Licking Valley and Heath both came out in different defensive looks Friday night, but that didn’t put a damper on the showdown between Drew McArtor and Donyelle Simpson.
The stellar tailbacks combined for 437 yards and eight touchdowns, with Simpson even throwing for a score. However, the visiting Panthers used a pair of fumble recoveries and an onside kick to win a 48-34 Mid-State League-Ohio Division shootout at Swank Field, securing a share of conference title with Newark Catholic and Granville.
“They couldn’t stop us and we couldn’t stop them,” Heath coach Mark Collier said. “We gave them three extra possessions and two short fields, and they knocked in the birdie putts.”
“I didn’t think that game was going to end,” Valley coach Randy Baughman said.
Simpson, who ran for 229 yards on 26 carries, falling just shy of 2,000 yards for the season, ran 55 yards for a touchdown with 5:52 left in the third quarter, then scored on a 2-yard run starting the fourth as the Bulldogs (4-5, 3-4) suddenly pulled within 35-27. They then forced a Valley punt.
But Heath fumbled the punt and Damon Hupp recovered at the Bulldog 41. McArtor, who ran for 208 yards on 38 carries, later scored on a 1-yard run after Tyler Nethers hit Devin Carr for 24 yards between two defenders on third-and-10.
“It was a great catch, and he made big catches for us all year,” Baughman said. “He made a great adjustment on the ball. He made himself into a football player, and came farther for us than almost anyone I can remember.”
Mason Brehm pounced on another Heath fumble later, and McArtor’s fifth touchdown of the night, on an 8-yard run, had Valley (7-3, 6-1) back in command at 48-27. Tristan Weaver’s 30-yard TD burst up the middle with 4:10 left pulled the Bulldogs within the final margin.
Heath stunned Valley early on when Kameron Herring’s 54-yard run set up Simpson’s 5-yard score . But McArtor had TD runs of 5 and 15 yards as the Panthers led 14-7.
Simpson threw a 53-yard TD pass out of the wildcat to a wide open Marc Manning as the Bulldogs forged a 14-14 tie. But Hunter Hartshorn dragged two tacklers 10 yards into the end zone, completing a 42-yard run. Then, punter Justin Holman perfectly executed an onside kick caught after 11 yards by teammate Tanner Nethers, and Hartshorn’s 1-yard run had Valley up 28-14 at halftime.
McArtor said his blockers executed well against an aggressive Heath scheme.
“Hartshorn and the line did an excellent job; they blitzed a lot and they picked it up,” he said. “They had (Adam) Hunt and (Trent Baker) up the middle and guys coming from the outside. I just followed Hartshorn, (Mason) Brehm and (Nathan) McCown.”
“It was really challenging; they were pinching in and we tried to read them,” said senior tackle Jacob Cotrell.
The Panthers missed the playoffs but will savor their share of the title.
“We’ve been playing together for like 10 years, since biddy league,” McArtor said of the seniors. “We’re really tight. Coach said we won the MSL in the first year, and we wanted to win it in the last.”
“Going out with a championship is a big honor,” Cotrell said.
In a season marked by numerous injuries, the Panthers persevered, Baughman said.
“We hung in there all year,” he said. “Some people counted us out, more than once. I’m real proud, especially of our seniors.”