a 3-and-out and punted the ball away deep into Blazer territory.
National Trail’s second drive was similar to its first, moving the ball against the North defense but failing to produce any points.
The first quarter turned out to be a scoreless affair.
With possession of the ball going into the second quarter, Tri-County North was able to cross into the Blazers’ half of the field. On a pass play, North received a pass interference penalty on what could have been a touchdown to an open Panther receiver. North took advantage of the penalty to score the first touchdown of the game on a 6-yard run by Tanner Booth, to take the lead into the halftime break, 7-0.
On the second half opening kickoff, Booth returned the ball 77 yards for a touchdown, to put the Panthers up 14-0. But National Trail didn’t give up, capping the next drive with a touchdown run by Sullivan, making the score 14-7.
On the next kickoff, the Blazers recovered an onside kick, but were unable to take advantage of the possession.
“That touchdown by National Trail was stressful on us,” said Derringer. “I told my guys ‘we are still up seven points and we need to play great defense.’ When Tanner returned that kickoff for a touchdown, that had to be the play of the night. We needed that cushion.”
The fourth quarter was the most exciting of the game, as North was shut down offensively twice while the Blazers had two opportunities to tie or win the game but were unable to do so.
On the final possession for the Blazers, with time running out, the team failed to move the ball, ending a chance for a comeback. North was able to run out the clock for the win.
Sullivan rushed 29 times for 125 yards and the lone touchdown for the Blazers. Junior Jacob Heck returned after being sidelined four games and rushed for 66 yards. Sophomore quarterback Evynn Short completed 18 of 28 passes for 123 yards, including eight to junior Noah Brinkley, who finished with 58 yards.
Corbin Hoblit had seven tackles for the Blazer defense. Trey Mann, Peyton Lane and Tyler Glander each had five tackles.
For Tri-County North, Bo Hendrickson was 2-of-7 for only 18 yards passing. Booth had 16 carries for 68 yards, while Gavin Overholtz had four carries for 10 yards. Booth led defensively with 18 tackles. Chandler Sproles had 12 tackles, and Wyatt Hutchins and Wyatt Woodyard each had 11 stops.
Dakota Dixon and Preston Jackson each had nine tackles, while Liam Downing and Alex Kerby each had eight. Overholtz made six stops.
“We absolutely dominated the time of possession,” said Kerns. “We had the ball most of the time. Critical errors at certain times hurt us. But we had Jacob Heck back for us; he’s got great speed and we really missed him for the past several weeks. He gives us the ability to get the edge and takes the pressure off of Ben. The counter was big for us with Heck and they helped us move the ball against them.”
“It’s tough to talk about individuals in a team sport, but I have to mention Booth,” said Derringer. “He did pretty much everything for us, but I give credit to the offensive line, because that was how he gained his yards. Tanner also played a pretty good game defensively, but the defensive line absorbed the blockers for him to make some of those plays.
“We have just too many players who stood out for us all season long,” Derringer said. “We lost four games, but we lost to four teams who are the best in the area and will most likely go on to the state playoffs with even home field advantage. The boys have nothing to hang their heads about and I’m very proud of them.”
The Blazers finish the year 2-8, and 1-7 in the CCC. Tri-County North was 6-4, and 6-3 in the conference.
Reach Oliver Sanders at 937-683-4062 or on Twitter @osanders_RH