Nicholas County has hung its hat on defense.
Friday’s Class AA showdown with Shady Spring was the perfect example of why.
The visiting Grizzlies forced two turnovers, withstanding 10 plays in the red zone in the final two minutes to preserve a 19-13 win at H.B. Thomas Field.
"It was kind of a turnover game back and forth a little bit," Shady Spring head coach Vince Culicerto said. "We had a little bit of momentum later in the game off their turnovers, but we had too many and it hurts. We were trying to find ourselves offensively. Every trick we could do, they played great defensively and owned the line pretty good."
Though the defenses were the story of the game — with Shady forcing four turnovers to Nicholas' two — early it looked as though the contest would be a shootout.
Nicholas drew first blood when quarterback Timmy Baker threw a deep jump ball to senior receiver Luke Lerose who hauled the pass in, turning it into an 83-yard score. It took the Tigers less than a minute of game time to answer, with quarterback Drew Clark rolling right, finding Isaiah Valentine deep for a 50-yard score.
Afterward the offenses went quiet, with the next score coming in the second quarter via Shady's Isaac Harvey, who scored on a 15-yard interception return that was batted in the air by defensive lineman Kolby Ellis.
"The defense got after it," Culicerto said. "My brother Phil did a great job scheming on blitzes. They turned that ball over. The first game of the year we had a lot of turnovers, so that's something good we've got. We're flying around."
Fortunately for the Grizzlies, Baker answered the call, plowing in from one yard out just before the intermission to tie the game at 13.
That tie was eventually broken in the third quarter when Baker found Kyle Groves from seven yards out for a 19-13 advantage.
Afterward, fumbles plagued the Grizzlies.
A fumble at the end of the third quarter gave the Tigers an opportunity they ultimately squandered, but the defenses were the signature of the final frame.
With under two minutes to go, Shady drove to the red zone, but an incompletion to an open receiver in the corner of the end zone on fourth down gave Nicholas the ball with 1:20 left. That was when another costly fumble bit the Grizzlies.
With 1:12 left, Shady recovered another loose ball, getting new life.
"Daggone it," Nichoals County head coach Gene Morris said. "That's one of the cardinal sins of football. We have a little over a minute left and (Culicerto's) got a couple of timeouts and I know he's going to spend them. Our job is to pick up some yards and get the first down. I thought our quarterback did a great job running it, but they just flocked to it and stripped the ball and made life tougher on us."
After after three straight incompletions, a roughing the passer penalty was called against Nicholas, advancing the ball closer to the goal line with a fresh set of downs. Three more incompletions, including one that was nearly intercepted, left just two seconds on the clock for the final play.
Clark took the game's final snap, moving back over to his left, finding a receiver who couldn't corral the pass as the horn sounded, preserving the Grizzlies' victory.
"It's all based on covering their weapons and they have several," Morris said. "We tried to disrupt the quarterback, move him and around and disrupt his pocket and get him to throw on the run. We tried to flush him, but getting those guys to make sure they're disciplined is tough. We lost them once in the corner of the end zone and they just happened to throw an incompletion. We were fortunate there, but after that, we held them."
"We've just got to make the plays," Culicerto said. "There were a few there to be made and we just didn't make them. You've got to get it done. Credit to Nicholas for coming through and making the plays and the tackles. We thought there were a few times we had them shook loose, but they made a play or a tackle. They did a good job, our offense just has to find a better way to get some scores."
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SS (1-1): 7 6 0 0 — 13
NC (2-0): 6 7 6 0 — 19
NC: Lerose 83-yard pass from Baker (Conversion fails); 8:12
SS: Valentine 50-yard pass from Clark (Kick Bevil); 7:16
SS: Harvey 15 INT return (kick fails); 3:32
NC: Baker 1 run (Kick Groves); :19
NC: Groves 7-yard pass from Baker (conversion fails); 6:59
Rushing — SS: Chapman 7-14, Clark 12-8, Harvey 3-8, Valentine 7-22, Hershberger 1-4; NC: Hill 11-36, Lerose 1-5, Sedlock 3-12, McKown 4-13, Baker 9-19, Zach O'Dell 6-39
Passing — SS: Clark 9-24-125-2; NC: Baker 9-19-165-1.
Receiving — SS: Valentine 4-67, Hershberger 5-58; NC: Lerose 4-116, Sedlock 2-25, Groves 3-23.