CENTENARY, Ohio — Two small breakdowns near the end of the first half ultimately led to big trouble for the Gallia Academy football team Friday night following a 21-7 setback to visiting Licking Heights in a Week 2 non-conference matchup at Memorial Field.
The Blue Devils (1-1) — playing in front of the home crowd for the first time this season — found themselves in a scoreless tie throughout most of the first half. That is, until a pair of lucky breaks went the way of the Hornets (2-0) in the final three minutes before halftime.
Licking Heights managed only one first down through roughly 21 minutes of play, and then the flood gates opened. Facing a third-and-14 at its own 29, Hornets quarterback Taylor Curtiss zipped a short pass outside to David Lancaster just in front of a GAHS defender.
Lancaster managed to haul in the pass, break a tackle, and sprinted 71 yards down the left sideline for an early 7-0 LHHS advantage. That touchdown capped a 3-play, 67-yard scoring drive with just 2:32 remaining until halftime.
Gallia Academy was forced to punt with less than a minute left on its ensuing drive, but Jake Foley rumbled 49 yards on the punt return — giving LHHS a first-and-10 at the Blue Devils’ 16-yard line with 35.8 seconds left until intermission.
Two plays and 16 yards later, Licking Heights was clinging to a 14-0 advantage after Curtiss found Doug Bennefield with a 13-yard scoring strike with 10.9 seconds left in the half.
Those two plays made all the difference in the first half scoring, as the Blue Devils outgained the guests in total yardage by one yard (105-104) and also had twice as many first downs (6-3) headed into the break.
After both teams traded possessions to start the second half, the Hornets drove the proverbial nail into the coffin with its second drive of the third quarter. Kendall Bradley scored on a 22-yard run with 4:47 remaining in the canto, capping an 8-play, 55-yard scoring drive that resulted in the guests’ biggest lead of the night at 21-0.
GAHS — which went without a first down on two-plus drives in the third period — finally broke into the scoring column late in regulation, as Cody Russell capped an 11-play, 71-yard drive with 1:42 remaining after scoring on an 11-yard run. Dylan Saunders added the successful PAT kick to make it a 21-7 contest, but the hosts never came closer the rest of the way.
Despite the final outcome on the scoreboard, the game, overall, was about as evenly-matched as possible in the statistical category. Both teams accumulated 221 yards of total offense and fumbled four times, although neither team committed a turnover on the night.
Gallia Academy had seven punts for an average of 26.7 yards, while the guests had six punts for an average of 32.2 yards.
The Blue Devils claimed a 14-10 advantage in first downs and churned out 107 rushing yards on 44 attempts, while the Hornets had 115 rushing yards on 39 tries. Licking Heights managed 106 passing yards in the triumph, compared to 114 passing yards by the hosts.
Russell led GAHS with 56 yards on seven carries, while Wade Jarrell followed with 25 yards on 19 attempts. Nick Clagg added 11 yards on five carries, Ty Warnimont chipped in eight yards on three totes and Logan Allison had seven yards on three attempts. Luke Pullins had five carries for four yards and Cody Call had two rushes for minus-4 yards.
Jarrell finished the night 7-of-13 passing for 78 yards, while Call went 3-of-9 passing for 36 yards in the fourth quarter. Allison led the wideouts with three catches for 36 yards, while Warnimont hauled in two catches for 30 yards.
Justin Bailey had two catches for 25 yards, Pullins had two grabs for 18 yards and Reid Eastman also had one catch for five yards in the setback.
Kendall Bradley led Licking Heights with a game-high 62 rushing yards on 10 totes, with 61 of those yards coming in the second half. Josh Ausberry had seven rushes for 24 yards and Ron Carruthers-Kimball added 21 yards on nine attempts.
Curtiss finished the night 4-of-9 passing for 106 yards, while Lancaster led the wideouts with one catch for 71 yards. Ausberry had one catch for 20 yards, Bennefield had one grab for 13 yards and Foley added one reception for two yards.
The Blue Devils were penalized six times for 50 yards, while Licking Heights was flagged eight times for 80 yards. Warnimont and Mark Allen each recorded a sack for the hosts, while Matt Mayville had two sacks and several QB pressures for the Hornets.
The road doesn’t get any easier for Gallia Academy next week, as the Blue Devils travel to Tanks Memorial Stadium to take on unbeaten Ironton (2-0) in a Week 3 non-conference matchup in Lawrence County. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.