TUPPERS PLAINS, Ohio — Engaged in an early shootout against host Eastern on Saturday night, the Southern Tornadoes finally fired off the biggest play of the game.
Just 11 seconds into the second quarter, a 60-yard touchdown pass from Blake Johnson to Riley Roush jump-started the Tornadoes to scoring 27 unanswered points — en route to a 41-27 victory in the 2016 Tri-Valley Conference Hocking Division and regular-season football finale at East Shade River Stadium.
It was actually the third scoring play of at least 17 yards or more for the Tornadoes, which won their second consecutive meeting against the archrival Eagles.
With the win, Southern secured its second 8-2 regular season in four years — and locked up only its second state playoff appearance in school history.
The Tornadoes, which finished at 6-2 and in third-place in the TVC-Hocking, will be the fifth seed in the Division VII, Region 27 playoffs — and will travel to fourth-seeded Trimble for a week-seven rematch.
Southern’s other 8-2 mark, and state playoff appearance, was in 2013.
Eastern, on the other hand, finished at 4-6 — and 3-5 in the TVC-Hocking.
Saturday’s annual rivalry tilt against the Tornadoes marked the final game for five Eastern seniors — Mac Browning, Corbett Catlett, Jett Facemyer, Jeremiah Martindale and Jon Wolfe.
The Eagles — once again — got one last outstanding performance from the quarterback Facemyer, who completed 19-of-34 passes for 193 yards and two touchdowns, while rushing for 113 yards and another TD on 24 attempts.
He also made his first three extra-point kicks.
However, Southern quarterback Blake Johnson was just as effective — completing 5-of-12 passes for 207 yards and three first-half touchdowns of at least 30 yards.
Then, just three minutes and six seconds into the third quarter, Johnson’s dazzling 23-yard scoring run — in which he scrambled all the way to the right before reversing field and getting outside to the left — made it 34-14.
The Tornadoes then made it 41-14 on a 17-yard run by Jaylen Blanks — with five minutes and 15 seconds left in the third period and following an Eastern three-and-out possession.
But, it was Johnson’s three touchdown strikes in the opening half that made the difference on Saturday night.
“I thought our kids did a nice job of executing and taking advantage of what they were giving us,” said Southern coach Mike Chancey. “We have some kids that can make some big plays. Overall, I thought our kids really played hard and really played with great effort. I knew we would have to play well to win, because Eastern I think is a better football team than what their record shows. But our kids executed and played all the way to the end.”
Eastern coach Pat Newland concurred.
“One of those touchdowns, we had it covered pretty well, but we misjudged the ball. On the first touchdown, we were in cover four and our linebacker was supposed to get a piece of their back out of the backfield. We just didn’t quite get enough of him to knock him off stride. But give credit to them (Tornadoes) for executing those things perfectly,” he said. “Those were three big plays that they had and their athletes made great plays.”
Eastern, besides its two first-quarter touchdowns that resulted in a 14-14 tie, was shut out until its final two scores — a Facemyer 36-yard run with 1:41 remaining in the third quarter and a 10-yard pass from Facemyer to Blaise Facemyer with only 30 seconds remaining.
The Eagles actually opened the scoring with an 8-yard touchdown toss from Jett to Blaise, capping a nine-play, 57-yard drive that consumed three minutes and 20 seconds off the first-quarter clock.
But the Tornadoes needed just three plays and a minute and 26 seconds to answer — as Johnson went deep to Blanks for a 56-yard touchdown strike at the seven-minute mark.
Southern’s Trey Pickens, also made three extra-point kicks, tied the game for the first time at 7-7.
The Eagles then went three-and-out on their next possession, and Southern answered by again driving 56 yards — this time in five plays and in a minute and 37 seconds.
Roush rushed for 19 yards to the Eastern 33, then Johnson — three plays later — found Crenson Rogers open for a 30-yard touchdown toss at the 4:21 mark.
Pickens’ second PAT kick made it 14-7, but the Eagles answered with an impressive 13-play, 63-yard march that featured four first downs and two 4th-and-short conversions.
With just 33 seconds left in the opening quarter, Josh Brewer scored from two yards out — and Facemyer made his second extra point for the game’s second tie (14-14).
That tie, however, only lasted 44 seconds.
That’s because — on the opening play of the second stanza — Johnson found Roush wide open down the middle for the 60-yard dagger.
“Blake (Johnson) is a three-year starter for us and does a nice job of throwing the football and making plays with his feet also,” said Chancey. “He made some big plays when they were available tonight. It’s nice to have a kid like that who can put the ball where whatever the defense is giving you.”
From there, the Eagles punted twice more, before Facemyer was intercepted by Colton Holbrook with only 38 seconds remaining in the half.
Just prior to that interception, the Tornadoes doubled their advantage to 28-14 — following an eight-play, 60-yard drive that featured four first downs and was capped off by Roush’s two-yard run.
Blanks ran in the two-point conversion — with 44 seconds remaining in the second quarter.
Roush later caught a 28-yard pass from Johnson, whose only second-half completion was a 33-yarder to Clayton Wood.
The Tornadoes spent most of the final three quarters controlling the game — and the clock — with the ground attack, rushing for 227 yards on 42 carries, as they ran 54 plays from scrimmage.
Roush paced the Tornadoes with 107 yards on 13 totes, as Blanks added 44 yards on a dozen attempts.
“A lot of kids played well. The offensive line blocked well and running backs ran hard,” said Chancey. “It was a good team win. We feel like we have several good running backs. We try to keep them as fresh as we can and use them all.”
Ike Akers added 41 yards on eight carries, as the only other ballcarrier besides Facemyer for Eastern was Brewer (39 yards on 11 carries).
The Eagles actually held a 20-18 advantage in first downs, but had two turnovers and punted four times.
Eastern amassed 345 yards on 69 plays, as Blaise Facemyer made nine receptions for 89 yards — with the two TDs.
Martindale added 69 yards on four receptions in his final game.
Newland praised the effort of his five seniors, spearheaded by Jett Facemyer.
“As coaches in front of the team, we really haven’t given Jett enough credit. He has played heroic this year and has done just a great job,” said the coach. “Jeremiah (Martindale) and Jon (Wolfe) have only played for two years and Mac (Browning) just gives everything he has every week. And Corbett Catlett has played every position on the field. I wish we could have gotten these five guys more wins, but it’s been a very enjoyable season.”
Speaking of enjoyable seasons, it’s definitely been one for the Tornadoes — and it continues this week with the regional quarterfinal bout at Trimble.
“It’s great to finish 8-2 and we’re proud to have a week 11,” said Chancey. “We have a good group of kids and I’m really proud of them. I was out of coaching for four years and decided to get back into coaching. These kids have made me glad that I made that decision. They play hard and practice hard, and win or lose, they are a pleasure to coach. Now we get to coach them at least more week.”
Paul Boggs can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2106