Story by Eli Ruiz
GRAHAMSVILLE “It’s better to win ugly than to lose ugly.”
That’s how Tri-Valley head coach John Rusin assessed his team’s performance after defeating Eldred 20-8 in a mistake-filled non-league game played Saturday at Tri-Valley.
“This was ugly today, just ugly,” said Rusin to his players after the game. “We did not execute our offense the way we needed to, and we lost our heads quite a few times where we let the pressure get to us.”
The sloppily-played game included a bunch of miscues from both sides, with Eldred plagued by bad snaps throughout the entire contest.
“We really shot ourselves in the foot in the first half, a lot chasing that snap around,” said Eldred head coach Patrick Kean.
Tri-Valley (2-2, 0-1) got off to a fast start Saturday. On their first play from scrimmage, Bears’ QB Shatik Smith connected with Cody Exner on a 50-yard pass to the two- yard line. A couple of plays later Smith hit an open Jesus Lozada for the game’s opening score after just a minute and a half of play. The extra point from Zach Nilsen gave Tri-Valley an early 7-0 edge.
Eldred (2-2) started its first drive at their 35-yard line, but after two consecutive botched snaps and a short run play, Eldred was three and out. Smith returned the Yellowjacket punt to midfield and fullback Brendan Tierney who gave Eldred fits all day up the middle took his first handoff 20-yards to the Eldred 30.
A promising Tri-Valley drive was cut short, though, as an Eldred defender stripped the ball from Smith and RJ Thiel recovered for the Yellowjackets. With their eye on the end zone and a tie ballgame, the Eldred drive stall as the Tri-Valley defense stiffened. On 4th and five in Bear territory, quarterback Anthony Margerum’s pass to senior Mike Donnelly went through his hands and Tri-Valley took over on downs.
Tri-Valley’s drive stalled as a penalty negated a long gain by Exner. Eldred followed with another three and out after starting off at the Bear 31.
After the teams traded a few more promising but unrewarded drives, Tri-Valley finally scored again on a series that began on the Eldred 31, when after two short gains, Tierney converted a big run up the middle into a 24-yard touchdown. Nilsen’s extra point attempt was wide and the Bears led 13-0 at halftime.
Late in the third quarter, Margerum used his strong arm to move the Eldred downfield, first connecting with Nik Dilles inside the 20 and then hitting Theil for a short gain. Margurum then hit Dilles on a soft lob pass in the corner of the end zone to put Eldred on the board. A successful two-point conversion narrowed the Tri-Valley lead to 13-8.
Eldred recovered the subsequent onsides kick and the momentum seemed to be changing. But a costly holding penalty and Tri-Valley’s stout defense forced Eldred to punt.
“Defense, absolutely outstanding,” Rusin said to his team afterwards. “Outstanding! Secondary, I could not have asked you guys for more.”
After the teams traded stalled drives yet again, the Yellowjackets had one last chance for a game-winning drive. But again Tri-Valley snuffed out Eldred’s passing game and regained possession for a final insurance score. Justin Swarthout scampered in from seven yards with just under a minute remaining to seal the deal.
“Both teams played a great game, physical on both sides of the ball, said Kean after the loss. “They’re big and fast up-front, so we had to go into shotgun and we just couldn’t get the snaps right.
“Our defense, though, was here all game and that’s really what kept us in the game at all,” Kean added.
As to the Bears recent turnaround winning their last games after losing the first two Exner said, “we had some younger guys who were just thrown into new roles that they weren’t used to. They had to adjust, but I think they’ve done a great job the last couple of weeks.”
Said quarterback Shatik Smith about the rest of the season: “We just want to win the rest of our games down the road and make it into sectionals. Right now, though, our focus is on Fallsburg, that’s who we play next and that’s our focus this week.”