UTICA — Friday night was a date the Utica Redskins have had circled on their calendars for nearly a year. It’s the night when the Johnstown Johnnies came to town.
A year after a 27-21 loss cost Utica a playoff spot, the Redskins gave the Johnnies a rude welcome. Utica scored three times in the first half, led by quarterback Jason Hoar, and the defense shut down the Johnnies in a 48-20 victory. It was the Redskins’ first win over the Johnnies in five years.
“We’ve waited a year for this; we’ve planned for a year for this,” said Utica coach Randy Felumlee. “We knew all week the weather was going to be bad, and we convinced our kids that not matter what the conditions, no matter what the adversity, we were going to get it done. I couldn’t have been happier with the start. We just took them right out of the game. It was a great effort.”
“We’ve been waiting for this game all year,” said Utica senior captain Derek Posey said. “Ever since last year when they ruined our playoff hopes, we wanted to beat them. ... We’ve been planning on this for a long time. Last year was a big letdown. This was a great win.”
Hoar did it all for Utica (5-2, 4-0 Mid-Buckeye Conference), rushing for 210 yards on 21 carries and five touchdowns. He threw for another 120 yards and a score, and he returned an interception 43 yards for another touchdown.
“Jason was just tremendous,” Felumlee said. “I don’t know what else he could have done.”
Utica poured it on early, scoring two touchdown in the first 3 1/2 minutes. Hoar capped the opening four-play drive with a 36-yard TD pass to Scott Cline just over a minute into the game. He then took the ball 55 yards on the opening play of Utica’s next drive. Ryan Combs’ kicks were successful, putting Utica up, 14-0, after one quarter.
“This is all a blur,” said Hoar. “To get up on them early was great. ... It helped our confidence. Any time you can make a team play from behind, it makes it a lot harder on them.”
Johnstown’s (2-5,1-3 MBC) second drive ended with a fumble, which Utica’s Jake Torrens recovered to setup another Hoar touchdown run — this time from 16 yards out — just 48 seconds into the second quarter. Combs’ kick missed, and Utica led 20-0.
Johnstown continued to move the ball, but was unable to capitalize on the scoreboard. Utica nearly added to its lead with just over three minutes to play in the half. Hoar hooked up with Cline for what appeared to be a 29-yard score, but the play was called off after Cline was called for offensive pass interference.
“Our defense was great too,” said Felumlee. “Our whole objective was to stop the run, and they hit a couple of big ones on us, but they didn’t do much at all. We preached all week that defense was going to win or lose this football game.”
Down but not out, Johnstown came out of the locker room with a renewed intensity. That, along with a great fake by quarterback Riley Cannon, led to its first touchdown. On a third-and-4 play, Cannon looked like he had handed the ball off to Brad Couts just like he did the first two times on the drive, but Cannon kept it and slipped by the Utica defense, who went after Couts. Cannon broke free for the 47-yard score, and Patrick Benton’s kick made it a 13-points game.
That was the last highlight for a while, however, as the Redskins re-established their dominance. Hoar scored two more times in the third quarter — from 2 yards and 1 yard out, respectively — to put Utica up 34-7 entering the fourth quarter.
Johnstown, which turned the ball over three times in the game, had its next drive end on an interception by Hoar, who returned it 43 yards for another touchdown. Johnstown then went four-and-out, giving Utica the ball at the 27-yard line. A 2-yard loss on first down set up one final touchdown by Hoar. On the next play, Hoar broke free for a 29-yard score to put his team comfortably ahead, 48-7.
Facing Utica’s second string, Johnstown added two more touchdowns to its final tally. Couts, who finished with 155 yards on 26 carries, scored first from 8 yards out and then broke free for a 59-yard score in the final five minutes of the game.
“It has been five years since we beat them, and my first time the varsity has got it done,” said Hoar. “It is a big win for us. We came out and played our game. We took it to them all night.”
With a landmark win such as this, Utica has itself where it wants to be — in the hunt for the MBC title and a spot in the playoffs. First, however, the Redskins will have to deal with Fredericktown next Friday night.
“I thought we had a statement win last year against Fredericktown, but unfortunately, that was after the tough loss to Johnstown,” Felumlee said. “This is a big win under these conditions, especially with it being homecoming, but the reality is after (today) it is not going to matter. All that does is what happens next week. We will be playing a great team on their field. We wanted to be in this position and have this chance. We’ve got this chance and now we can see what we can do.”
The Redskins are ready for the opportunity to take on the undefeated Freddies. They certainly won’t be looking past them.
“This lifts us right into next week,” said Posey. “We have an even bigger game at Fredericktown. These past two weeks, we’ve gone step after step, and that’s been a great confidence booster. Now we have to look ahead to our next game and try to get another big win.”
“Our biggest game is the next one,” said Hoar. “We have to take it one at a time. ... Next week is our season. If we beat them, we’ll have a real good shot at the league.”