Midland Trail’s Cody Harrell emblazoned the path 61 yards to the end zone with under two minutes remaining juking several Cougars defenders, but East Hardy’s Christian Dove pounced back up dashing to make a touchdown saving strip fumble tackle with teammate Dawson Price recovering the ball in the end zone to seal a 12-7 victory in the first round of the Class A state football playoffs on Saturday afternoon in Baker.
“This is awesome. Not exactly how we drew it up, but you can never argue with a win. We came out slow and I think the boys were comparing scores with those guys coming into the game. We were in their ears that you can’t do that, they are a good football team and one of the most physical teams we’ve faced this year besides Moorefield. Two physical teams smashing heads all day, you are bound to create fumbles. Our boys underestimated them and came out flat. We won the East Hardy way. The last play was all about heart and hustle,” East Hardy coach Devon Orndorff remarked.
This is the 20th playoff appearance in East Hardy program history and the first postseason game and victory under Coach Orndorff for his tenth career win in his second season at the helm.
It was a low-scoring affair with turnovers and penalties creating a plethora of headaches throughout the contest.
Both teams started off slow not able to get into any rhythm with punting as a result, then a fumble recovery by Midland Trail’s Zachary Moores with five minutes left in the first quarter setup the initial touchdown.
The opening possession for the Patriots was a three and out series as the East Hardy defense allowed just a couple yards on carries by Colton Yoder with tackles by Alex Miller and Austin Alt before Adam Baker stopped Midland Trail’s Robert Ruffner for a loss for a punt at the 36-yard line.
East Hardy had a pair of carries by Miller and drew the Patriots offsides for a first down before quarterback Christian Dove threw two passes too high in the cold temperatures and the third down pass was deflected by Liam Gill leading to a punt at the 35-yard line.
Midland Trail managed only one yard on the next series as Griffin Boggs notched it and was stopped for no gain by a pride of Cougars including Alt, Brayden Ritchie, Noah Miller, Dayton Miller, Cole Pusl and Andrew Tharp with the Patriots punting from the 39.
East Hardy started its second possession with 7:11 remaining in the first quarter and Miller took a pitch at the 32-yard line, but a holding call backed up the scrimmage to the 20-yard line.
After an errant pass, Dove connected with Tharp for ten yards, then Dove scrambled away from danger and found Pusl for another reception reaching the 41 1/2 yard line with a disputed placement without measurement.
Facing fourth down, the Cougars went for it and fumbled the ball with Midland Trail’s Zach Moores recovering the ball at the East Hardy 39-yard line.
The Patriots started the drive in East Hardy territory and capped it off with a 24-yard touchdown run by Christopher Vines with Talon Shockey adding the extra point for a 7-nil edge at the 2:51 mark.
East Hardy’s ensuing possession began at the 46-yard line and Ritchie made a catch for 17 yards to the Patriots 37-yard line.
Miller added five yards on two carries, then Dove had a pass deflected and the fourth down conversion pass was out of reach of Ritchie.
Midland Trail fumbled the exchange in the backfield and had a false start to close the first quarter at the 22-yard line.
Aaron Sisler made a spin move gaining 18 yards before being slammed to the ground by Tharp to begin the second stanza.
After a Midland Trail false start and timeout, Ruffner was tackled on a two yard run by East Hardy’s Aaron Fishel.
There was motion in the backfield and a bobbled snap with a flag thrown for a false start during a fake punt, then the Patriots punted away.
On third down, the Cougars had a huge play as Tharp dodged tackles for a 32-yard catch before being tackled by Ruffner and Harrell.
Miller added two yards on a pitch, then a pass was tipped up and missed before another four yards gained by Miller into the red zone at the 17-yard line.
Dove made a keeper for three yards which wasn’t enough to move the chains resulting in a turnover on downs at the 7:41 mark.
Midland Trail’s Colton Yoder rushed for six yards and was forced out by Alt, then Sisler added five yards for a first down and was brought down by Dayton Miller and Noah Miller.
Sisler gained two yards and was tackled by Baker, then Vines took a reverse and was dropped for a loss by Ritchie and Alex Miller.
Ritchie and Fishel tackled Ruffner for no gain, then the Patriots had a false start.
During the punt, the Cougars were penalized for roughing the kicker despite a partial block on the ball and Midland Trail was given first down at the 36-yard line.
