By ERIC FORTUNE
For the Star Beacon
A tale of two halves. A reversal of fortune.
Either way, the Southington Wildcats were on the cusp of making the Division VII playoffs while on the other side of the equation, the Pymatuning Valley Lakers were looking to finish the season strong after starting out 2-5.
In the end, the desire of the Lakers were too much for the Wildcats as PV completed what looked to be an improbable comeback, 28-21, Friday night.
“The main adjustment was our seniors leading us,” Pymatuning Valley coach Neal Croston said. “We talked about our intensity and how we wanted to come out. We changed a few things up here and there.”
Those few changes changed the complexion of the game as the Lakers were nearly doubled in total yards, 197 to 99, and only racked up 34 yards of offense after they consumed 65 yards on an impressive 11-play drive with Quintin Ratliff running it in from 6 yards out to make it 6-0 in favor of the Lakers midway through the opening quarter.
“It was weird,” Croston said. “We didn’t really change much up. We continued to run the same plays. We just had trouble kicking them out. They were blitzing a bit more. Give credit to them, they made adjustments.”
The Wilcats quickly responded a minute later with Brendan Baugher rushing for 74 of his game-high 112 yards when got the lead for the Wildcats on a 46-yard run to make it 7-6.
“We knew after that drive we knew what we could do against them and we did what we wanted to do in that first half,” Southington coach Ryan Sloan said.
After turning the ball over on downs, Baugher scored the second of his three touchdowns, this time on a 3-yard scamper to make it 14-6 after one quarter.
The next drive by the Lakers stalled again, this time at the Wildcat 32. Again, the Wildcats methodically drove down field on 12 plays to make it 21-6 going into halftime.
In the second half, the Wildcats didn’t build on their lead as they punted to give the Lakers the ball on their 20.
Facing a third-and-6 from their own 24, the complexion of the game changed drastically when Travis Kiser found Nickolas Blascak on a short dumpoff, which Blascak instead turned into the momentum changer as he raced 74 yards down the Laker sideline to cut the lead to 21-14.
PV (5-5, 4-1) responded on its next possession as Ratliff took it in from a yard out to make it 21-20 with 11:01 left in the final quarter after the 2-point conversion failed.
A three-and-out from the Wildcats, coupled with a 6-yard punt, set the Lakers up at their own 39 with 9:10 left. Shortly after, it was the Lakers in control, up 28-21m with the Wildcats having just two first downs and 14 yards of offense.
“We have to be able to, as a program, finish games,” Sloan said. “It is one thing we preached all year. We came out lights out in the first half — dominated the football game. We have to be able to smell victory, not play timid and not play to lose.”
The Wildcats (5-5, 2-3) had one last chance from their own 47 with 1:04 left only to see the first turnover of the game decide it as Keagan Hoopes stepped in from of Austin Casper’s pass at the Laker 47 to seal the victory.
“It’s one of those things either way, you hope your guys want to come out and win their last senior game,” Croston said.
Fortune is a freelance writer from McDonald.