Galion head coach Chris Hawkins warned his ballclub that Buckeye Valley was a much better program this season than it was in 2014, when the Tigers handed the Barons a 32-0 defeat in Delaware.
Hawkins’ warning proved to be prophetic on Friday as Buckeye Valley rallied from a 13-0 deficit to knock off the previously undefeated Tigers 38-32 at Unckrich Stadium. Friday’s game marked the beginning of what could be a wild run for the Mid-Ohio Athletic Conference Red Division title.
“First and foremost, I’m proud of my kids,” Hawkins said. “We saw Buckeye Valley on film, and I told you that I think this is going to be the most improved team in our conference. But to get kids to buy into that is hard. We had a great week of practice, so I think we were physically prepared. I just don’t think we were mentally prepared. We made way too many mistakes to beat a good football team like Buckeye Valley.”
Barons head coach Matt Stephens, now in his second season at Buckeye Valley, was still emotionally charged up moments after speaking to his team at the end of the game.
“That was one heck of a football game, wasn’t it?” Stephens said. “I hate that Galion had to lose, but I didn’t want to lose, either. I told my kids it was going to be a four-quarter game and it almost went more than that. Each week, someone in (the MOAC Red Division) is going to get knocked off, and it could be us next week. Any given week, any one of these teams has enough talent and enough good coaching to pull off an upset.”
Barons quarterback Ben Spaulding and Tigers running back Drake Barnett each grabbed the spotlight during the game, but it was Spaulding whose last-minute heroics turned the tide for Buckeye Valley. With the game tied at 32 and just 50 seconds remaining in the fourth period, the junior scored on a 7-yard run to provide the winning margin for Buckeye Valley.
That play capped off a huge night for Spaulding, who passed for 341 yards and four touchdowns while completing 17-of-26 attempts. His favorite target was Gabe Miller, who made seven receptions for 225 yards and three touchdowns. Spaulding also rushed for a team-high 66 yards on 18 carries.
Barnett countered with a career-high 230 yards rushing on 23 carries. He scored four rushing touchdowns and also caught a 53-yard scoring pass from quarterback Chase Cooke.
Galion (3-1, 0-1 MOAC) took advantage of the second of two Buckeye Valley turnovers in the first quarter to grab a 6-0 lead. After Barnett recovered a Teren Wycoff fumble at the Galion 43, the Tigers marched 57 yards with Barnett scoring the game’s first touchdown from nine yards out with 1:59 to play in the first. Galion added to its advantage before the period ended after a Barons drive stalled at the Tigers 41. A punt pinned Galion at its own 13, but Barnett took a handoff and exploded up the middle for an 87-yard touchdown run that extended the lead to 13-0 with 35 seconds left.
A turnover led to Buckeye Valley’s first touchdown in the second quarter. Barnett muffed a punt and the Barons fell on the ball at the Galion 19. Four plays later, Spaulding connected with Miller on a 27-yard pitch and catch to cut the deficit to 13-7 with 9:43 left in the half.
Galion wasted no time responding, as Barnett exploded for another long scoring run, this time covering 44 yards to push the Tigers lead to 19-7 with 6:14 to play in the second period.
Then it was the Barons’ turn. After a pair of incompletions, Spaulding found Miller wide open down the middle of the field for an 80-yard touchdown pass that stunned the home crowd and cut the gap to 19-14 at the 5:43 mark. Less than four minutes later, the Spaulding-to-Miller connection worked again as Miller got open behind the Tigers secondary and sprinted 80 yards for the go-ahead score that gave the Barons a 21-19 lead with 1:51 left in the half.
Galion had the last scoring opportunity of the first half, driving to the Buckeye Valley 30, but Conner Moreton’s 47-yard field goal try missed to the left of the uprights.
The Tigers regained the lead at the 8:51 mark of the third quarter when Barnett took a pass from Cooke and scampered 53 yards for a touchdown that gave Galion a 25-21 edge.
Another Galion turnover allowed Buckeye Valley to creep closer late in the third period. Tigers punter Colton Moore’s knee was judged to have touched the ground when he fielded a low snap, turning the ball over to the Barons at the Galion 7. The Galion defense held and Sam Scharff was called upon to kick a 22-yard field goal that cut the deficit to 25-24 with 1:17 left in the third.
Barnett scored Galion’s final touchdown early in the fourth quarter, bursting up the middle from eight yards out to cap off a 59-yard drive. That gave the Tigers a 32-24 lead with 11:13 left in the game.
Buckeye Valley (2-2, 1-0 MOAC) tied the game less than three minutes later when Spaulding found Nathan Bisang wide open down the middle for a 25-yard touchdown at the 8:42 mark.
Both teams had chances to score before Spaulding’s deciding run in in the game’s final minute. Galion turned the ball over twice and Buckeye Valley missed a 31-yard field goal attempt during a five-minute span.
The Tigers’ final turnover, a Todd Westover interception of a pass by Jacob Fryer, set the table for Buckeye Valley’s game-winning, 72-yard drive.
With the three-game homestand at an end, Galion now embarks on an odyssey in which the Tigers will play four of the final six games of the season on the road. Galion travels to Jonathan Alder on Sept. 25 for a Week 5 match-up with the Pioneers.
Buckeye Valley travels to Fairbanks next week.
Reach Carter at 419-468-1117, ext. 2048, or on Twitter @ACGalionSports.