Midland Trail would gain two more first downs on the possession on plays by Boggs and Sisler, but the drive stalled as East Hardy’s defense clamped down with tackles by Hinton Shifflett, Baker, Ritchie, Alt, Price, Pusl and a sack by Alex Miller on fourth down at the 42-yard line.
After the turnover on downs with under two minutes to go in the second quarter, the Cougars finally responded with a touchdown.
On second down, Tharp made a catch for 15 yards to move the chains for the Cougars at the Midland Trail 43-yard line.
Moores sacked Dove for a four yard loss, then Dove answered on the next play with an 18-yard run for a first down at the 29.
Alex Miller made a catch in the red zone for 18 yards to the 11-yard line.
Dove connected with Brayden Ritchie on an 11-yard touchdown strike with 44 seconds to go, but the extra point attempt missed as Midland Trail held a 7-6 lead.
“A lot of people said we limped into the playoffs losing three of our last four, but we’ve been hurt all year. We told them we’d be fighting, but we’d be limping and we were going to fight and our kids did just that,” Midland Trail coach Frank Isaacs stated.
“They played really well. You take a play here and a play there and we might be walking off with a win and East Hardy is going home. We gave ourselves an opportunity to compete and we were there with the chance to win at the end of the game and that’s all you can ask of high school kids. We thought we matched up well with them. We had a couple missed tackles. The story of our season is we turn the ball over and we have too many penalties. The ball never bounces our way.”
In the waning seconds of the first half, Ruffner dodged tackles on a 44-yard run, then the last play was a fumble recovered by Vines ending the half for the Patriots.
East Hardy opened the second half with a huge kickoff return by Gabe Henderson to the Patriots 35-yard line, then four plays later Dove threw an interception to Midland Trail’s Jonathan Stark, who ended up fumbling the ball back to the Cougars at the 10-yard line with Cole Pusl making the recovery.
East Hardy’s Alex Miller jumped up for a pass, but couldn’t corral it cleanly with a Patriots defender on his back and Aden Isaacs was able to rip it away for an interception preventing a score and couldn’t translate the turnover into points managing to reach midfield before punting as Baker, Shifflett and Tharp led the tackling brigade.
The Cougars went three and out as Midland Trail’s Ruffner notched a sack and the punt rolled inside the 20-yard line.
On second down, Boggs broke through tackles bursting to the East Hardy 45-yard line on a 39-yard run with Price making the tackle.
Vines added one yard and was stopped by Pusl, then Ruffner plowed ahead and was taken down by Pusl and Alex Miller on a two-yard gain.
After a false start, Pusl deflected a pass for the Cougars and Midland Trail punted with one minute left in the third quarter.
Tharp made a catch and spin to avoid an initial hit creating 20 yards on the play to reach the 35-yard line and an offsides call ended the period.
Early in the fourth quarter, East Hardy attempted a fake punt on a bobbled snap and the throw by punter Adam Baker was intercepted by Midland Trail’s Christopher Vines.
On the ensuing possession, Baker recovered a fumble for the Cougars inside midfield which setup the game-winning touchdown drive.
East Hardy’s Andrew Tharp made a 38-yard reception and capped off the series three plays later with a red zone touchdown catch of 15 yards at the 8:45 mark with the conversion play missing the mark for a 12-7 Cougars advantage.
Both teams punted twice over the next seven minutes of action, then Midland Trail’s miracle play was disintegrated by a hustle play by Dove notching the touchdown saving tackle ripping the ball out Harrell’s hands and Price recovered the fumble in the end zone to seal the win.
Midland Trail (6-5) held the Cougars to only 29 rushing yards on 21 carries (Alex Miller led EHHS with ten touches for 18 yards) and limited East Hardy QB Christian Dove to 9-of-28 completions for 176 passing yards including two touchdowns and snatched three interceptions (one thrown by punter Adam Baker).
Midland Trail’s Robert Ruffner had a game-high 68 rushing yards on six carries. The Patriots only had four receptions for 100 yards on the game with the longest being a 61-yard catch by Cody Harrell.
East Hardy (8-3) advances to the state quarterfinals at undefeated and top ranked Doddridge County (11-0) this Saturday afternoon at 1:30 p.m.