GALLIPOLIS, Ohio — Halfway home and still unbeaten.
The Gallia Academy football team won the battle of undefeated teams and celebrated Homecoming in style on Friday night at Memorial Field, as the Blue Devils claimed a 45-28 victory over Ohio Valley Conference guest Portsmouth.
The Trojans (4-1, 1-1 OVC) — who started the year with four straight wins for the first time since 2002 — forced a three-and-out on the games opening drive, and went up 6-0 on the seventh play of their first offensive possession, with Talyn Parker scoring on an eight-yard run.
Gallia Academy (5-0, 2-0) — starting the season with five straight victories for the first time since 1994 — was also forced to punt on its second drive, but got the ball back on the PHS 21 when Trent Johnson intercepted a Trojan pass.
Four plays later, Gallia Academy was in the end zone for the first time with a 10-yard touchdown run from Michael Beasy. Andrew Toler made his first of six point-after kicks, giving the hosts a 7-6 advantage with 4:34 left in the opening quarter.
Portsmouth was back in front on its next offensive snap, however, as Parker broke a 66-yard touchdown run. Drew Roe’s two-point conversion run made the PHS lead 14-7 with 4:17 remaining in the first.
The game’s next four drives resulted in punts, with the Blue Devils starting their first possession of the second quarter at their own 47. Three plays into the drive, the Blue Devils evened the game at 14, as Noah Vanco tossed a 41-yard touchdown pass to Cade Roberts with 6:47 left in the half.
Portsmouth responded and led 20-14 just four plays later, with a 45-yard scoring pass from Roe to Eric Purdy after a 32-yard run from Parker.
Gallia Academy regained the advantage with a four-play scoring drive of its own, taking the 21-20 lead with a 15-yard touchdown run by Beasy, set up by a 28-yard pass from Vanco to Cameron Webb.
The Blue Devil defense stopped a fourth down try on Portsmouth’s next drive, and GAHS took over with 5:14 left in the half and 58 yards to paydirt.
The hosts faced a fourth down six plays into the possession, but got Portsmouth commit an encroachment penalty for a fresh set of downs at the PHS 10. Four plays later — a fourth-and-goal from a yard away — James Armstrong plunged into the end zone to give the Gallia Academy a 28-20 lead headed into halftime.
The Blue Devil defense forced a three-and-out to start the second half, and the offense took over at the GAHS 27. Armstrong carried the ball all the way to the PHS 10 on the first play of the possession, and four plays later, scored on another one-yard, fourth down run.
PHS went three-and-out again, but the punt return was fumbled by the Blue Devils and the Trojans were given new life at their own 40. The GAHS defense stood tall yet again, however, forcing a third straight three-and-out. A punt by each side wrapped up the third quarter, and the hosts began the fourth at their own 20.
Gallia Academy was set to punt on its seventh play of the finale, but the snap was fumbled, and Toler took off for a 10-yard run and a first down. On the very next play, Briar Williams broke a 55-yard touchdown run, giving the Blue and White a 42-20 edge with 8:26 left in the game.
The hosts recovered an onside kick on the ensuing kickoff and made their lead 45-20 seven plays later, as Toler made a 36-yard field goal with 5:39 on the clock.
The Trojans ended their scoring drought on their next offensive snap, as Roe tossed a 67-yard touchdown pass to Bryce Wallace. Parker made the two-point run, Portsmouth recovered an onside kick, and the Trojan offense made it as far as the GAHS 25. However, the Blue Devils stopped a fourth down try with 2:53 to go, and then ran for the first down they needed to seal the 45-28 victory.
Following Gallia Academy’s 12th regular season win in a row, GAHS head coach Alex Penrod talked about the adjustments his coaching staff was forced to make during the game, and how his players executed the changes.
“When it comes down to our coaching staff putting together game plans, sometimes they work, and sometimes they don’t,” Penrod said. “Hat’s off to Coach Kalb and his defensive staff, they did a good job with a five-man front and really kind of caught us out of the blue. We made some in-game adjustments there in the first half, but we were really able to put it together in the second half, so hats off to our coaching staff.
“In the end, you can have plans and ideas, but it comes down to getting our young men out there on the field to understand the adjustments and put them in action, and just play the game of football. Our kids, they trust our process. It looked like we needed to do some different things defensively, but we knew our guys were fresh, we knew they were going to better conditioned and better suited. The energy and effort picked up and we were able to make some plays.”
In the win, GAHS claimed a 14-to-8 advantage in first downs, including 7-to-2 after halftime. The Blue Devils ran for 297 of their 376 total offensive yards, while PHS gained 166 of their 282 through the air. Both teams turned the ball over twice in the game, and Portsmouth was penalized four times for 40 yards, while Gallia Academy was sent back 63 yards on nine flags.
Armstrong led the Blue Devil ground attack with 152 yards and two scores on 28 carries, after a net gain of just one yard through his first seven totes. The Blue Devil junior also caught one pass for five yards in the win.
Beasy had 70 yards and two touchdowns on a dozen carries, while Williams had 62 yards and a touchdown on two rushes. Donevyn Woodson ran three times for 16 yards, while Toler picked up 10 yards on one carry.
Vanco completed 4-of-10 passes for 79 yards and a touchdown in the victory. Roberts caught two passes for 46 yards and one score, while Webb had one 28-yard reception.
Parker finished with a team-best 133 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries for the Trojans, gaining 135 yards on a dozen rushes in the first half.
Roe — who was sacked four times in the loss — was 12-of-22 passing for 166 yards and a touchdown. Purdy led all-receivers with 88 yards and a touchdown on seven catches. Wallace had 71 yards and a touchdown on two receptions for PHS, Chris Duff added two grabs for three yards, while Michael Duncan caught one four-yard pass.
Gallia Academy has now won 11 straight conference games, as well as nine games in a row on its home field. The 5-0 start isn’t only new territory for the Blue Devils, but also Coach Penrod, who noted that they won’t celebrate long before preparing for their Week 6 trip to Fairland.
“I can’t say that I’ve ever done it in my assistant coaching career, and definitely not in my head coaching career,” Penrod said of starting 5-0. “It’s a great feeling and we’re going to enjoy it tonight, but we start back tomorrow morning. We’re 0-0, we have another football game, and we know going down to Fairland is always going to be a tough battle.”
GAHS is now 20-11-1 in all-time meetings with the Trojans.
Alex Hawley can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2100.