RACINE, Ohio — An historic win to complete a banner regular season.
Southern scored 27 points off of five first half turnovers and never looked back Saturday night during a 34-0 pounding of visiting Eastern in a Week 10 Tri-Valley Conference Hocking Division gridiron contest at Roger Lee Adams Memorial Field in Meigs County.
The Tornadoes (8-2, 6-2 TVC Hocking) were simply dominant in their Senior Night finale, as the hosts forced nine fumbles and nine total turnovers while allowing just 107 total yards as a defensive unit. SHS scored four straight touchdowns off of its first four takeaways in the first half, helping the Purple and Gold jump out to a 27-0 halftime advantage.
The Eagles (2-8, 2-6) were never closer the rest of the way, as the guests had four of their seven second half drives end with turnovers. In all, nine of Eastern’s 14 offensive possessions ended with a giveaway — and the other five drives resulted in punts.
It is the first win for the Tornadoes over EHS at Roger Lee Adams Memorial Field since the turn of the millennium, as well as the first shutout and first two-game winning streak during that same span.
After already securing the program’s first-ever playoff berth, fourth-year SHS coach Kyle Wickline was proud of the way his kids finished the best regular season in school history.
“We were very opportunistic tonight with those turnovers. Our defense stepped up and gave some short field opportunities, and we made plays and put the ball in the end zone,” Wickline said. “That was big for us, to get some momentum going forward. We were able to stay healthy and now we can start getting ready for what lies ahead. It was a good night for Southern, as it’s been most of this year.”
Eastern ran only 15 of its 53 offensive plays in SHS territory, and all four of those possessions resulted in turnovers — starting with its first drive.
The Eagles forced SHS to punt on the opening possession, and the guests marched 48 yards in seven plays down to the Southern 24-yard line. The following play resulted in an interception, the first of seven straight giveaways for Eastern. Hunter Johnson came up with the the pick and returned it to the EHS 46.
The Tornadoes followed with a nine-play, 46-yard scoring drive that was capped with a 12-yard touchdown pass to Zac Beegle from Tristen Wolfe, making it a 7-0 contest with 1:45 remaining in the first quarter.
Both teams traded punts into the second canto, then Eastern had a deflected pass end up in the hands of Southern’s Paul Ramthun — giving the hosts possession at the EHS 20 with over 10 minutes left until halftime.
The Tornadoes needed just 48 seconds to turn that takeaway into points, as Tyler Barton capped a two-play, 20-yard drive with a 15-yard scamper — giving SHS a 14-0 advantage with 9:24 left in the second period.
The hosts followed with their third interception two plays later, as Johnson came away with his second pick with 8:54 remaining at the Eastern 40-yard line. SHS followed with a four-play, 40-yard scoring drive that resulted in a 20-0 edge after Barton capped things with a 12-yard run with 7:14 left until halftime.
Both teams again traded punts, giving Eastern possession at its own 22 with 2:36 left in the half. The Eagles fumbled their first play back to the 11, then coughed the ball up again on the next play — which led to Barton recovering the turnover at the EHS 8.
Ryan Billingsley capped an eight-yard drive two plays later with a two-yard scoring plunge with 1:15 remaining, giving the Tornadoes a sizable 27-0 cushion at the break.
Eastern mustered only two first downs and 27 yards of total offense in the first half, which included five turnovers. The Eagles also had a fourth pass picked off by Colten Walters just before the break.
Southern, conversely, managed eight first downs and 147 yards of total offense before the intermission, which included 135 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 24 attempts. Eastern did have a slim 10-9 edge in passing yards after 24 minutes of play.
The Eagles got as deep into SHS territory as it would all night to start the second half, as the guests took their opening drive down to the Tornado 13. Johnson came away with his third and final takeaway of the night on the next play after recovering a fumble, giving Southern possession with 10:15 left in the third.
Eastern’s next possession also resulted in a fumble, which was recovered by Ramthun with 7:27 remaining in the quarter. Neither team scored in the third canto, allowing Southern to take a 27-point lead into the finale.
Southern scored its final points on the first drive of the fourth, as the hosts marched 48 yards in five plays to secure a 34-0 lead. Wolfe capped the final scoring drive by scampering seven yards to paydirt with 8:43 left in regulation.
Ross Keller came away with Eastern’s lone takeaway after recovering a fumble with 5:23 remaining in the game. Southern’s Brandon Grueser and Austin Barton also recovered EHS fumbles in the final four minutes of play.
The Tornadoes outgained Eastern by a 206-107 overall margin in total yardage while also claiming an 11-4 edge in total first downs. SHS finished the evening with 197 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 46 carries, while the guests mustered 97 rushing yards on 37 totes.
Tyler Barton led SHS with 152 rushing yards on 23 carries, followed by Tristen Wolfe with 26 yards on nine carries. Ryan Billingsley also had 11 rushing yards on five attempts.
Wolfe finished the night 2-of-6 passing for nine yards, including a touchdown pass and no interceptions. Beegle had a TD catch of 12 yards, while Dennis Teaford hauled in the other pass for negative three yards.
SHS was penalized six times for 70 yards and lost only one of its four fumbles in the contest. Billingsley also had six punts for an average of 33.7 yards.
Dylan Bresciani led EHS with 44 rushing yards on six attempts, followed by Zack Scowden with 23 yards on 17 tries. Zach Browning also had 17 rushing yards on 10 carries in the setback.
Chase Cook finished the night 1-of-5 passing for 10 yards, including two interceptions. Bresciani was also 0-for-4 passing with two interceptions. Daschle Facemyer had the lone Eagle catch for 10 yards.
Eastern was flagged eight times for 50 yards and lost five of its nine fumbles. Cook also had five punts for an average of 26 yards.
It was the final football game for EHS seniors Zach Browning, Chase Cook, Tyler Barber, Zack Scowden, Cody Rayburn, Austin Fitzgerald, Roger Bunce and Wyatt Westfall in the Green and White.
As for Southern and its 14 seniors — Zac Beegle, Hunter Johnson, Brandon Moodispaugh, Trenton Deem, Tyler Barton, Dennis Teaford, Colten Walters, Josh Justis, Travis Kimes, Casey Pickens, Austin Barton, Wyatt Jarrell, Brandon Grueser and Chris Yeater — it’s now time to focus on the second season.
The fifth-seeded Tornadoes will make their playoff debut at 7 p.m. Saturday night when they travel to Steubenville to face fourth-seeded Steubenville Catholic Central (8-2) in a Division VII, Region 25 quarterfinal at Harding Stadium.
“We’ve been crunching numbers and looking at scenarios now for the past few weeks. The good thing is that through all of this the kids and the coaches have never lost focus on the upcoming opponent,” Wickline said. “This experience has been a great thing for everyone in this community, and now we just get to go play football and make some history — now that we know where we are headed.”