GALLIPOLIS, Ohio — What is … and what might have been.
Senior tailback Brady Adkins helped visiting Point Pleasant storm out to a 13-point lead early in the second before being sidelined with an injury, then Gallia Academy answered with 14 unanswered points before halftime and ultimately held on for a thrilling 14-13 victory in a Week 3 non-conference matchup at Memorial Field.
The Blue Devils (3-0) were making their home debut against a Big Blacks (0-1) squad that was competing in its season opener, and it was the first contest between these two programs in three years. The 83rd overall meeting — which GAHS now leads 41-37-5 — was also the latest installment of the Battle of the Bridge, complete with a newly-constructed trophy that was presented by both communities’ Rotary organizations.
Despite making its season debut, PPHS appeared to be in midseason form early on as the Red and Black allowed only 29 yards defensively in the first quarter while also stringing together a pair of impressive offensive drives.
After a quick three-and-out on the Blue Devils’ opening drive, the Big Blacks marched 77 yards in 13 plays, with Adkins capping things with a 2-yard run at the 5:10 mark of the first. Point’s 2-point conversion pass was incomplete, making it a 6-0 contest.
Gallia Academy followed by marching the ball down to the PPHS 29, but ultimately turned the ball over on downs after failing to convert a fourth-and-eight.
Point Pleasant responded with a 12-play, 71-yard drive that results in a 13-point advantage as Hunter Bush plunged in from two yards out. Elicia Wood converted the extra-point kick with 8:21 remaining in the half.
One play before Bush’s score, however, Adkins stayed down after a rushing attempt placed the ball at the GAHS 2-yard line. Adkins — who had 82 yards on 10 touches to that point — never returned to the game.
The Blue and White, coincidentally, looked to their tailback to help get things on track … and junior James Armstrong didn’t disappoint.
Armstrong broke a 52-yard run to paydirt at the 7:31 mark of the second frame, capping a 2-play, 68-yard drive that allowed the hosts to close back to within 13-7.
The Big Blacks followed with a quick three-and-out that led to a punt, then Armstrong broke a 50-yard scamper to the house. The 2-play, 50-yard drive — as well as Andrew Toler’s second consecutive successful PAT kick — ultimately gave Gallia Academy a permanent lead of 14-13 with 5:02 left in the first half.
From there, both defenses got tougher — and the hitting became harder — as neither team was able to produce another point.
Both teams had legitimate chances, including late in the second quarter.
Logan Southall picked off a Noah Vanco pass at the Point Pleasant 40 with just over three minutes left in the half, but was stripped of the ball before being brought to the ground. Ben Cox recovered the fumble for GAHS at the Point 42 with 3:10 remaining in the half.
The Blue Devils marched the ball down to the 24 and elected to try a field goal while facing a fourth-and-nine, but Toler pushed the ball wide right — allowing the guests to take over on downs at their own 24 with seven seconds left until halftime.
The first four drives of the second half resulted in punts, which gave the Big Blacks the ball at their own 13.
Lane Rollins made a strong run with a push from a pile of teammates out to around the 25, but Brant Rocchi stripped the ball out before the whistle blew. Rocchi fell on the fumble at the 26, giving the hosts possession with 2:12 remaining in the third.
Point Pleasant, however, tightened up its defense and forced a loss of downs at the 17-yard line with just 37.4 seconds remaining in the canto.
Both teams traded punts at the start of the fourth, and the Big Blacks seemed to have some forward momentum after taking over possession at the GAHS 42 with 3:24 remaining.
Facing a pivotal third-and-eight, Zack Hemby recorded a sack that pushed Point back to midfield — followed by a false start that left the guests looking at a fourth-and-22 situation at their own 45.
Bush delivered a perfect strike down the middle of the field to a wide open receiver, but the pass was dropped — which resulted in a loss of downs with 1:24 left in regulation.
The Blue Devils followed with a pair of kneel downs that ran the clock to triple zeroes, giving the hosts their first 3-0 start to a season in since the 2010 campaign. It was also the first time since 2008 that GAHS defeated Point Pleasant on the gridiron, snapping a 3-game losing skid in the process.
Gallia Academy has now won 10 consecutive regular season contests and will begin defense of its 2018 Ohio Valley Conference championship next week against visiting Chesapeake.
In the moment, however, GAHS coach Alex Penrod felt that this victory really helps set the table for the rest of the season — particularly in knocking off a storied rival that knows a thing or two about winning football games.
“Tonight was something that this program, these kids and this coaching staff needed. A lot of these kids haven’t experienced the feeling of what a full football night really is. And to be honest, Point Pleasant had us on the ropes a little bit until early on in the second quarter,” Penrod said. “With that said, these guys rose to the occasion when that time came and they believed in one another that we could win this game. We stepped up when we had to have it, and that’s what makes this win such a proud moment for this program.
“This is a great send-off as we head into conference play because week in and week out we are going to be taking everyone’s best shot and there’s going to be some chess matches over the next seven weeks. It was just nice to see everyone contribute and how they handled their roles for the greater good of the team. We made just enough plays to get out of here with a win, and I really think we have some confidence headed into league play. Now we just have to get ready to do it again next week.”
On the flip side of things, PPHS coach David Darst could only reflect on what might have been had Adkins — the team’s top returning skill player — had been around for four quarters.
The 13th-year mentor gave credit where it was due, but he also felt the outcome could have been different with his main playmaker on the field.
“I’m just so disappointed for Brady because he has worked so hard to get ready for his senior season and he put together a pretty good night in our first two drives, but our offensive dynamics changed when we lost him in the second quarter,” Darst said. “We were left to change some things up and do some different things with the kids we had out there, and with all respect … those kids just can’t do the things that Brady does.
“I thought our defense played well and we had some kids step up all over the field, but we also played a really good football team too. Gallipolis has a really good football team and we wish them nothing but the best of luck. We just have to put this one behind us and get ready for the next one. If we don’t, we’re going to lose the next one too.”
The final stats were as close as the final outcome as Gallia Academy produced a slim 239-237 advantage in total yards of offense, as well as a 148-143 edge in rushing yards. Point Pleasant did claim a 13-9 lead in first downs, but also finished minus-1 in turnover differential.
Both teams were flagged six times in the contest, with the hosts having 39 yards marched off against them while Point was moved back for 50 yards.
Armstrong paced GAHS with 159 rushing yards on 21 carries and Michael Beasy also added four yards on four totes. Vanco completed 10-of-19 passes for 91 yards, including an interception. Briar Williams hauled in four passes for nine yards.
Adkins led Point Pleasant with 51 rushing yards on seven carries and Nick Parsons added 38 yards on six attempts. Bush completed 10-of-15 passes for 94 yards, with six of those going to Zane Wamsley for 56 yards.
Point Pleasant travels to Lincoln County on Friday for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff.
Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.