ANDOVER — It wasn’t something that stood out in the stats sheet, but one punt by Pymatuning Valley’s Robert Verba flipped the script.
Verba uncorked a 51-yard punt to set up a PV score as the Lakers took down rival Grand Valley 32-19 on Friday night.
The punt followed the Lakers’ first possession of the second half. Verba’s kick landed around the Grand Valley 8-yard line and rolled to the goal line. But senior Jimmy Thomas sprinted down the field and lunged to keep the ball in play. He was successful and fell on the ball to down it at the 1.
The Mustangs (0-3) were unable to get out of the shadow of their own goalpost. They only picked up two yards before punting.
The Lakers (2-1) took advantage of the short field as Verba capped a three-play, 22-yard drive with a 9-yard touchdown run.
“That was definitely a momentum change there,” PV head coach Neal Croston said. “We thought we could wear them down there in the second half, just run the ball and be physical, and I think that was a big part.”
The rushing TD pumped some energy into a sluggish PV offense that only led 8-7 at halftime. Andrew Root completed an 18-yard TD pass to Garrett Smith as time expires on the half for the Lakers’ only first-half score.
But after Verba’s punt and touchdown, he followed with a 53-yard TD runs Root added a 67-yard run for a score.
“Any little thing that can give us momentum is good, and clearly that [punt] gave us a lot of momentum,” Verba said.
The Mustangs we’re done, however. Nathan Boiarski completed a 4-yard TD pass to Aidan Whitright and a 39-yard touchdown pass to Dylan Hivick to cut the lead to 32-19.
But they were unable to put more pressure on PV with too little time remaining.
“Third quarter, we didn’t come out ready to go and then we finally kicked it in,” GV coach Clint Nims said. “Too little, too late at the end there.”
The Mustangs could have cut it to a one-score game, but they failed to pick up two 2-point conversions in the fourth quarter.
Boiarski had someone open for a brief moment on both passes, but PV linebacker Chase Vickery swatted both attempts to the ground.
“When they convert on theirs [2-point conversions] and we don’t, that puts you in a hole there,” Nims said. “A one-score game becomes a two-score game and then it becomes a three-score game.”
Friday’s game marked the return of one of Ashtabula County’s favorite football rivalries.
The Mustangs and Lakers hadn’t played each other in years.
But after the game, the Lakers were awarded their trophy and celebrated like it was an annual meeting.
“Anytime you play a rival county team, you want to get that win,” Croston said. “Guys played hard and we had a good environment, so yeah, it was exciting, especially since it was a home game too.”