Note: This story appears in the Wednesday, Nov. 6 newspaper on Page B3.
McARTHUR — Every football coach finds himself saying it: when two rivals are playing, you can throw the records out.
Yes, the Wellston Rockets came into this game vying for a potential share of the Tri-Valley Conference Ohio division title. Yes, they were in prime position to earn a playoff spot in Division V, Region 19. And yes, the Vinton County Vikings had long been eliminated from Week 11 play.
But, although the record doesn’t show it, the Vikings have played solid football too, and they were looking to finish strong. So, what better way than to spoil their rivals’ chance at a share of a conference title.
That they did, convincingly, as the Vikings pitched their third shutout of the year with a 20-0 win.
“We came in here wanting to send our seniors out with a win against a very good rival,” said Vikings head coach Travis Bethel. “Wellston is very well coached. It just seemed like we had their number tonight.”
That was a mild understatement. Coming into this game, Wellston (7-3, 4-2 Tri-Valley Conference Ohio Division) controlled the line of scrimmage against its TVC-Ohio foes with a dominant rushing game. That rushing game managed 1 total yard in the first half.
Granted, star running back Rylan Molihan’s availability was in doubt prior to the game, but he played and accounted for 82 yards of offense. The rest of the team combined managed minus-6 yards.
The Vikings (5-5, 4-2 TVC-Ohio), on the other hand, were able to set the tone with its ground-and-pound ball control offense. Tailback Jacob Wells, along with fullback Logan Baker, ran behind an aggressive offensive line and wore down the Rockets’ defense, allowing quarterback Braylon Damron to throw downfield later in the game.
Wells put the first points on the board after his 32-yard touchdown run midway through the first quarter. For the senior, the night was a perfect cap to his career. After the game, he expressed gratitude toward his teammates and his coaches.
“We’re a brotherhood,” explained Wells. “We all put countless hours into this during the offseason. I can’t thank the coaches enough.”
Wells, the leading rusher in the game with 84 yards, gave credit to his teammates for his success.
“The field was wide open,” said Wells when asked about his touchdown. “My teammates opened it up for me.”
One of those teammates who opened things up for Wells was fullback and fellow senior Logan Baker. His second quarter touchdown gave the Vikings a 12-0 halftime lead. That two score differential proved crucial in the second half, as it forced Wellston to throw more than usual. Baker said that preparation was key in the Vikings’ victory.
“A lot of film study went into this,” said Baker. “Countless hours in front of the projectors, studying their formations. We’ve got a great coach who is willing to put in those hours watching film, doing the things he needs to do for us so that we know what’s coming and it’s easy for us to stop. We all executed.”
Wellston did have its moments moving the ball. As the first half was coming to a close, Molihan broke loose for a 26-yard rush that gave them a first down at the Vikings 10-yard line. However, two plays later Zack Radabaugh intercepted a pass at the one yard line that preserved the 12-0 halftime lead.
That proved to be the last time the Rockets threatened to score. In the second half, the Vikings chewed the clock. After the Rockets punted on their opening possession, Radabaugh capped an eight-play drive with a 15-yard touchdown rush to cap the final score.
Coach Bethel was pleased with finishing the season on a high note, defeating Wellston for the seventh season in a row.
“We’ve had some tough losses on the season,” noted Bethel. “Two games were decided by a couple plays. Against Unioto, we lost by a point, and against Athens, we just couldn’t punch it in on that last play…. Coulda, woulda, shoulda…. But I’m proud of these guys. Other teams would have quit, but these guys came back and fought… We’re looking to carry that over into next year.”
Nelsonville-York’s 35-28 win over Athens on Friday allowed the Buckeyes to share the TVC-Ohio title with the Bulldogs. The Rockets could have made it a three-way tie for the top spot, but were ultimately denied by the Vikings.
It was a satisfying end for a season that should give the faithful in McArthur plenty to look forward to next year, as the Vikings look to resolve any doubt that they are back.
For the Rockets, it’s not yet time to talk about next year. Despite the loss, they clinched a playoff berth for the first time since 2006.
They’ll matchup on Saturday as the No. 8 seed in Division V, Region 19 and travel to play top-seeded and No. 5 state ranked Ironton.