Story by Eli Ruiz
GRAHAMSVILLE Tri-Valley scored on its first two plays from scrimmage and won its first game of the season 54-27 against Pine Plains in an OCIAA Class C, Division 2 game played Saturday afternoon.
"We've got some real hardworking kids," said Tri-Valley head coach John Rusin. "A lot of these kids were thrown into positions maybe a little bit before their time, so they've had to adjust."
Indeed, Rusin came into this season having lost 15 seniors to graduation. With several freshman and sophomores thrust into action the seventh-year coach knew it would be a season to rebuild.
"We knew day one that we weren't going to be the best football team,” said Rusin. “I don't know where we'll be in week nine, but I do know that we have to be better week nine than week one."
After two lopsided away losses at O'Neill and Millbrook two of the top Section IX Class C teams Tri-Valley was eager to pounce on the Bombers of Pine Plains, who with only 18 available players were not only overmatched, but undermanned as well.
After a personal foul call on the Bombers on the opening kickoff gave Tri-Valley the ball at the Pine Plains 42, the Bears wasted no time putting their option attack to work. On the very first play from scrimmage, senior Shatik Smith pitched the ball to tailback Justin Swarthout who would hit a wide open Cody Exner down the left sideline for a quick 42-yard touchdown. The extra point attempt by Zach Nilsen was no-good.
Smith would cut Pine Plains' opening drive short with an interception of quarterback Matt Moss and return into Bomber territory. On Tri-Valley's second play of the game it was Exner again this time on a 34-yard touchdown run. After the successful PAT by Nilsen, Tri-Valley had a 13-0 lead with 9:47 still remaining in the opening quarter.
Following a stalled Pine Plains drive, the Bears took the ball over at the Bomber 43 and after a few penalties, which plagued both teams in the first half, Smith broke a few tackles to pick up a first-down at the Pine Plains 31. On the next play Smith would break a run down the left side for another Tri-Valley touchdown. The extra point by would give the Bears a commanding 20-0 with 1:28 left in the first.
The game would continue in this fashion with Smith scoring two more times before the half, once on a 12- yard run just over 30 seconds into the second quarter, and then on a 36-yard keeper with 3:30 left in the first half. A missed extra point would give Tri-Valley a seemingly unassailable 33-0 lead.
Needless to say Rusin was pleased with his offense, which gained 328 yards on the ground. Better yet, they averaged 12 yards per carry.
"This is our fifth year running this option offense and the kids have really bought into it,” said Rusin. “They believe in this system and they're starting to execute the system."
Pine Plains would mount a scoring drive before the end of the half. The combination of hard running by senior running back Trevor Amato and penalties by the Bears culminated in a 3-yard touchdown run up the middle by Amato in the final seconds of the half. The extra point by Raine Owens put Pine Plains on the board, down 33-7.
The second half opened with Tri-Valley recovering an unintentional squib kick from senior Andrew Exner. Rusin could be heard apologizing to Bombers coach Thomas Povall after the game for the botched kick, not wanting to appear as though he planned an onside kick leading by 26 points.
After some tough running from Brendan Tierney, the drive climaxed with an 18- yard scoring scamper by Cory Exner down the right sideline. The extra point try would split the uprights extending Tri-Valley's lead to 40-7 with 9:08 left in the third.
Rusin would begin to insert some substitutions into the game at this point. After another stalled Bomber drive, Tri-Valley went three and out, punting for the first time all day from deep in their territory. The punt by Andrew Exner appeared to be either partially blocked by a bomber defender, or shanked by Exner. Regardless, the errant kick fell right into the hands of Amato who was streaking down the left sideline and returned the the ball all of 12 yards to the bear 4-yard line.
With just 47 seconds remaining in the third quarter, Amato punched in Pine Plains second touchdown of the game, making the score 40-14 after the extra point.
Both teams would score twice more in the final quarter and although Tri-Valley seemingly had the game wrapped up early-on, Pine Plains never once showed an ounce of retreat.
"We don't have a lot of kids but I love my team and they work hard until the end," said Povall. "There's no quit in these guys, they're great kids and they work their butts off. You saw us in the second half, we came out [and] there was no quit in these guys."
Smith carried the ball 12 times for 96 yards and three touchdowns for Tri-Valley. Brendan Tierney had six carries for 119 yards and a touchdown while Cody Exner had four carries for 95 yards and two touchdowns. Exner also had a 42-yard touchdown reception. On defense, Aric Boyes had two sacks and Smith an interception. Freshman Everett Nolan recorded had five tackles for the Bears.
Pine Plains’ Trevor Amato paced all runners with 232 yards on 35 carries and scored twice. Jake Gomm carried 13 times for 59 yards. Quarterback Matt Moss was 4 of 8 passing for 36 yards.
Moss led the Bomber defense with six tackles.
Tri-Valley hosts the Yellow- Jackets of Eldred at noon on Saturday.