Not many were there to witness it, but the Buckeye Local Panthers got in the win column for the first time this season with a 20-10 win over visiting Western Reserve Academy before a sparse crowd at Memorial Stadium in Yorkville Saturday night.
Coach Phil Pest's Panthers close out the season with two tough Buckeye 8 opponents, hosting St. Clairsville on Friday and entertaining Harrison Central on November 1 for the V.A.L.E.S. trophy. Buckeye will take a 1-7 record into Friday's matchup with the Red Devils following Saturday's win.
Coach Jeffry Hildebrand's Western Reserve squad, coming off a 47-10 loss to Linsly last week, takes on Kiski Prep on Saturday. The Pioneers, making their second straight trip to the Ohio, saw their record drop to 2-5 with the loss.
Buckeye took advantage of a muffed punt attempt by the Pioneers in the first quarter to get on the board first. Starting from the Western Reserve 35, the Panthers opened with a 19-yard run by Chase Hopkins, continued to pick up yards in small chunks and later in the drive, Hopkins connected with Damion Beall for five yards to the one. Hopkins then added the final yard for the score bulling through the middle with 4:48 on the first quarter clock.
Western Reserve bounced back late in the second following a Buckeye punt. With 6:04 on the clock, fleet-footed Jabril Smith broke through the middle and ran untouched on a 26-yard scoring run. Griffin Trau drilled the PAT for a 7-6 Pioneer lead.
On the ensuing kickoff, Matt Fleischman pounced on a Panther fumble near the hosts 35 to return possession to the Pioneers, but Buckeye's Logan Dehnart recovered a Pioneer fumble just seconds later.
With three seconds left in the half, the Pioneers capped a quick drive that was set up by a Dakota Gribbons fumble recovery. Trau converted a 24-yard field goal to send the visitors into the locker room with a 10-6 lead.
Late in the third, Buckeye exploded to regain the lead. From their own five, Hopkins hooked up on the first play in the drive with Brandon Panepucci over the middle and the speedy wide-out covered 72 yards before being brought down by the Pioneers' Daniel Gomez at the 23. Hopkins then broke off the right side and covered the 23 yards for the score with 3:49 on the clock. They failed to convert the two pointer to lead 12-10.
Buckeye put together a lengthy 75-yard drive in the fourth quarter to extend its lead. Sparked by Eric Banal's leaping catch of a Hopkins pass for 21 yards, the Panthers stayed on the ground with Dylan Dokes handling the bulk of the carries. Driving to the Pioneer four, Dokes scored from the four with 4:48 on the board. Hopkins ran in the two-pointer for a 20-10 lead.
Buckeye's defense came through in the clutch all night as Dehnart pounced on two WRA fumbles while recording five tackles for losses among his 10 tackles. Austin Flaherty recorded nine tackles, Ryan Morrow had eight and Josh Figurski and Steve Sable were in on six tackles apiece.
"We started the game strong, but we got flat in the second quarter and let them pull ahead," Pest said after the win. "We had missed opportunities, wide open receivers, penalties and bad snaps, but apparently they decided at halftime that they were tired of losing."
"They came out in the third quarter and played hard," he added. "Our defense played very well. They came out and stepped it up in the second half."
"They deserved to win tonight. They played well and the coaches did a good job tonight. That pass play to Panepucci was big for us. That got us out of a hole and turned things around."
"That's a very good team over there," Pest said about their opponents. "They came her to play and they came to win. Everybody comes here to win. "
"We have two big Buckeye 8 games left and tomorrow morning we start getting ready to play St. Clairsville on Friday."