McARTHUR — Despite the lightning and heavy rain delays, the wait was completely worth it.
If you’re a Meigs fan.
Vinton County stayed ready, took Meigs’ best shot and held firm defensively through three quarters. However, the Vikings surrendered 22 points in the fourth quarter, including the game-winner as the Marauders shocked the Vikings 28-20 on Friday night.
“The effort was there on every play, but we had a lot of mental errors and turned the ball over a couple times, and that’s 100 percent on me,” Vinton County coach Travis Bethel said. “Good things can still come as long as the effort continues to be there. Now we just have to come back and make it happen.”
Despite the late fireworks, it was an offensive struggle throughout the first half.
Following a three-and-out by the Vikings, Meigs struck the board first as Jake McElroy dragged a pair of defenders on his way to a 27-yard touchdown to go up 6-0.
But Vinton County later responded in the second quarter. After a long punt return from Zayne Karr set it up in Meigs’ territory, Broc Moore later punched it in from one yard out.
Braylon Damron then completed the two-point conversion to put the Vikings ahead with an 8-6 at halftime.
“We came into this game blind just like Meigs did since neither team had film on the other,” Bethel said. “We didn’t revamp our gameplan since everything we were doing up to that point was working. We felt good, it was just a matter of finishing.”
After exchanging empty possessions, Vinton County found an opening. With 5:43 left in the third, Zack Radabaugh saw a hole and sprinted 31 yards down the left side to paydirt that pushed the lead to 14-6 following a missed two-point conversion.
Here’s where the show really began.
Vinton County had Meigs right where it wanted it on fourth down, but Meigs’s Coulter Cleland escaped pressure and found Dillon Howard down the right sideline for a 43-yard touchdown catch for a 14-12 ball game with 9:43 left in the fourth quarter.
The Vikings answered back on the next drive and pulled out a little trickery from the playbook. After being set up by a 33-yard run from Elijah Williams, the Vikings went with a reverse as Williams pitched the ball to Radabaugh, who dashed 18 yards and dove in the corner for the touchdown to put the score at 20-12 with 7:22 left.
“Zack is a special type of player, a kid brings it every single play and leaves it out on the field every night,” Bethel said. “Anytime the ball is in his hands, we feel good that something is going to happen. He wants it more than anyone and his efforts every night show it.”
Meigs chewed some time off the clock, and also caught a couple breaks along the way. It found itself going for it on fourth down and the pass fell incomplete, but the Vikings were flagged for pass interference.
Another pass interference a couple plays later set the Marauders in the redzone, and Coulter Cleland found Griffin Cleland on a 12-yard strike for the score. Coulter then ran in the two-point try to tie the game 20-20 with 2:01 left.
“We can’t have those mental mistakes or breakdowns in coverage and missed tackles against a player like Coulter Cleland,” Bethel said. “Bad things are going to happen if you give him and that offense extra chances because they will make you pay.”
Meigs decided to go with an onside kick, which Vinton County recovered at the Marauders’ 43 yard line, setting it up with great field position.
However, the Vikings were sacked on third down and called timeout to set up a fourth down try. They went for it on 4th-and-11, and the pass was intercepted by Zach Searles, who took it back to the Vikings’ 36.
On the next play, Coutler Cleland connected with Wyatt Hoover on a 36-yard touchdown strike, followed by a successful two-point try to give the Marauders back the lead and more importantly, the game.
“It all starts with me, and I have to figure out ways to put us in better spots to be successful,” Bethel said. “Give credit to Meigs, those kids played their tails off and wanted it. We can’t shoot ourselves in the foot in big situations. There’s still a lot of football to be played and we’ll figure things out.”
Vinton County travels on Friday to play at Athens.