By RICH KELLY
For the Star Beacon
It was all you could expect when Pymatuning Valley and Grand Valley match up on the gridiron. With similar seasons going into Friday’s matchup in Orwell, there was plenty on the line as they battled for first place in the Northeastern Athletic Conference.
Big plays decided the contest as Grand Valley ground out a thrilling 22-16 win to take over sole possession of the NAC lead.
The teams traded blows throughout much of the first half and start of the second, but the key factor that decided the outcome came with 4:53 remaining and PV clinging to a 16-14 lead.
Driving for possibly a clinching touchdown, PV (3-5, 2-1 in NAC) took a fumble recovery from their own 25 to the Mustang 20. The drive covered a period of 4:53, and a score could have all but ended the contest.
On second down from the 20, Nick Such bulled his way into a pileup at the 14, and as he was spun around by a pair of Mustangs hanging on to him for dear life, Jason Hart reached in and yanked the ball away from him.
It was off to the races, and with Hart being among the fastest of the GV troops, he pulled away down the right sideline and went 86 yards to score the game winner.
“I’m so proud of how our kids battled tonight,” Grand Valley coach John Glavickas said. “In the second half we started to make mistake after mistake like we had earlier in the season. The way we played in the Southington game, I thought we had gotten away from that, but it started again in the second half tonight. Time after time we shot ourselves in the foot, but we recovered when we had to. That steal and run by Jason was a really great play for us.”
Both teams have star players who they rely on. For PV, Quintin Ratliff does the bulk of the work, and Jake Vormelker does the same for the Mustangs (3-5, 3-0 in NAC).
“You just know Ratliff will get his yards, but you try to contain him as much as possible,” Glavickas said. “I thought our lines were able to control things at key times, especially containing Ratliff. Coach (Clint) Nims put in some adjustments by bringing our linebackers up closer to the line, almost putting us in a 4-5 defense, and we kept him from getting outside much of the night.”
One of those who shadowed the Laker senior much of the night was Glenn Zaller.
“I was just trying to make sure I was doing my job tonight,” the senior said. “I think the real guy to talk to is Jason Takacs, who has become the heart of what we are trying to do.”
Takacs knew the task at hand.
“Our line had to outplay theirs,” he said. “It’s that simple. We had to make sure we stopped their line surges. We felt we’d win, but we had to stay focused. “
Numbers showed how close a game it was.
PV outgained GV, 264-230 yards.
Vormelker scored from the 3 and 1 in the first half, and Such capped a 58-yard drive early in the second period with a 7-yard run as GV took a 14-8 halftime lead.
Ratliff jammed the ball in from the 1 on the first play of the fourth quarter for a 16-14 Laker lead, setting the stage for Hart’s game winning score with 4:43 left.
“We hurt ourselves tonight with penalties and turnovers,” a disappointed Laker coach Neal Croston said. “We had one or two chances ourselves from turnovers, too, but we didn’t capitalize on them. It looked like we were going to score again there as Nick drove the ball forward, but he got spun around and lost the ball. It was a tough game that we made too many mistakes in.”
Kelly is a freelance writer from Jefferson.