UTICA — The undefeated Heath Bulldogs rolled into Utica on Friday night to put the Redskins to the test. Heath put on a show with its high-powered offense, which has scored 91 points in its first two games, but it was the Redskins’ resiliency that left fans cheering in the end.
Heath posted 41 points and earned the victory, 41-27, but Utica didn’t let up, scoring 20 points in the second half.
“The score right before the half made it tough,” said Utica coach Randy Felumlee. “We preached to them at halftime that we wanted to play with some grit and determination and win the second half. If we did that, drove down the field and scored, we felt like we could get back into this game.
“We drove down the field and scored and it was a 13-point game,” he continued. “We weren’t out of the ballgame by any stretch, but unfortunately, they scored again. We’re very pleased with the way we played the second half. We’ve got to do a better job of tackling, but the effort and the mental psyche was a lot better this week.
“We answered the call, and I am real pleased,” he added. “It is good to end the game on a positive note even though we lost.”
Heath got the ball first, but its first drive stalled and the Redskins took over at their own 37. Utica put together a 15-play drive which consumed 6:17 off the clock. The Redskins twice converted on fourth down during the drive, which was capped by a 5-yard touchdown run by Jason Hoar. Scott Cline’s kick made it a 7-0 game.
“We got shut out last year against this team,” Felumlee said. “All week long we’ve talked about taking care of the ball and going after them, and we did that. To put up 27 against the same team, really, I’m real pleased about that. Unfortunately, we gave up too many big plays.”
Heath went to work on its next drive, which spanned the first and second quarter, and capped a 10-play effort with a 3-yard touchdown pass to Tim Patterson from Cole Benner early in the second quarter. That was just the start for the Bulldogs, however.
Charles Gresham broke loose on a 62-yard scoring run with nine minutes to go, then scored again from 19 yards out with 5:45 to play.
Utica struggled to move the ball with any consistency, turning the ball over on downs three straight times. Heath put one more touchdown on the scoreboard right before halftime as Benner took it in from 4 yards out. A two-point conversion pass from Benner to Zack Wolfe made it a 27-7 game at the break.
“You’ve got to contain speed in front of you, and unfortunately, we didn’t do a good job in the open field. Ultimately, that was why we couldn’t hold them,” said Felumlee.
Utica emerged from the locker room down, but not out, to start the third quarter. The Redskins put together another long drive, which was capped by a 7-yard touchdown run by Hoar. The kick attempt failed, leaving it a 27-13 game. Heath answered on its next drive, scoring on a 28-yard run by Gresham and an extra-point kick by Nelson Scott.
The Redskins kept battling, though, and put together a 14-play drive which ate 7:19 off the clock and spanned the third and fourth quarters. The drive was capped by a 13-yard touchdown pass to Cline from Hoar in the back of the end zone with 9:17 to play.
Heath continued to show its firepower, and after a 42-yard kickoff return, Benner hooked up with Gresham on a 43-yard score just 17 seconds later. Scott’s kick put the lead at 41-19.
When the Bulldogs made their first error of the night — a fumble at their own 30-yard line — Utica got another shot with 6:28 to go.
Taking to the air, Hoar hooked up with three different receivers, including a 42-yarder to Cline, and drove his team to another score. The last pass, a 28-yard score to Justin Newsome, capped the drive and put six more points on the board. A two-point conversion run by Hoar made it the 41-27 final.
Heath had one more opportunity to score as the final minutes ticked down, but kneeled on it twice inside the 10 to finish the game.
As a team, Heath racked up almost 500 yards of offense, including 400 on the ground. Gresham rushed for 200 yards on 19 carries, and Scott had 102 yards on 11 carries. Benner also had 85 yards on the ground and went 3-of-5 for 62 yards in the air.
Hoar led Utica with 203 yards passing on 18-of-30 attempts. He also rushed for 77 yards on 22 carries. Cline was his favorite target, registering seven catches for 89 yards. Newsome had five grabs for 57 yards.
Utica will now focus its attention on Mid-Buckeye Conference play, which begins next week at home against East Knox. After gaining some momentum in the second half against Heath, Felumlee is optimistic.
“We were in this same position last year; we were 1-2 and we really stepped it up in league play,” he said. “We had the one loss in overtime at Johnstown and, besides that, ran the table. We have the capability to do that again as long as we get better. We have to get better at some things because we have just as good a chance as anybody. We’ve just got to work for it and we’ve just got to believe.”