GALLIPOLIS, Ohio — With temperatures well into the low 40s and coming off a 15-day break, you’ll forgive the Blue Devils for needing a little time to warm up.
By night’s end, however, Gallia Academy managed to make sure that its playoff dream was still burning brighter than ever.
The Gallia Academy football team led wire-to-wire and notched its first postseason win in eight years on Saturday night during a 46-8 victory over visiting Vinton County in a Division IV, Region 15 second round playoff contest at Memorial Field in Gallia County.
The fifth seeded Blue Devils (6-1) — who earned a bye for the start of last week’s opening round of the playoffs — mustered only eight points through nearly 22 minutes of regulation, but the hosts hit on a pair of quick-strike scores over the final 2:06 of the first half to take a 24-0 advantage into the intermission.
The 12th seeded Vikings (4-4) — fresh off the program’s first-ever playoff win, a 33-20 decision over Belmont Union Local — needed only one play on their second drive of the second half to produce their only points of the night.
After returning a punt back to the GAHS 48-yard line, the Maroon and Gray handed the ball to Zack Radabaugh on first down. Radabaugh ran around the left side and rumbled 48 yards to paydirt to close the gap back down to a 2-possession game at 24-8 with 7:28 left in the third.
The Blue and White retaliated with three consecutive touchdown runs by James Armstrong over the final 17 minutes of regulation, allowing the Blue Devils to reel off 22 unanswered points the rest of the way while wrapping up the 38-point triumph.
Armstrong accounted for five of Gallia Academy’s six touchdowns on the night, with four of those coming on the ground as part of 222-yard rushing effort on 23 attempts — an average of nearly 9.7 yards per carry.
Armstrong’s leg work, not to mention a stout defensive performance that allowed only 178 yards of total offense while also forcing four turnovers, allowed the Blue Devils to pick up their first playoff win since defeating Cincinnati Archbishop McNicholas by a 37-35 margin at Memorial Field during the opening round of the 2012 postseason.
It was far from a perfect performance, but the Blue Devils ultimately managed to achieve their main goal by night’s end. And, in doing so, GAHS will be headed to Byesville on Saturday to face fourth seeded Meadowbrook in a Region 15 quarterfinal at 7 p.m.
Afterwards, fourth year GAHS coach Alex Penrod was pleased that his troops were able to pick up the program’s seventh victory as part of their 13th playoff appearance. It was also the first playoff win for Penrod at GAHS after consecutive opening rounds losses the last two postseasons.
“We were sitting in that first quarter with an 8-0 lead and both teams were just playing that chess match, trying to figure each other out. We felt comfortable with where we were, but we just couldn’t get the offense going early on. Honestly, it took us a little bit of time to work off that 15 days of rust. Once we started to get in a flow, things started working out in our favor and we were able to take care of business,” Penrod said. “We got some big plays from our defense tonight and they really helped us set the tone for things early on. We blocked two punts on special teams too, and that also helped us pick up some momentum that our offense was able to feed off of.
“We’re still not satisfied now that we have this first playoff win. It’s been a long eight years for this community and for this program, but to experience a night like tonight at home is well deserved for these kids. This is my first four-year group of seniors and they know what our goals and expectations are. We’ll be ready to keep fighting along and hammering away to keep this playoff journey going.”
Gallia Academy’s opening drive of the game stalled at the VCHS 26 following a loss of downs, but the guests ran only two plays before Grant Bryan picked off a Braylon Dameron pass — giving GAHS possession at the Viking 14.
The hosts were flagged for a false start penalty, but needed only one play to cover the distance as Trent Johnson hauled in a 19-yard pass from Noah Vanco at the 7:17 mark. Johnson also grabbed a 2-point conversion pass from Brody Fellure for a permanent lead of 8-0.
Vinton County — which managed only 94 yards of total offense in the first half — was forced to punt on its next four possessions, but the Blue Devils weren’t able to widen their lead over that span.
Then, with 2:06 left in the first half, the hosts capped a 5-play, 59-yard drive with after Armstrong hauled in a 38-yard touchdown pass from Vanco. Mason Skidmore successfully added the 2-point conversion run for a 16-0 advantage.
Zack Hemby followed by picking off a pass on the Vikings’ next possession and returned it back to the VCHS 21 with 61 seconds left until halftime.
GAHS ran three plays and finished off the distance after Armstrong took a direct snap and ran 13 yards up the middle for his first of four TD scampers. Armstrong also added the 2-point conversion run for a 24-point cushion with 36.8 seconds left until halftime.
The Blue Devils churned out 165 yards of total offense in the first half and came away with 16 points off of both takeaways before the break. GAHS held an 8-3 edge in first downs and was also plus-1 in turnover differential at the intermission as well.
Armstrong churned out 164 rushing yards after the break, which included a 33-yard scamper with 4:56 remaining in the third quarter. Vanco tacked on the 2-point run for a 32-8 lead headed into the finale.
Armstrong provided a 17-yard TD run at the 10:36 mark for and added a 52-yard run with 6:05 remaining. Caleb Geiser knocked a pair of successful point-after kicks through to complete the 46-8 outcome.
Jarrell Scott and Joey Darnbrough respectively recovered a fumble apiece for GAHS in the third and fourth frames, neither of which ultimately resulted in points. The Blue and White ended the night plus-3 in turnover differential.
Scott, Michael Beasy and Brayden Easton recorded a sack apiece for the victors. Bryan and Fellure also partially blocked a punt each in the third and fourth periods, respectively. Both blocked kicks were followed up by 1-play drives that resulted in Armstrong’s TD runs of 33 and 17 yards.
Gallia Academy outgained the guests by a sizable 347-178 margin in total yards of offense, including a 113-40 edge through the air. The hosts had 15 of the 25 first downs in the contest and were also flagged nine times for 63 yards, compared to four penalties for 25 yards for VCHS.
After Armstrong, Briar Williams was the next leading rusher for GAHS with seven yards on four carries. Williams also led the wideouts with four catches for 20 yards.
Vanco completed 12-of-24 passes for 113 yards, including two touchdowns and an interception. The Blue Devils had five different players catch at least one pass.
Radabaugh led the Vinton County rushing attack with 67 yards on six carries, followed by Williams with 19 yards on six totes.
Dameron completed 4-of-20 passes for 36 yards, including two interceptions. Aiden Graham led the VCHS wideouts with three catches for 37 yards.
It was the final home game for seniors Cameron Webb, James Armstrong, Noah Vanco, Zack Hemby, Trent Johnson, Zach Belville, Grant Bryan, Michael Beasy, Adam Stout, Riley Starnes, Jarrell Scott, Yashua Peaks, Coen Duncan and Brant Rocchi.
NOTE: Gallia Academy wore all pink uniforms to go along with its traditional blue helmets in support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Coach Penrod’s wife, Jodie, is a breast cancer survivor and has been in remission for close to a year.
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Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.