By Stephen Smoot
Pendleton County hosted Petersburg on a rare Saturday evening battle that has, due to shortages of game officials, become another sign of the understaffed times. The fans attending the game enjoyed a victory of sorts. The National Weather Service had forecasted a deluge similar to that which drowned the game against Petersburg last year, but the gray clouds broke before the game. The field and stands remained dry.
The Vikings came into town with two huge wins in their pocket. They defeated double A Berkeley Springs 46-0 and Buffalo 39-0. Pendleton County, on the other hand, faced two of the top teams in single A. In both games, the Wildcats started well and fought hard, but were overcome in the end by tough competition.
The West Virginia Army National Guard marked this game as part of their statewide gridiron series that recognizes the contributions of both veterans and current military. Wildcat players wore dark combat fatigue style uniforms with black numbers. Although sleek and stylish, the color scheme sometimes made the Pendleton County players difficult to identify.
Chase Owens took the opening kickoff from the 10 and returned it to the 30. Petersburg called time out before the first snap of the ball and reset their defense. The Wildcats could gain no traction in their first drive, losing 15 yards in the series, and kicked a short punt out of bounds.
Petersburg’s offense at the outset of the game appeared to pick up where they left off in their first two games. They started at the Wildcat 33, throwing a first down pass to the 20, followed by a seven-yard run. Two plays later, their running back took the ball into the endzone for the first score of the game. The kick was good, giving them a 7-0 lead.
Pendleton County again took the kickoff. Josiah Kimble took the kick this time, advancing from the five to the 23-yard line. Quarterback James Vincell then used a sharp count to draw the defense offsides. With a more manageable yardage to first down, Dillon Smith ran off left tackle for a gain of six. After two incomplete passes, one tipped at the line, Vincell found Owens at the 45. Owens then drove up the field to the 20 for a total completion of 47 yards. Owens then took another pass down to the nine-yard line. Two plays later, a Wildcat ran off left tackle to earn a Pendleton County touchdown followed by a Gabe Harvey kick to tie the contest at seven.
The two teams traded punts through the rest of the quarter. As the game entered the second quarter, the offensive line for Pendleton County gained confidence and blocked well. Vincell had time to find receivers downfield, while the backs found holes. Smith used his strength and speed to drag piles and accelerate through holes. Kimble, Owens, and Justus Kuykendall gave their quarterback great targets to hit in both short distance and downfield.
Petersburg’s defense, however, remained disruptive. They forced a fumble with 8:07 left in the second quarter, and their linemen proved proficient at batting passes out of the air at the line of scrimmage.
The Wildcat defensive unit played very well after the first series. Over the course of the game, Viking backs found running room difficult. Petersburg’s offense utilized misdirection, fakes, and different handoffs, but generally failed to fool the defense. Defenders also made big plays, such as when Harvey snagged a Viking pass with 6:49 left in the second.
Petersburg closed out the half with one of their most efficient drives of the game. They took the ball 40 yards in just over three minutes on 12 plays. The Wildcats only allowed one big play, a 37-yard pass that put them at the Wildcat 44 with about three minutes to go. Petersburg drove to the 30 where they had a fourth and eight. Owens broke up the pass at the 15 and the Wildcats kneeled to run out the last 22 seconds.
The Vikings took possession at the commencement of the third quarter. They started at their own 30, methodically working their way down the field. Pendleton County forced a fourth and nine just shy of midfield. Although the Wildcat coaching staff seemed to sniff out the fake, a precise pass split the defense at the home team 25. Four plays later, Petersburg ran up the middle for a touchdown. The extra point made it 14-7.
Exchanges of drives and punts left Pendleton County deep in their own territory at the five with 5:17 left in the game. Though limited to a touchdown in the game, the Wildcats, behind stout blocking by the offensive line, continued to move the ball. The high powered Viking scoring machine found touchdowns hard to earn against the stingy defense.
Petersburg’s defense gained their team breathing room with about five minutes to play. They picked a pass and returned it to the endzone. The ensuing kick made it 21-7, which was the final score in the contest.
The final score did not reflect the closeness of the game, nor did it indicate that the Wildcats gained poise and confidence as the game wore on. Bad bounces and a few ill-timed mistakes made the difference.
On Friday, the Wildcats may likely earn some festive treasure of their own as the Richwood Lumberjacks come up into the mountains to Franklin.