GALLIPOLIS, Ohio — A champion is crowned.
The Gallia Academy football team defeated arch rival Jackson 30-27 Friday night at Memorial Field in Gallia County to give the Blue Devils their first Southeastern Ohio Athletic League championship since 2004, and their first outright title since 2003.
“This is what it’s all about,” said fourth year Gallia Academy coach Mike Eddy after the triumph. “These guys have thought of nothing else since last winter.”
The Blue Devils (8-2, 5-0 SEOAL) also earn their first trip to the postseason since 2006 with the victory. Early projections indicate that GAHS will host Cincinnati Archbishop McNicholas Saturday night in the Division III region 12 bracket. The final seedings will be made official late Sunday morning by the Ohio High School Athletic Association. GAHS has not hosted a playoff game since 2005 when Sheridan defeated the hosts 42-35 in overtime.
“(Making the playoffs) is a great accomplishment for this entire community,” Eddy said. “This town is this football team and we’re proud to gift that to the community again and get back in the playoffs.”
Eddy who was previously 0-3 against the Ironmen (5-5, 3-2) commented that he’s been waiting four years to hear the victory bell ring after defeating Jackson. 2008 was the last time the Blue Devils defeated JHS, also it was the last time the Ironmen finished with a non-winning record.
“These young men deserve it,” said Eddy. “Of all the championships I’ve been involved with, this is the best group of champions I’ve seen in my life.”
Fortune seemed to be smiling on Gallia Academy in the first quarter as they recovered Jackson’s fumble on a punt return which gave the Blue Devils great field position at the JHS 35 yard line. On the eighth play of the drive senior runningback Nick Clagg took the pitch right and ran by the Jackson defense and in to the endzone from 10 yards out. Dylan Saunders added the point after touchdown, capping off the eight-play by giving the Blue Devils the 7-0 lead with 7:12 remaining in the first.
The Jackson offense came on the field for the first time in the game at the JHS 35 yard line. The Ironmen controlled the ball for the rest of the opening stanza, and GAHS led 7-0 after one period. However, on the first play of the second quarter the Red and White got on the board with a 10 run up the left side by quarterback Steven Kearns. Jimmy Voiles added the extra point, knotting the game at seven apiece after Jackson’s 13-play 65 yard drive.
The Blue Devils wasted little time returning to the endzone, as with the second play of the ensuing drive senior runningback Cody Russell ran straight up the middle 28 yards through the Ironman defense and in for six. The point after attempt failed and but GAHS still had the 13-7 lead at the 11:15 mark of the second period.
After a long kickoff return by Jackson’s Gabe Griffiths, the Ironmen needed just three plays to tie the game once more. Kearns found his way by the Blue Devil defense and into the endzone from 23 yards out knotting the game at 13. The extra point failed and the score remained tied with 10:15 remaining in the half.
GAHS drove down the field on it next possession but a false start penalty inside the five yard line forced the Blue Devils into a field goal situation. Saunders split the uprights from 26 yards out and Gallia Academy had its third lead of the game over Jackson. The half ended before either of the teams could add more points to the board and the Blue Devils led 16-13.
After forcing a turnover on downs on the opening drive of the half the Blue Devils sent their offense out to set up shop at their own 42 yard line. Five plays into the drive GAHS had tacked on another touchdown, this time on a 15 yard run by quarterback Wade Jarrell. Saunders added the kick and the Blue and White led 23-13 with 6:09 remaining in the third period.
Jackson got back to its running game toward the end out the third and just over two minutes into the fourth, Kearns was in again. He got by the GAHS defense on a run left from 18 yards out to cap off the 10-play 52-yard drive.
Down just three points Jackson carried the momentum form offense to defense forcing Gallia Academy to punt with 7:59 remaining in the contest. On the fourth play of the drive Kearns was gone again, giving JHS its first lead of the game on a 46 yard touchdown run. Voiles added the extra point and JHS led 27-23 with 6:40 remaining.
It seemed that Gallia Academy was back on top after the opening play of the ensuing drive went all the way to the endzone but an illegal forward pass set the Blue Devils back to their own 31 yard line. GAHS bounced back from the devastating penalty and just four plays later Jarrell broke a 42 yard run for the score. Saunders added the point after touchdown and the Blue Devils led 30-27 with just 5:22 remaining in regulation.
JHS fumbled away possession on its next drive and Gallia Academy looked to but the game to rest. After having a touchdown called back for a block in the back GAHS turned the ball over on downs with 1:46 left in the contest. The Blue Devil defense stuffed Jackson’s chances of victory on and GAHS regained possession with 46 seconds remaining after forcing a turnover on downs. The Blue Devils were in victory formation and a pair of kneel downs by Jarrell ended gave GAHS the 30-27 victory.
Jarrell led the rushing attack for GAHS with 118 yards on 17 carries with two scores. Russell finished with 78 yards on 11 tries with a touchdown, while Logan Allison had 22 yards on two attempts. Nick Clagg rushed four times for 14 yards and a score, while Luke Pullins had just one run for seven yards in the win.
Jarrell was 6-of-15 through thea air for 74 yards. Justin Bailey caught three of Jarrell’s passes for 48 yards, while Allison had two grabs for 20 yards. Reid Eastman finished with one catch for six yards on the night.
Kearns led the Ironmen with 173 yards and four touchdowns on 18 carries. Morgan Landrum finished with 21 carries for 77 yards while Derek Rafferty and Griffiths each had four yards. Alec Osborne had one rush for negative three yards in the game.
Kearns was 5-of-12 passing for 47 yards, completing one pass to Regan Williams for 32 yards, two passes to Griffiths for seven yards, one to Rafferty for six yards and one to Branson Brown for two yards.
Gallia Academy held a 12-10 advantage in first downs on the night, along with a 50-47 advantage in offensive plays ran and a 313-302 advantage in total yards. The Blue Devils rushed 35 times for 239 yards while completing 6-of-15 passes for 74 yards. JHS had 45 rushing attempts for 255 yards, while completing 5-of-12 passes for 47 yards.
The Ironmen were penalized six times for 45 yards, while GAHS was set back 10 times for 35 yards. Jackson fumbled six times on the night but managed to retain possession four times.
The victory is Gallia Academy’s seventh consecutive after beginning the year 1-2. The Blue Devils only two losses came to 6-3 Ironton, who will like be a two seed in Division IV, and to 10-0 Licking Heights, who will likely be a six seed in Division II. Gallia Academy went undefeated in SEOAL play for the first time since 2003.
“We want to build something here that can win year in and year out,” Eddy said. “Jackson did some good things tonight but they couldn’t overcome our heart.”