After struggling through the first two weeks of the Mid-Ohio Athletic Conference schedule, Galion got on the right track and pulled off its first league win of 2015 on Friday. The Tigers benefited from big plays on special teams and defense to record a 24-21 win against Marion Harding, putting to rest a two-game losing streak.
“We needed this win,” said Galion head coach Chris Hawkins. “After the way things went for us the past two weeks, we really needed this one. We didn’t play great tonight, but we played with a lot of heart and made some great plays at the right time. I’m really proud of our team. Hopefully, this will get us going in the right direction for the rest of the season.”
Conner Moreton kicked a 35-yard field goal with 7:15 left in the fourth quarter to lift Galion (4-2, 1-2 MOAC) to the win. Moreton’s field goal capped off a 12-play, 51-yard drive that started with 22 seconds remaining in the third period. The Tigers overcame a holding penalty that erased a 7-yard run by Drake Barnett which would’ve given Galion a first and goal at the Harding 4.
Following a 2-yard run by Jacob Fryer and an incomplete pass attempt from Chase Cooke to Harrison Ivy, Moreton jogged onto the field for his potential game-winning attempt. He split the uprights to snap the 21-21 tie.
“That was huge,” said Hawkins. “That was the difference in the game. I was very happy for him. Conner’s a kid that takes (kicking) seriously. He’s hard on himself. He works hard and puts a lot of time into getting better each week.”
The Galion defense then came up with a big play to seal the win. The Presidents drove from their own 17 to the Tigers 41 and seemed to have all the momentum in their corner when disaster struck. Quarterback Ryan Sayre, who passed for two crucial first downs during the drive, hit Evan McGeorge for a 6-yard gain to the Galion 35, but McGeorge fumbled and Galion’s Drake Barnett scooped up the loose ball and returned it to the Tigers 47. From there, Galion went into victory formation and ran out the clock.
“We gave up some big plays, but we also made some big plays when we needed them,” Hawkins said. “We just kept battling. I’m really happy for our defensive guys and our defensive staff. They’ve worked hard and it paid off tonight at the right time.”
In addition to his key fumble recovery, Barnett rushed for 168 yards and two scores on 32 carries. Fryer carried the ball 10 times for 94 yards and a touchdown. Altogether, the Tigers rushed for 255 yards.
Quarterback Chase Cooke connected on 6-of-9 passes for 64 yards. Harrison Ivy caught two balls for 25 yards. Fryer made three catches for 22 yards and Barnett caught one pass for 17 yards. Galion finished with 319 total yards.
Harding quarterback Ryan Sayre passed for 158 yards and a touchdown. He completed 12-of-14 passes, but also threw an interception to Galion’s Tyler Castline midway through the first quarter. Sayre’s favorite target was T.J. Jefferson, who made five receptions for 104 yards, including a 61-yard scoring pass.
Titus Douglas rushed for 83 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries. Robert Abrams had five carries for 35 yards. Keyan Herrell only rushed for six yards, but scored one of Harding’s three touchdowns. The Presidents recorded 310 total yards.
Barnett put the first points of the game on the scoreboard with 7:27 to play in the first quarter. He scored on a 14-yard run that capped a 25-yard drive. Fryer gave the Tigers excellent field position after returning a short punt 22 yards to the Harding 25. However, the extra point was blocked, which left Galion with a 6-0 edge.
Harding (2-4, 2-1 MOAC) answered on the next possession, taking advantage of three big plays to cover 84 yards in less than two minutes. Big play No. 1 was a 19-yard run by Jefferson on a second and 12. Douglas then exploded for 46 yards to push the ball to the Galion 21. Two plays later, Douglas ripped off a 19-yard run around the left end for a touchdown. The ensuing extra point gave the Presidents a 7-6 edge with 5:39 to play.
Another short punt by Harding set up Galion at the 50 with 7:37 to play in the second period. Cooke connected with Ivy twice for 25 yards and found Barnett for 17 yards to push the Tigers to the Harding 7. From there, Barnett burst up the middle for a touchdown that gave Galion a 13-7 lead with 4:14 to play.
The Presidents regained the lead just before halftime when Sayre tossed a middle screen to Jefferson, who picked up blocks from a convoy of linemen and then out-paced the Tigers for a 61-yard touchdown with only 1:18 remaining in the half. That left the score 14-13 in favor of Harding.
Galion took advantage of another short field early in the third quarter to grab the lead once again. After setting up shop at the Harding 42, the Tigers needed just three plays to get into the end zone. Fryer did the honors, scoring on a 36-yard with 6:43 remaining in the third. Barnett scored the two-point conversion to give Galion a 21-14 lead.
Harding tied the game with 33 seconds to play in the third period. Keyan Herrell punched the ball into the end zone from two yards out to even the score at 21.
In the fourth quarter, Galion controlled the ball for more than 10 minutes, including the 5 minute, 7 second drive that ended with Moreton’s game-winning field goal. Harding had the ball twice for a total of 97 seconds, but both possessions ended in turnovers.
Galion will play host to River Valley next Friday at Unckrich Stadium. The Vikings (5-1, 3-0 MOAC) blew out Fairbanks, 46-8, in Week 6.
The Presidents play MOAC Red Division leader Jonathan Alder next week in Plain City. The Pioneers (5-1, 3-0 MOAC) defeated Buckeye Valley, 35-20, on Friday.
Reach Carter at 419-468-1117, ext. 2048, or on Twitter @ACGalionSports.