ATHENS — Boomer Herrold got ahold of Athens quarterback Joey Moore one final time, coming up with a game-ending sack that ended more than a decade of frustration for the Vinton County Vikings.
The Vikings won a thriller on Friday, 28-20, at Athens High School’s Joe Burrow Stadium.
Broc Moore scored from six yards out with 23 seconds left for the winning margin, giving Vinton County its first victory over Athens since 1995.
The Vikings were 0-12 in Tri-Valley Conference Ohio Division play against Athens since the Bulldogs entered the league. The streak is now a thing of the past for Vikings head coach Travis Bethel.
“Athens is always a good program and we know we have our work cut out for us when we play them,” Bethel said. “We had a great week of practice. Lot of things went back and forth. It was a fantastic game, but our boys never quit and I think that was the main thing, we never did quit.”
The Vikings were able to grind out yards against Athens, gaining 340 yards on 53 rushes. Quarterback Braylon Damron completed 12-of-18 passes for another 128 yards, giving Vinton County 468 yards of offense.
It was the final 54 yards that helped the Vikings (1-1, 1-1 TVC-Ohio) avoid a potential overtime, or regulation loss.
After forcing an Athens punt, Vinton County started a drive at its own 46-yard line with 1:14 remaining and the game tied at 20-20.
It appeared the drive would stall after the Vikings were whistled for an offensive pass interference that put them in a first-and-25 situation from their own 47.
The Vikings dialed up a screen pass, as Damron found Zayne Karr leaking out of the backfield.
The play worked, as Karr was able to haul in the pass and head down the sideline to Athens’ 16-yard line, a 37-yard gain.
“It goes back to blocking, everyone doing their job on that screen play,” Bethel said. “We never quit. We could have easily put our heads down and folded when we get put behind the sticks, but we didn’t. We worked together.”
It took the Vikings two plays to score from there. Zack Radabaugh caught a 10-yard pass, then Moore was able to score his winning touchdown.
The junior bounced his run off right tackle, finding the end zone for the 26-20 lead. Damron then got River Hayes on a slant for the 2-point conversion.
Athens’ defense had come up with a goal line stand in Vinton County’s previous possession, but weren’t able to turn the Vikings away after the big screen pass.
“It’s a good play (on their part), but we didn’t play that very well,” Athens coach Nathan White said. “We had a timeout right before that and we didn’t do a great job of coaching that up.”
Athens only had 14 seconds to go 68 yards in an attempt to tie the game.
Moore was able to get an 11-yard pass out to Brayden Whiting. But with only nine seconds left, Herrold came up with a sack as Moore tried to elude the pressure.
Athens was out of timeouts. As the seconds ticked away, the Vikings poured out onto the field in celebration.
Vinton County lost a tough one to Meigs in the opener, but that was a distant memory on Friday.
“It was a great job by our men,” Bethel said.
It was truly a back-and-forth game, as neither team had a lead bigger than eight points.
However, Athens was never able to enjoy a lead. The Vikings’ ball-control offense helped limit Athens’ opportunities, as Vinton County ran 71 offensive plays to Athens’ 42.
The game was tied 6-6 at halftime, but the Vikings went ahead 14-6 on Karr’s 3-yard run, and 2-point conversion run to open the second half.
Athens answered with Moore’s 70-yard deep ball to Whiting, making it 14-12.
The Vikings went ahead 20-12 though with 9:42 left in the fourth after Moore’s 15-yard scamper.
Moore led Vinton County with 110 yards on 20 rushes and his two scores.
Athens again had an answer though, as Peyton Gail took a pitch and got free from the Vikings’ defense for a 57-yard run.
Moore then got a fade pass to Whiting for the 2-point conversion, tying the game at 20-20 with 8:49 remaining.
Gail finished with 121 yards of offense and two touchdowns.
“Peyton’s a really good player and has been for us for a few years,” White said. “We really game planned how to get him more touches tonight then he had last week.”
Moore finished 14-for-26 passing for 258 yards and two touchdowns. Whiting caught seven passes for 145 yards.
However, the Bulldogs were held to 58 yards rushing, 57 of those coming on Gail’s scoring jaunt. Of Athens’ 316 net yards, 170 came on its three scoring plays.
“When you’re facing an offense like that with a senior quarterback in Joey Moore, who’s just fantastic, they’re going to make big plays,” Bethel said. “We just have to do our best to slow them down as much we can. Try to eliminate the big plays as much we can.”
Radabaugh also had a big night for the Vikings, catching six passes for 49 yards and adding 69 yards rushing. Karr had 70 yards on 14 carries to go with his big 37-yard reception.
Athens and Vinton County are both even at 1-1 in the TVC-Ohio standings. There is still a long way to go — even though it’s a shortened season — for each team in terms of the league race.
Vinton County travels to play at River Valley on Friday.
Wiseman is the sports editor of the Athens Messenger.