VINCENT, Ohio — Just three times this year has an opponent held the Gallia Academy Blue Devils to less than 40 points.
Never have the Blue Devils been held off the scoreboard, even playing against the likes of undefeated Licking Heights and Division IV powerhouse Ironton.
So give an offense with that kind of resume five extra possessions, and it’ll lead to a pretty long night.
The Warren Warriors lost three fumbles and threw two interceptions while Gallia Academy scored on its first five possessions of the ball game as the Blue Devils took a commanding 52-21 win at Warren High School Friday night.
“We’ve had a habit of scoring points this year, so one of the things you want to do is limit our possessions. They weren’t able to do that,” said Gallia Academy football coach Mike Eddy.
Instead of limiting the Blue Devils opportunities, the Warriors gave them every chance they needed and then some.
Three times Warren put the football on the ground, losing all three fumbles, and twice more the Blue Devils were able to intercept quarterback Dylan Leffingwell’s pass.
Of the five turnovers, four of them led directly to points for the Blue Devils as Gallia Academy scored 24 points off the miscues.
“We gave them more help than they needed,” lamented Warren football coach Andy Schob.
It didn’t take long for the tempo of the game to establish itself, as the Blue Devils took the opening possession 80 yards on five plays with junior Ty Warnimont running 59 yards to the end zone for a 7-0 Gallia lead with 10:03 in the first quarter.
Warren answered that first score, as the ground game behind senior Austin Kuhn provided a counter-punch to the Blue Devil attack.
Kuhn had carries of 12, 15 and 12 yards on the drive before Jake Scott finished it off with a four-yard plunge to even the game at 7-7 with 5:22 to play in the first quarter.
Another touchback off the foot of Warren senior Chas Miller gave the Blue Devils the ball at their own 20, but again Gallia found the end zone in short fashion. A 16-yard run by quarterback Wade Jarrell capped another five play scoring drive for a 14-7 Gallia advantage.
The ensuing kickoff saw the first of the Warrior fumbles, as Warren lost the ball at their own 35 after the Blue Devils’ pooch-kick.
Four plays later, the third different Gallia player found paydirt as Cody Russell scored from one yard out with 1:18 in the opening stanza.
The Warriors turned the ball over on downs on their next possession, and Gallia needed just three plays to put another dagger into Warren’s hopes on homecoming night as Nick Clagg scored on a 39-yard run.
“We played horrible on defense in the first half,” Schob said.
A missed field goal gave the ball back to the Blue Devils, and Jarrell found Russell on a 10-yard touchdown pass to give Gallia a 35-7 advantage.
Warren scored as time expired in the first half when Leffingwell connected with Scott on a 3-yard pass to set the margin at 35-14 in favor of the Blue Devils.
The Warriors scoring drive featured a change in mentality, as Warren threw the ball 11 times in the series and didn’t attempt a single run. Prior to that, Warren had attempted just six passes and ran the ball 16.
Leffingwell completed 7-of-11 passes on the scoring drive and was 11-for-16 at the break, effectively keeping the Warriors in the game.
“He was able t o sit in the pocket and find the guy he wanted to throw to,” Eddy said.
However, the second half was a different story as Leffingwell completed just 6-of-14 pass attempts with two interceptions, one returned for a touchdown, as Gallia Academy focused on slowing down the senior quarterback.
“One of the things we talked to our kids about at halftime was being more aggressive on our pass coverage,” Eddy said.
Down by three scores at the break, the Warriors attempted to make a ball game of it in the early going of the second half, taking their first possession of the stanza all the way down to the Blue Devils’ 5-yard line.
Like the proverbial snake bite, the Warriors hurt themselves as they fumbled the ball away to Gallia Academy. For the first time in the game, Gallia failed to score when it had the football following the turnover, and again the Warriors tried to get back into the contest.
Once again the offense moved the ball, taking it down inside the Blue Devils’ 30 before another lost fumble stalled the drive.
“You’re not going to beat anybody, especially the best team in the league, when you make that many mistakes,” Schob said.
Gallia returned to form and turned that fumble into seven more points as Luke Pullins scored from five yards out with 3:10 in the third quarter.
The Blue Devils added a 25-yard field goal from kicker Dylan Saunders after the first Gallia Academy interception, and as Warren turned to the air again in an effort to get back into the game they scored their final points.
On the ensuing possession Leffingwell’s pass to David Ryan was bobbled, and batted into the air where Clagg corralled it and scampered 45 yards to paydirt for a 52-14 Gallia advantage.
Warren returned to the ground game to set the final score, with Kuhn busting through the hole for a 56-yard gain to set up his own score from nine yards out with 7:27 to play.
“They kept playing. They played hard,” Schob said
The Blue Devils travel to Logan next Friday to face the Chieftains.
Kevin Pierson is a sports writer for the Marietta Times in Marietta, Ohio.