BIDWELL, Ohio — Simply put, it was a prize fight until the very end.
Both teams played well enough to win, but the Meigs football team landed a few extra punches over the course of 48 minutes Friday night en route to a thrilling 26-21 victory over host River Valley in a pivotal Week 5 Tri-Valley Conference Ohio Division matchup at Raider Field in Gallia County.
The Marauders (4-1, 2-0 TVC Ohio) found themselves in an early 14-0 hole, but the guests reeled off 26 consecutive points over a span of 16:32 — which allowed the Maroon and Gold to take their largest lead of the night at 26-14 with 8:45 left in regulation.
The Raiders (4-1, 1-1), however, came up with a touchdown drive, cutting the deficit down to five points with just under six minutes to play.
MHS had its ensuing drive stall on an interception by Kirk Morrow, which gave River Valley one more chance at the win after taking over possession at its own 45 with 3:17 remaining.
The Raiders drove the ball down to the Meigs 31-yard line, but ultimately turned the ball over on downs with under a minute left. Meigs followed by taking two knees in the victory formation, then celebrated as the clock ticked down to all zeroes.
Both teams committed four turnovers in the steady drizzle of rain, and most of the statistical categories were even by night’s end. But in the end, it was Meigs that was sitting atop the TVC Ohio standings with Alexander at the midway point of the year.
Afterwards, MHS coach Mike Bartrum couldn’t find enough good things to say about his kids’ performance — as well as the effort that River Valley demonstrated in its only setback.
“First off, my hat’s off to Coach Sparling and River Valley. They really brought everything that they had tonight and they were ready to play from the opening kick,” Bartrum said. “I’m thankful that we were able to hang on there, and that score right before the half was really huge for us. River Valley had all the momentum before that play, so we felt lucky to get a little momentum headed into the second half.
“Our kids, they just persevere, and I’m really proud of them. We were rock solid tonight when we needed to be and we found a way to get it done. Win or lose, that was just a great game on both sides.”
Tre Craycraft picked off Zach Bartrum on Meigs’ opening play of the game, then Kirk Morrow followed by winning a jump ball in the end zone for an early 7-0 edge. Morrow’s score came from the arm of Dayton Hardway just 45 seconds into the contest.
The score remained that way until the 5:15 mark of the second canto, when Morrow again came down with a jump ball in the end zone — this time over two defenders — for a 14-0 cushion. Morrow’s second score also came from Hardway and covered a distance 28 yards.
But then, as Bartrum eluded to earlier, Meigs managed to catch a break before halftime. With RVHS facing a third-and-long from its own 22, Hardway appeared to be going down for a sack by Meigs’ defender Trae Hood. Instead, Hood ended up stripping the ball away, picked it up and scrambled 22 yards to paydirt.
Bartrum followed by finding Kaileb Sheets on a successful PAT pass, allowing Meigs to close to within 14-8 with 1:17 remaining in the half.
That momentum shift did indeed carry over into the second half, as the Marauders forced the hosts to punt on each of their first three drives. MHS, on the other hand, generated a pair of TD drives on its first two possessions of the third quarter — which eventually led to the first Maroon and Gold lead.
Meigs marched 53 yards in eight plays during its first drive of the second half, which led to a 14-all contest after Sheets marched in from three yards out with 7:05 left.
On their next possession, MHS quarterback Cody Bartrum found Sheets on a 49-yard scoring strike with 3:39 remaining — giving the Marauders 20-14 cushion.
Both teams traded punts, then RVHS caught a break after Meigs received a defensive penalty on the final play of the third stanza. With an untimed play at their disposal, the Raiders opted to run the ball on first down — but the ball was fumbled and picked up by Sheets at midfield.
Meigs went 50 yards in eight plays, with Cody Bartrum finding Sheets on a 17-yard pass play for a 26-14 cushion with 8:45 left in regulation.
River Valley responded on its next possession as the hosts covered 61 yards in 12 plays. Mark Wray hauled in a 48-yard pass from Hardway at the 5:46 mark to make it a 26-21 contest.
RVHS coach Jerrod Sparling was emotionally worn out following the first setback for his troops this year, but even he couldn’t help but feel some pride in his kids’ effort. He was also equally impressed with the Marauders afterwards.
“It’s disappointing, but I take my hat off to Coach Bartrum and his kids. They made more plays than we did, and at big times,” Sparling said. “Our execution wasn’t always there tonight, but nobody can fault our kids’ effort.
“You know, it was just a great football game. We’re disappointed with the outcome, but there are also a lot of positives to take away from tonight. We just have to regroup, move on and get ready for next week. There’s still a lot of football left to be played.”
Both teams ran the ball 41 times, with Meigs outgaining the hosts on the ground by a 182-90 margin. River Valley claimed a slim 14-12 edge in first downs, but the Marauders finished the night with a 303-251 advantage in total yards of offense.
Both teams also plenty of yellow flags on the night as the guests were penalized 11 times for 117 yards, while the Raiders were flagged 10 times for 102 yards.
Sheets led the Marauder rushing attack with 126 yards on 17 carries, followed by Cody Bartrum with 37 yards on 16 attempts. Bartrum was also 8-of-21 passing for 121 yards, throwing two TDs and two interceptions. Sheets led the wideouts with four grabs for 81 yards and two scores.
Wray led the Raiders with 59 rushing yards on 20 carries, followed by Justin Arrowood with 34 yards on 11 totes. Hardway finished the night 8-of-28 passing for 161 yards and three scores, while Morrow led the wideouts with six catches for 103 yards and two scores.
Both teams return to TVC Ohio action in Week 6. Meigs hosts Nelsonville-York and River Valley travels to Wellston for a pair of 7:30 p.m. contests Friday night.
Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.