SUNBURY — A defensive struggle until the end, Big Walnut outlasted Delaware Hayes on Friday to earn a 14-6 victory and a 1-0 start to the season.
The win is the first for new Golden Eagles head coach Rob Page.
Hayes wasted no time getting on the board. After receiving the opening kickoff, the Pacers marched 90 yards on nine plays, setting them up with a first and goal from the Big Walnut 2-yard line. But Big Walnut’s A.J. Leasure stuffed Pacers quarterback Austin Dowell in the backfield for an 11-yard loss on the next play, and the Pacers were forced to settle for a 34-yard field goal by Jared McKeen to give his team an early 3-0 lead.
The two teams traded stops on the next two possessions before Big Walnut got on the scoreboard with a little help from the Hayes defense. On thid and four from the Hayes 14-yard line, a Pacer defensive lineman jumped offsides, giving the Eagles a new set of downs. Two plays later, running back Caden Williams found the end zone from three yards out to give the Eagles a 7-3 lead with 11:56 remaining in the second quarter.
A second field goal by McKeen, again from 34 yards out, brought the Pacers to within a point at 7-6 with less than a minute remaining in the first half. The score would stay that way as the two teams went into the break.
Both teams again struggled to generate points in the second half. A 12-play drive by Big Walnut was thwarted by Hayes when Williams was stopped short of a first down on fourth and one from the Hayes 17-yard line.
Hayes simply couldn’t find an answer on offense, however, and Big Walnut once again turned to its workhorse running back to seal the deal.
Taking over on its own 14-yard line with the clock ticking under nine minutes in the fourth quarter, Big Walnut engineered a 12-play, 86-yard touchdown drive to increase the lead to 14-6 with 4:07 left to play in the game. Williams rushed for 70 yards on nine carries on the drive, including his second score of the day from a yard out.
In desperate need of a drive, Hayes went three and out on the ensuing possession, giving the ball back to Williams and Big Walnut to salt away the clock.
“Everything starts up front, and when you win the line of scrimmage, you can win physical games like this,” Page said after the game. “The testament is these guys.
“We’ve had a really good summer, and our whole team has really done a great job in the weight room and being physical. And you can’t be physical like that if you don’t squat and you don’t deadlift, and you don’t do all the tough things. So, our strength coach, Ethan Wetzel, and our whole team buying into that program allows our team to be physical.”
Hayes head coach Scott Wetzel said he was proud of how hard his players played, although he lamented the number of mistakes his team made.
“We made a lot of silly mistakes, we were a little sloppy with some things,” Wetzel said. “But the desire to play hard was there, and I think if we have that, we’ll keep grinding and we’ll be a good football team.”
Both teams continue league play next Friday at 7 p.m. Delaware Hayes will host Westerville North and Big Walnut will travel to Westerville South.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.