By Stephen Smoot
A full moon rose large and bright over the eastern ridge of the South Branch Valley at Moorefield. Its presence gave a hint of what lay in store for both squads as they clashed last Friday night.
Moorefield saw its senior night almost like a playoff game. With the Yellow Jackets being blown down by the Golden Tornadoes last week and traveling Friday to Greenbrier West, Pendleton County represented Moorefield’s last good chance at a win.
The Wildcats, however, sat at the edge of the playoff picture, needing a big win over a troublesome rival to stay in the discussion.
From the start, Moorefield looked more like their teams of old than the one that has struggled much of this year. After returning the kickoff to their own 32, the Yellow Jackets promptly took a sweep right up the sideline for a first play touchdown. The kick made the game 7 to 0 before the capacity crowd had even fully sat down.
Moorefield’s kickoff resulted in a touchback. Pendleton County struggled to move the ball, then threw an interception to give the ball back at their own 31. Three plays later, the Yellow Jackets lost the ball on a fumble at the Wildcat 20.
On their second drive, Pendleton County’s offense found its footing. Dillon Smith accelerated for a 21-yard gain to the Wildcat 41. Seven plays later, however, the Yellow Jackets forced another interception. This time they capitalized with just under three minutes left in the quarter, extending their lead to 13 to 0.
Playing at Moorefield means enduring a cavalcade of continual cacophony, from the band, to the raucous crowd, to random sound effects. One feels more as if they are attending a soccer game in Brazil than a high school game in West Virginia.
Gabe Harvey returned the kickoff to his own 35. On the next three plays, Smith gained 12 yards to give his team a first down. Moorefield gave up 30 yards of penalties on the drive with pass interference and personal foul penalties. With first and 10 at the 15 opening the second quarter, James Vincell found Smith in the endzone for the first of many Wildcat scores.
Moorefield answered quickly, with two big runs, then a 60-yard scoring strike to extend their lead to 20 to 7. The Wildcats took over at their own 28. Moorefield’s defense held them in check and a short punt gave the Yellow Jackets strong field position at the Wildcat 45. A 10-play drive resulted in another Yellow Jacket touchdown, pushing their lead to 28 to 7.
Pendleton County kept battling. They took the ball with 3:38 left in the first half at their own 20. Vincell fired a nine-yard pass to Josiah Kimble, followed by Smith running right to his team’s 44. On first down, Chase Owens sidestepped a would be tackler and drove into Moorefield territory. Two plays later, on first down at the Moorefield 22, Kimble beat man coverage and hauled in a Vincell pass to cut the Yellow Jacket lead in half.
With just over two minutes left in the half, Moorefield took two plays to travel 65 yards to score again, the kick putting their lead at 35 to 14. Pendleton County took the ensuing kickoff at their own 20. Vincell found Owens for an 18-yard pass play. Two plays later, Corbin Dove caught another pinpoint pass two yards shy of the endzone. A Smith dive with 55.5 seconds left let the home team know that the Wildcats had no intention of conceding effort.
Moorefield recovered the onside kick at their own 47. A pass interference call gave them the Wildcat 32 with 30 seconds, but Owens ended their drive with an interception. Pendleton County kneeled with six seconds left to end the half down 35 to 20.
The Wildcats took the opening kickoff of the second half at the 18, but lost yardage and kicked another short punt to their own 30. Moorefield took three plays to score with 10 minutes left in the quarter. Six minutes later, they scored again after a five play 78-yard drive to earn a 48 to 20 lead with just over four and a half minutes in the third quarter.
Every Moorefield backer at that game will remember those numbers when they think of this game. Just as every Pendleton County fan, parent, player, and coach will always remember New York Yankee great Yogi Berra’s preaching about “it ain’t over ‘till it’s over.”
It certainly was not yet over. The full moon had ascended high above the stadium by now, and started to work its magic.
After the kickoff, three plays advanced the Wildcats from the 18 to their own 43. Then, Smith took the ball up the middle. That, plus yet another Moorefield personal foul, set the visiting team at the Moorefield 38. Three plays later, Pendleton County reached the 14, but was set back by a holding penalty to the 24.
On third down and 14 from the Moorefield 16, Vincell hit Kimble in the right corner of the endzone. The kick after was tipped, but still had the power to split the uprights, making the score 48 to 27 with 1:20 remaining in the third.
Once again, Pendleton County attempted an onside kick that Moorefield corralled. No matter, because two plays later Dove snagged an interception and returned the ball to the Moorefield 42. On second and nine, Vincell passed over the middle downfield to Kimble, who took a titanic hit, but held on to give his team a first down at the 28. On the next play, with just over 11 minutes remaining in regulation, Dusty Smith hauled in a touchdown pass to close the lead to 48 to 33.
