Pisgah football won the County Clash for the seventh year in a row Friday night.
Although there wasn’t much scoring in the 56th iteration of the rivalry game, which was featured for the 10th time in the Great American Rivalry Series, it was clear from the outset that Pisgah had control, and The Bears maintained that control all game to walk away with a 14-0 win.
Pisgah head coach Brett Chappell said the game came down to the fact that his team captured the momentum early and rallied with enough big plays to string together quality drives.
“We had some of those plays tonight,” he said.
“Just a really good job by our kids,” he added. “I thought special teams was sharp too. We had to have all three phases to win this game.”
After Tuscola began the game by going three and out, Pisgah executed a long, steady drive featuring several runs by Cain Early, who switched from receiver to running back to fill in for the injured Levi Cagle. However, despite taking the ball all the way down to The Mountaineers’ 3-yard-line, The Bears lost a gamble on fourth down and turned the ball over when quarterback Korey Griffith failed to reach the end zone on a keeper.
Early in the second quarter, the game still scoreless, Pisgah used a fierce running attack with Early and full back Hunter Cseledy to drive the ball 68 yards for the game’s first touchdown on a 4-yard rush by Early. Following a successful two-point conversion on a Kain Fortney run, The Bears took an 8-0 lead — a lead they’d carry into halftime.
Cseledy talked about how happy he was to not only contribute to the yards on the ground and also his ability to block.
“I love blocking for people,” he said. “That’s what I do as a fullback.”
Memorably, Cseledy left last year’s rivalry game early with a gruesome arm injury. He said he was excited to have one more chance to play in the game after playing in it his sophomore year then having to miss the ending last year.
“I said to the team, ‘last year I wasn’t here for the end, and I didn’t get to experience this. I would love to experience this one more time,’” he said. “I only got to experience it my sophomore year on varsity, but I just wanted to experience it one more time.”
Both teams went back and forth for the majority of the third quarter with little success until the Bears, after starting at their own 22, got the ball all the way to the Tuscola 4 but turned it over on a botched handoff to Early. It looked at first like Tuscola might be gaining traction, but the Milltown defense held strong after a couple Mountaineer first downs to force the punt.
Pisgah started with the ball at its own 40-yard line. After a long drive featuring multiple successful third-down conversion that ate precious time off the clock, Early again found the end zone on a 13-yard run. After a missed extra point, The Bears led 14-0 with just over 7 minutes left in the game.
Early finished the game with 28 rushes for 154 yards and the two touchdowns. For his efforts, he was named game MVP. Following the game, Early, who played running back up until high school, said he was happy to have the opportunity to step up in the place of the injured Cagle.
“They said I need to do it, and I was like, I’m the man for the job,” Early said. “If you want me in there, I’ll give it 110 percent.”
Chappell said he was happy with not only how Early adjusted, but also the rest of the team.
“What a devastating injury we suffered last week with Levi. He’s such a big part of what we do,” he said. “Cain was able to step in and fill that role for us tonight. It meant a lot of players had to start playing both ways.”
On the next drive, although Tuscola made some good things happen on offense, the team couldn’t gain the huge yardage needed on 3rd down and had to again punt, giving Pisgah the ball with under five minutes left as Tuscola fans began heading for the parking lot.
Throughout the game, Pisgah’s defense stifled the Mountaineer offense, stopping several runs at or behind the line of scrimmage while frequently forcing quarterback Coleman Bryson out of the pocket to avoid the pressure of the Bears’ front seven, which also managed to get a few sacks.
When discussing The Bears’ dominant defensive performance, Cseledy talked about the emphasis on stopping Bryson, who can gain serious yards if he gets outside the pocket and upfield.
“That’s something we worked on all week,” Cseledy said. “We worked on keeping pressure on the QB, because we knew if he scrambled we could get in trouble. But we’re just another Pisgah defense.”
While Pisgah finished the game with 381 yards of total offense, Tuscola only amassed 47 yards. In addition, Pisgah had 23 first downs to Tuscola’s four, which enabled the Bears to hold onto the ball much longer than The Mountaineers.
Tuscola Head Coach J.T. Postell said he was happy with how hard his defense played but admitted the offense fell flat, which he took responsibility for.
“I’m really proud of our kids,” he said. “I told them it’s not on them, it’s on me as the head coach. So, if anyone wants to blame people, they can start with me. That’s fine, because I’m very proud of their effort and the way they played for four quarters, especially our defense.”
Postell said he expects his team to bounce back though, and he is excited to hit the turf again next week at Enka.
“I feel like our leadership is good enough with our seniors and our captains that we’ll be able to bounce back … I told them we’ve got a long season ahead of us,” he said. “Conference play starts next week. It’s a new season, so we’ve just got to be ready to go.”
The Bears, on the other hand, will have the next week off, after which they will play East Rutherford. Chappell said he’s happy to get the break to let his players heal and rest, but he also said he’s looking forward to getting back to it.
“I’m excited for our kids,” he said. “You love to be able to tell your kids if we do this, this can happen. When it comes to fruition and the kids start believing it, that’s when you have magic that happens, and certainly we’re on that right now.”