RACINE, Ohio — The middle made the difference.
The Southern football team outscored Tri-Valley Conference Hocking Division guest Wahama 36-to-0 in the middle two quarters on Friday at Roger Lee Adams Memorial Field in Meigs County, leading the Purple and Gold to a 58-22 victory.
The Tornadoes (3-0, 2-0 TVC Hocking) — who still trail Wahama (1-2, 1-1) by a 32-6 count in the all-time series, but have won five straight — forced a turnover on the game’s opening drive, with Gage Shuler intercepting a White Falcon pass and returning it to the WHS 27.
On a second down from the 27, Shuler found Will Wickine across the middle for a touchdown with eight minutes left in the first quarter. Trey McNickle ran in the two-point conversion to give the hosts an 8-0 edge.
Wahama answered on its next offensive snap, as Trevor Hunt broke a 65-yard run with 7:04 left in the period. The WHS two-point run was stuffed, however, leaving the Tornadoes on top by a 8-6 clip.
Southern needed just three plays to get back in the end zone, with Shuler starting the drive with a nine-yard run, McNickle following with a 35-yard scamper, and Chase Bailey capping it off with a seven-yard touchdown reception from Shuler. McNickle again ran in the two-point conversion, giving SHS a 16-6 lead with 5:39 left in the first.
Wahama’s offense had another answer, this time with a 63-yard yard drive consisting of nine straight run plays. The final carry of the possession had Abram Pauley rushing five yards for six points. Pauley then ran in for two points, cutting Southern’s advantage to 16-14 with 1:39 left in the opening stanza.
SHS fumbled the ensuing kickoff, with Wesley Peters recovering for the guests at the SHS 39. Wahama came up short on fourth down, however, giving the Tornadoes possession with 66 yards to paydirt.
It took the hosts seven plays and 3:41 to cover the distance, with McNickle finding the end zone on a five-yard run and Shuler running in the two-point conversion.
Wahama made it to the Tornadoes side of the field in four plays on its next drive, but fumbled the ball away on the first play from that side, with Coltin Parker recovering for the hosts.
After a three-and-out by each team, Southern’s offense took over with 2:43 left in the half and 56 yards in front of it. SHS took 2:30 off the clock and went up 32-14 headed into halftime, with McNickle finding the end zone on a three-yard run and Shuler running in the two-point conversion.
The Purple and Gold scored on the opening drive of the second half, going 52 yards in six plays, capped off by a 19-yard touchdown run by Bailey and an extra-point kick by McNickle.
Wahama fumbled the ball away three plays into its first drive of the second half, with Dristan Lamm recovering for SHS at the WHS 41.
The Tornadoes were ahead 46-14 on the very next play, as Shuler tossed a 41-yard scoring pass to Cole Steele, and McNickle made the point-after kick.
Steele was back in the end zone for the Tornadoes after intercepting a White Falcon pass and returning it 43 yards with 5:33 left in the third.
Wahama’s next drive went 74 yards, but ended a yard short of the goal, with SHS coming up with back-to-back defensive stands.
The Purple and Gold went 99 yards in 10 plays and went up 58-14, with McNickle scoring on a 21-yard with 7:01 left in regulation.
The Red and White offense ended the night on a high note, with Kase Stewart breaking a 30-yard touchdown run and Hunt rushing in the two-point conversion.
Following the 58-22 victory, Southern head coach Cassady Willford talked about his club’s execution and the extra motivation they had coming into their first home game, as well as what the 3-0 start means to his squad.
“Our guys were fired up for this game, some little things happened last year,” Willford said. “It was a great effort from our guys across the board. Offensively, I think we were clicking tonight, and it’s finally the first week we’ve been clicking. Defensively though, you keep creating turnovers like this and the games going to end up like this. Coach Olexa and Coach Dailey have these guys balling out and they’re playing great defense right now.
“We were here last year, we have to keep the momentum going through the season. Yes, 3-0 is a great feeling, but as a coach the feeling lasts about eight hours. We get back to the drawing board to get ready to go next week. Our guys will enjoy it a little bit longer than us.”
For the White Falcons, head coach James Toth noted the second quarter momentum swing, and addressed what he’ll be looking for headed into Week 4.
“I felt like maybe in the second quarter we lost a little momentum on a couple of big plays they had offensively,” Toth said. “We just have to play better defensively in order to beat anybody. Our offensive moved the ball pretty well tonight from sideline-to-sideline, we just couldn’t get in as many times as we wanted. (McNickle) is a pretty good running back.
“We have Belpre at Belpre, we’re 1-1 in the conference now and we’re just trying to get better every week, same as everybody else is.”
For the game, SHS held a 15-to-11 advantage in first downs, with a 408-to-302 advantage in total offense. The White Falcons gained all-302 of their yards on the ground, while Southern rushed for 284 and threw for the other 124. Both teams ended with seven penalties, SHS for 85 yards and WHS for 70. The Red and White turned the ball over four times and forced just one turnover from the hosts.
Shuler — who was 7-of-9 passing for 124 yards and three touchdowns — carried the ball 11 times for 102 yards in the win. McNickle led all-rushers with 153 yards and three touchdowns on 16 carries to go with one four-yard reception.
Steele caught two passes for 66 yards and a touchdown in the win, Jonah Diddle had two catches for 20 yard sand two carries for 19, while Bailey ended with one carry for a 19-yard touchdown and one reception for a seven-yard touchdown.
Shuler, Steele, Parker and Lamm each had a takeaway for the Tornado defense.
Hunt led the White Falcons on the ground with 13 carries for 132 yards and one touchdown. Brayden Davenport — who was 0-4 passing with a pair of interceptions — carries the ball 17 times for 85 yards.
Pauley had seven carries for 57 yards and a touchdown in the setback, Stewart added 26 yards and a touchdown on a pair of tries, while Nick Brewer earned four yards over two carries.
Peters claimed the lone takeaway for the WHS defense.
In Week 4, Southern visits Miller and Wahama travels to Belpre.
Alex Hawley can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2100.