Plugging holes in the lineup to keep his team’s season alive in the wake of several injuries, New Albany High School football coach Pat Samanich didn’t expect the Division II, Region 5 first-round home game against Northland on Nov. 8 to be easy.
But a handful of Eagles who switched positions helped extend their team’s season.
Top-seeded New Albany sprinted to a 28-0 lead on the eighth-seeded Vikings, survived a mistake-filled third quarter that led to three Northland touchdowns, then sealed a 35-21 win on Jalen Ward’s 38-yard touchdown run with 9 minutes, 23 seconds left at Veterans Field.
New Albany (10-1) overcame six fumbles, four of which were lost, and an interception to advance to a regional semifinal against fourth-seeded Mansfield Senior (11-0) on Nov. 15.
“We looked for a spark this week and moved Jalen into our wildcat. He provides a nice spark and when he gets a seam, he can run,” said Samanich, whose team was without leading receiver and defensive back Joe Siegenthaler and had several other players out or playing limited snaps. “It’s all hands on deck. We have our share of bumps and bruises. These guys know they have to go all out at this point in the season.”
Touchdown runs of 36 and 48 yards by O.B. Oppong and a 13-yard score for Wyatt Johnston staked New Albany to a 21-0 lead with 2:23 left in the first half. Johnston’s score came one play after Ward, a junior, intercepted Northland quarterback Nicholas Fischer.
Oppong finished with a team-high 110 yards rushing on only five carries.
Hayden George’s 1-yard run less than three minutes into the second half made it 28-0. But a 98-yard kickoff return by James Williams Jr. started a comeback for the Vikings, who had averaged 5.4 points in third quarters this season.
Malcolm Marshall scored from 34 yards on the Vikings’ next possession, and Nateshawn Hargrove’s 2-yard touchdown run as the third quarter ended made it 28-21. New Albany lost two fumbles in the quarter.
“We forced some turnovers and weren’t able to capitalize on enough of them,” said Northland coach Kevin Tooson, whose team finished 7-3. “They bounced back. The second quarter was awful. We were making uncharacteristic mistakes. We had to tell the guys not to let the playoff hoopla get to them. It’s still football.”
The Eagles regained control for good on their next series. Ward, ordinarily a cornerback who volunteered to play running back, took a handoff at Northland’s 38-yard line and was sprung free by a solid block from quarterback Tanner Cline inside the Vikings’ 15.
“When my name is called to step up, I step up,” Ward said. “I saw a wide-open hole, took it and I was gone.”
New Albany amassed 410 of its 415 total yards on the ground. Northland had 212 yards rushing and 168 passing.
Fischer was 16 of 29 with two interceptions and added 56 yards rushing on 21 carries.
NA—Oppong 36 run (Rolwing kick)
NA—Oppong 48 run (Rolwing kick)
NA—Johnston 13 run (Rolwing kick)
N—Williams Jr. 98 kickoff return (Bustos kick)
N—Marshall 34 run (Bustos kick)
N—Hargrove 2 run (Bustos kick)
NA—Ward 38 run (Rolwing kick)