DRESDEN – Tri-Valley coach Justin Buttermore likes to talk about juniors making the leap to seniors, and it was never more apparent then Friday’s season opener in Jack Anderson Stadium.
Scotties’ fans may not know much about quarterback Tyler McGee and wideout Logan Hittle, but the two seniors have quickly established themselves. McGee hit on 11 of 12 passes for 193 yards and three touchdowns, two to Hittle, as Tri-Valley overpowered neighboring rival Licking Valley 37-3.
They established the tone early. On the Scotties’ first play from scrimmage, McGee hit Hittle in the right flat. He cut quickly to the sideline and romped into the end zone, completing a 41-yard play just two minutes into the game. Chase Dinan, who also kicked a 23-yard field, was good on the first of his four extra points and Tri-Valley led 7-0.
“We just took what the defense gave us,” said Hittle, who had four catches for 103 yards. “Colin Slaboden had a huge block, and on my second one, I have to give a lot of credit to Quentin Gaiters and Bryce Goss for their blocks.”
Buttermore thought play action might work against the Panthers because of their aggressiveness against the run.
“We thought the flat might be open, and once the outside linebacker bit, the play was there,” McGee said. “I had a few butterflies in the locker room before the game, but my teammates were with me, and they’re my brothers. I expected to play well, but didn’t expect three touchdown passes. We sent a pretty good message, that we’re still OK and are still going to be hard to beat.”
Licking Valley came up two yards short on a fake punt. Two plays later, McGee zipped a 13-yard TD pass to Slaboden on a slant and it was quickly 14-0.
The Panthers responded by driving 61 yards in 14 plays to the Scotties’ 12, but had to settle for Elijah Brechbill’s 29-yard field goal. Quarterback Zack Hatfield found Gunnar Carpenter for 13 yards on a swing pass and tight end Luke Kozlowski for 13 yards on fourth-and-9 before the drive stalled.
Licking Valley came back to pick up a big first down, when Bailey Hayden ran for 4 yards on a fourth-and-1 to Tri-Valley’s 42. But Greg Nolder sacked Hatfield for a 6-yard loss. Shortly later, Hittle made an amazing 41-yard, one-handed grab from McGee to the Panthers’ 21. It set up McGee’s 7-yard TD keeper as the Scotties led 20-3.
“It was really a freak play, but I guess you have to act like you’ve been there before,” Hittle said.
Leading 23-3, Tri-Valley came out strong to start the second half and triggered the running clock.
“We still remember two years ago, here against them, when we didn’t come out strong and they came back and beat us,” Buttermore said. “This time, we didn’t let that happen here.”
The Scotties charged 80 yards in 10 plays with the second half kickoff, McGee hitting Slaboden for 23 yards on an over-the-shoulder sideline route catch. He then hooked up with Hittle for an 18-yard touchdown down the right sideline. Slaboden led Tri-Valley with five receptions for 74 yards.
Sophomore backup quarterback Andrew Newsom later capped a short drive with a 3-yard, second-effort touchdown with 3:13 left in the third quarter, making it 37-3.
“I think we made a little statement tonight,” Hittle said. “Teams think we’re going to be down, but we still have a lot of weapons.”
He didn’t have to convince Panthers’ coach Randy Baughman.
“I think their defense is better than last year’s, and that’s saying a lot,” Baughman said. “They’re just so physical. We knew coming in, we were outmanned, so we needed to create some turnovers and weren’t able to do it. They’re not just big and strong, they have tremendous skilled players. That’s as good of a football team as we’ve seen in a long time.”
Licking Valley was held to seven first downs, one in the second half, and 118 total yards to 363 by the Scotties. Hayden had 23 yards on 11 carries. Brechbill caught three passes for 24 yards and Tommy Klein three for 21 yards.
For more photos by Shane Flanigan and a video from Dave Weidig, go to NewarkAdvocate.com.
For more photos by Shane Flanigan and a video from Dave Weidig, go to ZanesvilleTimesRecorder.com.