GALLIPOLIS, Ohio — Fans of offense loved the 81st Battle of the Bridge.
The Point Pleasant and Gallia Academy football teams combined for 105 points and 663 yards of total offense Friday night, as the visiting Big Blacks claimed a 76-29 victory at Memorial Field.
Point Pleasant (5-0) scored the game’s opening points at the 11:23 mark of the first quarter, as junior Grant Safford found paydirt from 13 yards out. Jason Schultz added the extra point to cap off the two-play drive and give PPHS a 7-0 lead.
Gallia Academy (0-5) had an opportunity to answer right away, as a first down pass from Devin Henry to Kole Carter went 63 yards and gave the Blue Devils a first-and-goal. The Blue and White punched the ball in the endzone at the 9:03 mark of the first, when Carter completed an eight-yard pass to Blue Devils senior Matt Bailey. The point after attempt was unsuccessful and the Big Blacks led 7-6.
Point Pleasant expanded its lead to 28-6 by the end of the first quarter, thanks in large part to Marshall University verbal commit Cody Mitchell. Mitchell — the Big Blacks all-time leading rusher — scored on a one-yard run with 7:14 remaining in the first, on a 56-yard punt return at the 6:00 mark, and again with a 17-yard run with 47 seconds left in the opening stanza.
The Blue Devils pulled within two scores of PPHS at the 10:24 mark of the second period, when Henry caught a 63-yard scoring pass from Carter. Carter found Henry again for the two-point conversion and GAHS trailed 28-14.
Mitchell struck again for Red, White and Black at the 8:41 mark of the second, this time on a 37 yard run. The Big Blacks needed less than 40 seconds to score again after Mitchell’s jaunt, as senior Cody McDaniel picked off a Kole Carter pass and returned it 18 yards for six points. Shultz was successful on both point after attempts and PPHS led 42-14.
The Big Blacks found paydirt one more time in the first half, as freshman signal caller Cason Payne found senior Garrett Litchfield on a 31 yard scoring pass. Shultz’s extra point gave the Big Blacks a 49-14 lead with 4:08 remaining in the first half.
The GAHS offense posted its final touchdown of the first half with just 39 seconds left, as Carter found Bailey from 15 yards out. Bailey added the point after and the Blue Devils headed into halftime trailing 49-21.
Gallia Academy was forced to punt on the opening drive of the second half, and Mitchell returned it 67 yards to give PPHS a 55-21 lead at the 10:43 mark of the third.
Point Pleasant increased its lead twice more in the third quarter, first on a four-yard run by Jason Wamsley with 7:49 remaining and again on a three-yard run by Safford with 3:40 remaining. The Big Blacks’ final score of the night came just 10 seconds into the fourth quarter, when senior Nathan Bowman scored from one yard out. Shultz connected on his final three extra points and PPHS led 76-21.
Gallia Academy’s final points of the night came on a 54-yard pass play from freshman Justin McClelland to sophomore Clay Plymale. McClelland completed the two-point conversion pass to Cole Davis with 8:40 remaining in the game, and the Blue Devils fell by a final of 76-29.
“All year we’ve been playing lights out offensively, and this was another great night,” PPHS head coach Dave Darst said. “Cody Mitchell had another tremendous night, as did Grant Safford. It was just one of those nights, and I’m real proud of them. I think Gallipolis played exceptionally well, my hat’s off to coach Riffe for what they’ve done over here. Their kids came to play tonight.”
The Big Blacks, held a 16-to-8 advantage in first downs and a 377-to-286 advantage in total yards, including 332-to-48 on the ground.
“We knew that we had a big task in front of us and we knew what to expect from them,” Gallia Academy head coach Josh Riffe said. “We’re not okay with ever losing, but we do appreciate when our guys fight and stay in the game. It’s important to still compete even when the odds are stacked against you, that shows character and that’s something you can build on.”
Safford scored twice and led the PPHS offensive attack with 163 yards on 13 carries, with one reception for 16 yards. Mitchell — who found paydirt five times — gained 155 yards on 12 carries, while completing 2-of-5 pass attempts for 14 yards, with one interception.
Gallia Academy was led by Carter with 36 yards on 16 carries, 63 yards on one reception, while completing 11-of-26 pass attempts for 121 yards, with an interception. Henry caught four passes for 69 yards, had one rush for seven yards, and completed his only pass for 63 yards. Bailey hauled in seven passes for a total 50 yards for the Blue and White.
Point Pleasant, who expanded its state-best regular season winning streak to 28, has now won two straight over GAHS, but the Blue Devils still hold a 40-36-5 record all time against PPHS.
“We’re blessed to have that,” Darst said of the 28-game regular season winning streak. “The kids have bought in to what we’re doing and we’re proud of them. I’m proud of my coaching staff, we work so hard and the old cliche is that hard work pays off. We’ll ride the streak as long as we can and if not, then we’ll start a new one.”
The Big Blacks were penalized seven times for 77 yards, while GAHS was sent back four times for 35 yards. PPHS finished with 236 return yards, while GAHS finished with 109.
Next week, the Big Blacks will travel to face Parkersburg South, which is 3-1 and coming off of a bye week.
“We’re going to have to sure up our secondary a little bit, because (Parkersburg) South is going to be a big throwing football team,” said Darst. “They were open tonight, so I’m sure they were here and they think they have some places where they can attack us. Our kids are going to have to play physical football, take advantage of our opportunities on offense and hope we can slow them down defensively.”
Gallia Academy, who honored its 2015 hall of fame class at halftime, will return to Memorial Field next week to face 2-3 Athens.
“We fell like every game is a winable game for us,” Riffe said. “We’re 0-5 right now, but we could easily be 3-2. In three games we’ve been within a touchdown in the fourth quarter and we should have a chance to win those games. We have to get passed this one, we can’t let this game beat us next week.”
Alex Hawley can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2100.