GALLIPOLIS, Ohio — Once the Blue Devils stopped shooting themselves in the foot, they had no trouble sprinting to the finish line.
The Gallia Academy football team overcame two red zone fumbles in the second quarter and broke away from a 14-all tie by reeling off 41 consecutive points before cruising to a 55-27 victory over visiting Chesapeake in the Ohio Valley Conference opener for both programs at Memorial Field in the Old French City.
The Blue Devils (4-0, 1-0 OVC) began a successful defense of their 2018 outright league title by never trailing in the contest, but the hosts did let a few opportunities slip through their fingers along the way.
After building a 7-6 first quarter advantage with a third-and-goal situation at the CHS 1, the Blue and White fumbles the ball away on the opening play of the second canto. Luckily, the Panthers (2-2, 0-1) were unable to do anything with the takeaway outside of punting the ball back to Gallia Academy.
Both teams traded scores on their ensuing drives — with the Purple and White tying things up at 14-all after a 5-yard run from Kamren Harless and a successful 2-point conversion run by Donald Richendollar with 4:53 remaining in the half.
GAHS followed by marching the ball down to the Chesapeake nine before a bad snap thwarted the drive. The Blue Devil defense, however, forced a punt that ultimately ended up getting blocked by junior Coen Duncan — giving the hosts the ball at the CHS 22.
James Armstrong took a handoff on the first and only play of the ensuing drive and rumbled 22 yards to paydirt, giving Gallia Academy what proved to be a permanent lead at 21-14 with 1:29 remaining until halftime.
The Panthers actually outgained the hosts by a mere three yards (210-207) in total offense at the break, but Gallia Academy held a 13-10 edge in first downs and a 60-56 advantage in passing yards. Both teams also committed two turnovers apiece in the first half.
The second half didn’t start much better for the Blue and White as they committed their third and final turnover after fumbling the ball away two plays into the third period. Chesapeake strung together an 11-play drive that started at the GAHS 42, but the guests were eventually stopped inches short on a fourth-and-one at the 11-yard line.
Four plays and 89 yards later, the Blue Devils had doubled their lead as Briar Williams hauled in a 45-yard pass from Noah Vanco at the 5:03 mark for 28-14 advantage.
Chesapeake was forced to punt on its next possession, and the hosts needed only three plays to cover 48 yards as Armstrong capped the drive with a 2-yard TD run for a 35-14 cushion at the 2:10 mark.
GAHS executed a pooch kick to perfection as Duncan recovered the ensuing kickoff at the Panther 32, then Vanco found Williams on a 12-yard scoring pass with 37.5 seconds left in the half to increase their lead out to 42-14 entering the fourth.
Trent Meadows made his second fumble recovery of the night on the opening play of the fourth quarter, and Vanco again found Williams with a 21-yard TD pass with 10:45 left en route to a 49-14 lead.
Collin Watson came up with a fumble recovery two plays into Chesapeake’s next series, then Brody Fellure scrambled 36 yards to the house for the largest Devil lead of the night at 55-14 with 6:30 remaining in regulation.
Carson Nida, however, returned the ensuing kickoff 78 yards while cutting the deficit down to 55-21 with 5:49 remaining. CHS recovered the following kickoff at the Gallia Academy 3-yard line, then Nida converted a 3-yard run at the 5:08 mark while pulling the contest back to within 55-27.
The first fumble recovery by Meadows also allowed GAHS to secure an early lead as the Panthers fumbled the ball away on the second offesnive play of the game. The hosts covered 33 yards in five plays as Michael Beasy broke a 15-yard run for a 7-0 edge with 9:38 left in the opening quarter.
Chesapeake answered with a 9-play, 65-yard drive that ended with an option pitch to Harless from 10 yards out around the left side. The extra-point kick, however, went under the cross bar, making it a 7-6 contest with 6:02 left in the opening frame.
The difference in the game came in the second half, with the Blue Devils outgaining Chesapeake by a whopping 302-66 overall margin in total yards. Gallia Academy also finished the night plus-1 in turnover differential and scored 14-of-21 points off of takeaways after the break.
Overall, the Blue Devils churned out a season-high 509 yards of total offense, with Armstrong accounting for 242 of those himself. Williams also produced 126 total yards to go along with four touchdowns, plus came away with an interception late in the second quarter.
The win allowed Gallia Academy to secure not only its 11th consecutive regular season victory, but also the program’s 10th straight win in OVC play and eighth consecutive home triumph. The hosts also defeated Chesapeake for the third consecutive season.
Afterwards, GAHS coach Alex Penrod acknowledged that his team didn’t start as well as he had hoped — but he sure was proud of the way his troops finished.
“It was one of those games where you come out excited because you are 3-0 and you’re starting league play, but it seemed like we just didn’t have that feel of confidence and swagger. We just didn’t come out with much of an attitude on the defensive side,” Penrod said. “We are just one of those units on both sides of the ball where we are going to get you in the second half. We trusted the process because we know teams are going to get some plays, but we are going to play four quarters and work that to our advantage. Our defense stepped it up there in the second half by making some plays and forcing some turnovers … and that proved to be the difference.”
The Blue Devils claimed a 349-220 advantage in rushing yards on 11 fewer attempts, plus had 104 more passing yards by night’s end. The hosts also claimed a 24-14 edge in first downs and were flagged five times for 40 yards, while Chesapeake was called for six penalties for 40 yards.
Armstrong led the Gallia Academy rushing attack with 22 carries for 214 yards, followed by Fellure with 51 yards on four attempts and Williams added 48 yards on four totes.
Noah Vanco completed 8-of-12 passes for 160 yards to go along with three TD passes. Williams hauled in three passes for 78 yards and three TDS, while Armstrong also had one catch for 28 yards. Vanco completed passes to six different receivers in the contest.
Richendollar led CHS with 94 rushing yards on 13 attempts and also completed 2-of-5 passes for 56 yards, including an interception. Thomas Sentz and Justice Hutchison had a catch apiece of 34 and 22 yards, respectively.
Gallia Academy returns to action Friday when it faces unbeaten Portsmouth during Homecoming festivities. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.