GALLIPOLIS, Ohio — Here’s something you haven’t heard — at any point — in the last two football seasons.
The Blue Devils have won three games, and are atop the Ohio Valley Conference.
But, with another Friday night having passed at historic Memorial Field, the Blue Devils’ fortunes are indeed changing — and the victory bell is ringing.
That’s because Gallia Academy is officially in front in the OVC championship chase, as the Blue Devils — in successfully defending a late two-point conversion pass — defeated the visiting Portsmouth Trojans 36-35 in a hot and humid thriller.
On a night in which both offenses lit up the scoreboard, it ultimately came down to a Blue Devil defensive play on Portsmouth’s final snap.
The Trojans marched a massive 15 plays and 75 yards in seven minutes and 24 seconds, and trimmed their deficit to 36-35 with a 23-yard touchdown pass from Isaac Kelly to D.J. Pearsall with three minutes remaining.
The score put Portsmouth in a position to tie with an extra-point kick — or to take the lead with a successful two-point conversion.
The Trojans — as head coach Jason Duncan called a timeout — took their chances for going ahead, but the Blue Devils defended the pass attempt, breaking up Kelly’s throw near the back pylon of the end zone.
From there, all Gallia Academy needed was one first down and run out the clock, which they accomplished when Jacob Campbell picked up 12 yards on 3rd-down-and-7 with under two minutes remaining.
On that carry, his 14th to be exact, Campbell surpassed the century mark in rushing for the game —as he finished with 106 yards and a hat trick of rushing touchdowns along with a 28-yard receiving TD.
With the physically and emotionally exhausting win, the Blue Devils raised their record to 3-2, captured their second consecutive victory — and joined Fairland and Coal Grove as the only other 2-0 clubs in the OVC.
GAHS now owns an 18-11-1 all-time record over its former Southeastern Ohio Athletic League rival, as the Blue Devils have now won six of their last seven meetings with the Trojans.
But Friday night’s triumph took on much more meaning than most —if not all —of the Blue Devils’ decade-long battles (2006 to 2014) with the Trojans in the SEOAL.
“This was one of those games that, as a coach, you’re extremely exhausted. But to see our young men play football the way they did tonight and make plays to get the win, I’m very proud. Our kids just refuse to lose right now,” said a drained Gallia Academy head coach Alex Penrod. “It was physical out there on both sides of the ball for all 48 minutes. Both offenses were on tonight, and fortunately for us, it came down to a stop at the end of the game. It doesn’t come down to game-planning, it comes down to those kids making a football play for this community.”
That particular play started with a Trojan timeout, as essentially everybody inside Memorial Field knew that a two-point attempt was coming.
Portsmouth (2-3, 1-1 OVC) put standout sophomore running back Talyn Parker to the far right, and brought him in motion to the left as if to run a jet-sweep play.
But Parker didn’t get the ball, and Kelly’s aerial eventually was broken up by the Blue Devil secondary.
It can easily be argued it was the Blue Devils’ most important defensive play of the entire season.
“It really comes down to our young men playing football the way they have learned the last four months to play football,” said Penrod. “They showed us a different formation and wrinkle there, saw the jet motion with (Talyn) Parker and attacked. Our kids just made a football play.”
Actually, both squads made plenty of plays on Friday night — primarily offensively.
In addition to his 28-yard scoring reception, Campbell ripped off a 43-yard scamper just three minutes into the third quarter, giving Gallia Academy a short-lived 30-21 advantage after Justin McClelland completed a two-point pass of his own to Cade Roberts.
The lead was short-lived because Kelly came right back with a 62-yard touchdown run — a mere 22 seconds later.
After Parker ran in the two-point conversion, the Trojans trailed for the third time in the game by a single point at 30-29.
But the Blue Devils quickly answered to make it a touchdown deficit (36-29) again, as the quarterback McClelland —who completed 10-of-15 passes for 190 yards — moved them 80 yards in nine plays and in only four minutes.
After a difficult 36-yard completion to Caleb Henry got Gallia Academy to near midfield, McClelland’s connection to Cade Roberts for another 24 put the Blue and White inside the red zone at the Portsmouth 3-yard line.
Campbell capped off the drive with his third TD —a 3-yard burst at the 4:41 mark.
However, Gallia Academy failed with the two-point conversion which could have made it 38-29, as the 36-29 cushion spanned the next 13 minutes and 37 seconds.
In addition to Campbell’s 106 yards on 14 totes, McClelland carried 14 times for 78 yards — and opened the scoring just 36 seconds in with a 25-yard dash to make it 6-0.
Boo Pullins added 40 yards on eight attempts, as five different Devils — Henry (39 yards), Campbell (33 yards), Roberts (25 yards), Garrett Burns (67 yards) and John Stout (26 yards) — had two catches apiece.
“Our offensive staff called an excellent football game and made great adjustments,” said Penrod.
McClelland’s counterpart Kelly erupted for 209 yards and two touchdowns on 18 rushes, as he completed half of his 10 passes for 76 yards — including an initial 23-yard strike to Deante Parker that put Portsmouth ahead 7-6 at the 5:18 mark of the first quarter.
Joel Bowling booted the extra-point kick, but missed his next one just four minutes and six seconds later, following Talyn Parker’s 5-yard run that made it 13-6.
Parker, who returned to the Trojan lineup for the first time since suffering a week-one injury, posted 24 carries for 108 yards — but only tallied 10 touches for 39 yards in the entire second half.
“We saw some things they were doing with him (Parker), so we made some in-game adjustments and took some things away where they were getting the big plays,” said Penrod. “They were still getting yardage here and there, but we started minimizing their big plays.”
None bigger, of course, than the two-point play at the end.
The Blue Devils return to OVC action next Friday night — when they travel to face Fairland.
Paul Boggs can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2106