MOUNT VERNON — The New Albany Eagles escaped Yellow Jacket Stadium on Friday night with a 15-10 victory, giving them a share of the Ohio Capital Conference Capital Division title.
The win over Mount Vernon wasn’t without a fight, however. The Jackets battled tooth and nail with the Eagles, winning the offensive output (231 yard to 200 yards) and staying even in the turnover battle (2-2). The game came down to a few little breaks, which went New Albany’s way.
“I’m really proud of our kids,” said Mount Vernon coach Gary Keller. “I’m disappointed in the sense that we lost the game, but our seniors all year came to play. I don’t care who it was, our kid were out there slugging away. Tonight was a heavyweight fight; it was going down to the wire. I wish we could have won, but it was a great effort from our guys.
Right from the start, Mount Vernon (3-7, 2-4 OCC Capital) came out and punched New Albany (7-3, 5-1 OCC Capital) in the gut, figuratively speaking. The Jackets controlled the clock in the first quarter, eating up over eight minutes of it. They were unable to put any points on the board, however, after a 37-yard field goal attempt by Nick Sahr fell short.
Sahr redeemed himself in the second quarter connecting on a 33-yard attempt to put Mount Vernon ahead 3-0. New Albany responded with a 12-play drive that ate up 51 yards and over six minutes. Jordan Gallegos broke across the goal line from 2 yards out to put the Eagles on the scoreboard. The kick failed, making it a 6-3 game with 2:03 to go before halftime.
Mount Vernon began to move the ball on its next drive, picking up first downs on a 12-yard run by Jordan Williamson and three straight completes from Shawn Maxwell. Then, facing third-and-6 at their own 48, the Jackets pulled a rabbit out of their proverbial hat. Maxwell hit Robert Kane with a 12-yard completion and Kane then turned and pitched the ball to a streaking Leevi Stump, who raced down the left sideline for a 40-yard scoring play. Sahr’s extra-point kick was good, putting the Jackets up 10-6 at halftime.
“That was a big play for our offense,” Keller said. “It was well timed at that point in the game and executed well. Our kids made a big play and it showed a lot of class from our offense when we really needed a big score.”
Senior Matt Boucher ended one last push by the Eagles before the half, intercepting New Albany quarterback Joe Morlan as time expired.
“We were excited, but as we all know, there is a second half,” said Keller. “(New Albany) was going to make adjustments, and we were going to have to make adjustments.”
New Albany got the ball first to start the second half, and responded with another long drive. The Eagles marched 78 yards on 11 plays, capping the drive with a 42-yard field goal by Jimmy Gammil with 6:09 to go in the third quarter.
For the remainder of the quarter and much of the fourth, the teams then traded possessions with Mount Vernon clinging to a 10-9 advantage. An interception by Chris Walters at the 2-yard line with 8:15 to play gave Mount Vernon the ball back, but that drive fizzled after a delay of game penalty and a sack by Harrison Scott. Zach Roden came on to punt from the 10-yard line.
Roden’s punts sailed 43 yards to the New Albany 47 where Ross Watkins fielded the ball. He promptly fumbled it away, but picked it back up and found holes in the defense created by players scrambling for the loose ball. Watkins returned the ball to the 5-yard line before being brought down, and two plays later, Gallegos broke the goal line on a 3-yard run to put New Albany ahead. Going for two, the pass conversion failed, making it a 15-10 game with 4:56 to play.
Mount Vernon had two final chances in the closing minutes, including the next drive which was set up by a 39-yard return by Matt Adrian. Both drives ended with interceptions, however, and New Albany simply ran out the clock for the win.
“A couple of things hurt us in special teams, which is weird because they’ve been really solid all year,” said Keller. “We came back at the end of the game and had a big play. It was up and down a little bit, but overall I believe our kids really played hard and gave it all they had. It is unfortunate that we came up on the short end of the points.”
Friday night was also Senior Night at Mount Vernon. Prior to the game, seniors from every fall sport were honored, including the football Jackets. This senior class played a large role in Mount Vernon’s resurgence, and for that, Keller is grateful.
“A big part of our senior group is leadership,” said Keller. “The leadership we’ve gotten from our seniors was excellent. It is really going to be hard to replace them. Hopefully, our younger kids have gotten to see these kids in action and see what this group has done on the football field. If we can emulate that work ethic, we will continue to be successful.”
Despite ending with a loss, the Jackets displayed a large amount of heart, taking the OCC champions to the wire. That can only lead to better things in the future.
“There is no question; this team never quit,” Keller said. “They played with everybody, and most of the time, the games were decided in the last few minutes. I’ve got to credit our kids, and I’ve got to credit our coaches for putting them in those positions. We were competitive.”