BYESVILLE - After struggling for most of the second half, Shadyside's defense came up big when it counted.
Zach Meadows recovered a Dalton Wiggins fumble after the Meadowbrook quarterback had the ball jarred loose by a vicious Eric Howell hit and the Tigers hung on for a 22-20 victory Friday night at warm and muggy Eugene Capers Field.
''Eric Howell did a heck of a job,'' Shadyside head coach Mark Holenka said after watching the Tigers win their 14th consecutive regular-season contest. ''Someone stepped up and said someone has to be the one who takes control.
SHADYSIDE’S Chris Littell goes high in the air to avoid Meadowbrook’s Dylan Wood, while Tigers’ lineman Colton Campbell is also pictured.
''The game doesn't always have to be decided on a 40-yard run. Sometimes it's a sack or a tackle that changes the game.
''I give the kids credit. They did what they had to at crunch time. But I also give Meadowbrook credit. They had us on our heels from the second quarter on.''
Wiggins hit Cody Johnston down the right sideline for a 51-yard touchdown with less than a minute left in the first half to cut Shadyside's lead to 14-7 And, from that point, momentum swung in the Colts' favor.
''We got complacent,'' Holenka said. ''We didn't get a critical first down late in the second quarter and they got a touchdown and it gave them life in the second half. And every mistake becomes critical when a two touchdown lead becomes a one touchdown lead.''
While some teams might have sat on the ball and went into the locker room and licked their wounds, Colts head coach Jesse Wells said this is a new era at Meadowbrook.
''That's not us and that won't ever be us,'' he said. ''This is a new team with a new dynamic and a new attitude. The days of us feeling sorry for us are over.''
The Tigers went 3-and-out on the opening possession of the second half and, aided by a personal foul call on Shadyside, Meadowbrook set up shop at the Tigers' 49.
Six plays later, Wiggins scored on a 2-yard run. Josh Sills' extra-point tied the game at 14-14 with 7:32 left in the third quarter.
The highlight of the drive was a 35-yard screen pass from Wiggins to Clay Lapp.
Later in the quarter, the Tigers started at midfield with Howell, its leading rusher out of the backfield at the time out of the game due to leg cramps.
No problem. Quarterback Austin Dorris (93 yards rushing and two TDs) and running back Chris Littell picked up the slack just fine.
The duo combined for all 50 yards on the six-play drive that Dorris capped with an 8-yard scamper that gave the Tigers the lead back with 1:30 left in the third. His two-point conversion run made the score 22-14.
''Littell did well and could easily be a tailback,'' Holenka praised. ''And not only did he do a great job (on that drive), but Dorris did a great job. He ran like a monster and the line opened up some great holes for him.''
With 7:39 left in the fourth quarter, a 16-yard Shadyside punt gave the Colts the ball at midfield.
Later in the drive faced with third-and-long, Wiggins went down the sideline looking for Johnston. The pass fell incomplete, but the Tigers were called for pass interference, giving the Colts new life.
Meadowbrook took advantage. Four plays later, Wiggins dove in from two yards out to bring his team to within two at 22-20 with 3:52 left.
Needing a two-point conversion to tie, Wiggins dropped back to pass. He looked left, then right and fired a pass toward the corner. It was long and the Tigers maintained their lead.
The Colts defense held and forced Shadyside to punt on its ensuing possession with a little more than 2 minutes to go.
This time, the Tigers' punt went nine yards, giving the Colts the ball near midfield again.
On first down, Wiggins hit Johnston for 11 yards to the Tigers' 40. Then, on the next play, Howell's hit ended any thoughts of a rally.
''Our objective was to win,'' Holenka said, ''but our goal wasn't to perform this way.
''I'm happy as far as the objective, but I'm not satisfied as it pertains to our goal.''
Shadyside will continue to work toward those goals on the road next Friday in Woodsfield against Monroe Central.
Thorp can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org