The Big Walnut football team survived a nail-biter on Friday night in Sunbury, narrowly defeating a relentless Dublin Scioto team 28-20.
The fourth-ranked Golden Eagles improved their record to 9-0 and picked up their strongest win of the season on senior night –– one that clinched at least a share of the OCC-Capital Division crown and will help them in the state computer rankings, which determine playoff seeding.
They also avenged two of their toughest losses from last season, one of them being a 31-13 playoff loss to the Irish that ended their season.
“Every win is gratifying,” BW coach Rob Page said. “You only get 10 chances. I’m so proud of how we fought and how physical we played.”
This victory was far from easy for the Eagles, who struggled for a large part of the first half and for parts of the second half. Nonetheless, it was a great experience for the players to play in a close game, considering every game has been a blowout on the final scoreboard up until this point.
“It wasn’t pretty, but we got the win and made the plays when we needed them,” Page said. “That’s what a tough team does. We controlled the game and the line of scrimmage.”
Big Walnut senior Dom Salazar jumped a route on the first drive of the game and took the interception 46 yards to the house, making several cuts to dodge multiple Irish defenders on the way. That put Big Walnut up 7-0 less than a minute into the game.
Scioto would fumble the ensuing kickoff and the Eagles recovered it, setting up a short field. However, a holding penalty on first down set the Eagles back and they punted from the opposing 40 after facing a 4th-and-29.
The Irish answered quickly and tied the game up at seven on a 75-yard passing TD from senior quarterback Amare Jenkins to senior receiver Lesley Andoh. Andoh slipped behind the defense on a deep route and Jenkins was able to use his arm strength to hit him in stride on a pass that traveled about 45 yards in the air.
Big Walnut took its time on its next drive and methodically marched down the field, scoring on a 10-yard TD run by sophomore Nate Severs. The Eagles went back up by seven, 14-7, with 4:04 left in the first quarter.
Scioto went right down the field again with the help of a pass interference penalty. Jenkins then found Andoh for their second touchdown connection of the game, this one on a well-timed 6-yard out route. BW blocked the extra point to preserve its lead, making it 14-13 with 10:05 left in the second quarter.
The Golden Eagles were able to get past midfield on their next drive, but the Scioto defense was able to prevent any explosive, slow-developing plays, forcing another punt.
The Big Walnut offense looked like it got back into its normal flow on its first drive of the second half, but its drive stalled when QB Jake Nier was intercepted at the opposing 1-yard line after the ball bounced off the receiver’s fingertips.
After getting the ball back, Severs busted through the defensive line and used his speed to outrun several Irish defenders on the way to a 55-yard score to make it a 21-13 game with 4:34 left in the third.
Big Walnut had a chance to make it a two-score game with less than eight minutes to play, but it’s 30-yard field goal attempt was blocked.
Scioto got the ball back down only eight points, but punted after an open receiver dropped what would have been a 40-yard completion.
Things got a little chippy in the final minutes, as there was a sideline warning given to both teams and there were numerous penalties on both teams, including one that was called after a hard tackle out of bounds on Severs.
In what was a true game of field possession, Big Walnut punted and gave Scioto one last chance to try and get a game-tying drive. Junior Nicky Pentello got what proved to be the game-sealing interception with just under three minutes left in the game and returned it to the opposing 15.
Page added that Pentello played “like a man” on both sides of the ball and was very impressed with his performance.
Sophomore Garrett Stover extended the Eagles lead to 28-13 after getting to the edge and finding the end zone on a 7-yard end around to effectively slam the door on Scioto’s comeback attempt.
The Irish did score a touchdown with under a minute left, but it was too late to have any real difference. Big Walnut ran out the clock and walked away with a gritty 28-20 revenge win.
The Golden Eagles will travel to Canal Winchester next week as they seek to finish their quest for an undefeated regular season.
“When you play a tough team and you have to play four quarters it’s going to make you better,” Page said. “That’s the hallmark of a great team.”