ST. CLAIRSVILLE — It didn’t take quite as long for St. Clairsville to finish off its opening-week game Saturday morning as did it to find an opponent.
But, it was close.
At 1:18 Saturday morning, the clock on the Red Devil Stadium scoreboard turned to all zeroes and the Red Devils had held on for a 31-19 victory over Oak Hill. The game, which began on time Friday night, was delayed by more than four hours due to severe storms.
It was all worth it in the end. For the Red Devils, anyway.
“There were so many variables tonight that we weren’t expecting,” St. Clairsville coach Brett McLean said. “Whether it was the weather, the delay or the up-and-down waves we rode during the game, I am just proud of our kids for finding a way.”
After spending much of the opening few weeks of August searching for a season opener after the OHSAA opted to allow signed contracts to be voided, which allowed St. C.’s scheduled opponent Carrollton out of its down, the Red Devils found Oak Hill in Jackson County that was willing to make the three-hour road trip to Belmont County.
They didn’t realize that basically day-long severe weather awaited.
“I am so glad Oak Hill was able to stay,” McLean said. “I commend their coach, their A.D. and their fans. They’re more than three hours from home. Coach (Paul) Carver talked during the delay and it’s so much time and effort goes into this that people don’t realize that you don’t want to let it go. We’d be in tears if we didn’t play this game. Thank God we got it in.”
The Red Devils got punched right in the mouth by the Oaks and their powerful ground attack, which logged 214 yards on more than 50 carries, shortly after the game resumed. It resulted in Oak Hill capping a nearly eight-minute drive that saw the Oaks strike first on an 8-yard run from Brock Harden.
However, St. C. answered quickly and scored the next 24 points of the game.
“I thought Oak Hill did a great job of being patient and methodical with what they did, and I thought we tried to get too much all at once,” McLean said.
St. Clairsville did get some yards in chunks thanks to the impressive passing combination of quarterback Tyler Tonkovich and Collin Oberdick. The duo hooked up for three touchdowns in that aforementioned spurt.
Those covered 52, 30 and 18 yards. Each was followed by a Jake Bolyard point after touchdown. He also connected on a 23-yard field goal.
As much as it looked like St. Clairsville was on the verge of delivering the final knock-out blow, the Oaks kept coming. They scored on back-to-back possessions in the third from Harden and Brandon Beam and then in the early moments of the fourth to get within five at 24-19.
“There was an eerie silence on the sideline when they got within five,” McLean admitted. “It’s a silence you know all too well as a coach and you think, ‘uh oh, everyone might be getting that deer-in-headlights look where you get beat unexpectedly.’”
However, the Red Devils put the ball in Tonkovich’s hands. On a fourth-and-inches, Tonkovich fought his way past the chains, by inches, to pick up the first down on the Red Devils’ 25.
McLean’s gamble paid dividends because three plays later, Tonkovich was dashing to the end zone from 47 yards away.
The final touchdown capped an impressive performance that saw him throw for 189 and rush for 121 more, accounting for four touchdowns in the process.
Harden finished with 49 yards and two touchdowns, meanwhile Beam was the team’s leading rusher with 83 yards and a score.
Oak Hill is back in action on Friday at home against Valley in SOC II competition.