The Wildcats recovered an onside kick with 10:42 remaining. Dillon Smith again took off up the middle, and again Moorefield helped his cause with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that advanced the offense to the Yellow Jacket 19.
The band, the Moorefield crowd, and the weird sound effects had long since disappeared. Quiet reigned on the home side, while the visiting fans cheered at least the effort, if not the hope of getting the upper hand.
Dusty Smith took a pass to the nine, followed by an Owens run to the two. Two plays later, Owens bulled his way in for a touchdown. The point after brought the Wildcats within a touchdown and a two point conversion, 48 to 40 with 8:30 left.
Moorefield took the kick at the 35. They methodically attacked the Pendleton County defense with powerful runs designed to eat both yardage and clock.
Seven plays later, they had first and goal at the Wildcat eight and ran for three yards to the five. On second and goal from the five, they tried an option right that James Kuykendall quickly spotted and snuffed out at the two. On third down, they challenged the middle of the Wildcat defensive line with a quarterback keeper, but came about a half yard short – maybe even closer.
Fourth down saw Moorefield again try to power their way through the middle, but to no avail. Pendleton County shut the door on the score, but had the entire length of the field to travel to tie.
They took over with 3:08 left fumbling forward on first down, and gaining one in the recovery. Two plays later, on third and nine at the two, Vincell executed a play action fake and tossed a swing pass to Dillon Smith who reached the 20 and a first down. Dusty Smith pulled in a pass and reached the 32 for another first down.
Two plays later, Owens ran up the middle to the Yellow Jacket 42. Dusty Smith then on second and 13, after a Wildcat penalty, caught a pass, ran up field, then out of bounds at the 20. Moorefield called time out with 21 seconds left, but the next play was a pass to Owens at the Moorefield 1. Dillon Smith took the one-yard plunge with 13 seconds to play in regulation.
Pendleton County still needed two points to tie, but found them when Vincell rolled right and hit Kimble in the endzone.
Moorefield took the kickoff, kneeled, and the game went to overtime, but not before the stadium lights shut off, due to a preset timer.
Once the lights came back on, Moorefield won the toss and elected to start on defense. In high school and college overtime, each team gets an opportunity to start a possession at the opponents’ 20. The Wildcats’ first play saw Dillon Smith run to the 10, followed by a pass two plays later to the same player that put the ball at the two. On third down, the Wildcats fumbled, but on fourth, Dillon Smith powered in for the score. Harvey’s kick added to Pendleton County’s first lead of the day 55 to 48.
Moorefield tied the game in their possession, then took over again on offense. During high school and college overtimes, teams will switch off as they go from one overtime to the next because the team going last has the advantage.
The Yellow Jackets could not move the ball at all in this possession. On third and 10, Dusty Smith dove in front of the receiver and broke up a pass at the five to force Moorefield to kick a field goal, which they completed to take the lead by three.
Pendleton County then took over. On first down, Vincell hit Dillon Smith with a pass. He made one man miss to gain six yards. With second and four, a false start pushed the offense back to the 19.
Then came the final, memorable, play.
A second and nine snap flew over Vincell’s head. He ran back, grabbed the ball, and took a half second to compose himself. Vincell then ran right and fired the ball into the hands of a streaking Kimble, who grabbed the pass in the endzone.
The score ended at 61 to 58, but no ecstatic Pendleton County fans could take a photo because the scoreboard shut down within seconds of the win.
Pendleton County’s offense exploded, gaining 560 total yards of offense. Dillon Smith had 22 rushes for 114 yards, two touchdowns and earned 101 yards receiving. He also led the team in tackles with 13. Owens had nine rushes for 58 yards and two touchdowns, while pulling in four catches for 53.
Kimble led all receivers with 10 catches for 103 yards, three touchdowns, and a two-point conversion. Dusty Smith had six catches for 93 yards and a touchdown as well.
Vincell threw 29 times out of 41 attempts and gained 385 yards.
After the game, Zac Smith, head coach, called the game “a testament to our kids,” adding that “it’s going to go down in history for the rest of their lives.”
“We found a way to hang in there and make the stop at the end,” Smith also stated.
On the same night, several teams at the lower end of the single A playoff picture all lost. Friday sees the Wildcats making the long trek to #7 Cameron. A win likely cinches a playoff berth. A loss does not necessarily keep them out, but makes their chances much less likely.