Wins count the same no matter what they look like and Oblong High School's football team took advantage of that Friday night (Sept. 1).
The Panthers had more than their share of struggles on the field, but they found a way to get the job done and rallied for a 22-15 win over Sangamon Valley in their home opener.
"We'll take it," OHS head coach Chad Pusey said. "The kids made plays when we needed them to and pulled it out and I'm proud of them."
Both teams got off to rough starts, as they had trouble hanging on to the football. Each team had seven fumbles in the game - which included several bad snaps on punts. But, the difference was Oblong did not lose any of their fumbles, while the Panthers recovered three of Sangamon Valley's and also recorded an interception.
"Our defense stole this one for us," Pusey said. "Our defense held up throughout the game and allowed our offense to get settled in and make some plays late."
After fumbles and punts highlighted most of the first quarter, Sangamon Valley put together a solid drive that looked like it would result in points. The Storm were set up with first-and-goal at the three, but the Panther defense held on four straight plays to keep Sangamon Valley out of the end zone.
However, a few minutes later, Sangamon Valley would return a punt deep into OHS territory and they would cash in this time with a nine-yard touchdown run by Mason Hemingway for a 7-0 lead with 6:13 left in the second quarter.
Oblong would take advantage of a Sangamon Valley miscue late in the half, as a snap that went over the punter's head gave the Panthers the ball at the 33 with just over two minutes left. Three plays later, Logan Richards connected with Zane Belford in the end zone for a 31-yard touchdown pass and Richards ran in the two-point conversion to give the Panthers an 8-7 lead at halftime.
At the start of the third quarter, Sangamon Valley looked poised to score again, as they recovered an onside kick, then marched down the field and again had first-and-goal at the three. But, the Panther defense was up to the task again, as they shut down Sangamon Valley on four straight plays, including fourth-and-goal at the one, to keep them out of the end zone.
Unfortunately, the momentum Oblong just grabbed quickly shifted back to Sangamon Valley. The Panthers were forced to punt on the ensuing possession and Sangamon Valley's Braden Summer picked up the ball after a strong punt by Richards and weaved his way through the OHS defenders for a 55-yard touchdown, then Isaac Fleck ran in the two-point conversion to give the Storm a 15-8 lead with 4:19 left in the third quarter.
Another Sangamon Valley miscue set up the Panthers next score, as Oblong recovered another bad snap on a punt at the 23. Jayce Fielder scored on the next play to pull OHS to within 15-14 with 8:05 remaining, but their two-point conversion attempt was unsuccessful.
But, the Oblong defense came up big again, forcing Sangamon Valley to punt on their next possession.
Oblong took over on their own 40 with 5:11 to play and was able to march down the field and score. Using the fresh legs of Nate Meese - who gained 42 yards on the drive - and the power running of Fielder, as well as a pass interference penalty on fourth down, the Panthers capped off the nine-play drive with a one-yard run by Fielder with 2:45 remaining. Richards then ran in the two-point conversion to put the Panthers up by seven.
Sangamon Valley answered with a long kickoff return to get them in Oblong territory, but the Panther defense held once again, stopping the Storm on fourth down at the 25.
Oblong was able to run out the clock, but not without some nervous moments. Facing a third-and-13, Meese received a pitch and scampered 12 yards, setting up and fourth-and-one at their own 35 with 29.6 seconds remaining. After a time-out, Oblong decided to go for it and ran a very similar play to the last one. However, as Meese looked like he was going to hit the hole and make the first down, the ball popped loose and fell to the turf. Fortunately, Jarrett Manhart was able to corral the loose ball past the first down marker, which retained possession for OHS and allowed them to run out the rest of the clock and secure the win.
The victory was the first in Pusey's career and he said to do it in front of the home crowd was special.
"I wanted to win this game so bad," Pusey said. "The seniors brought me the game ball after the game and that was awesome. I'll put it in a case and will treasure it forever."
With all the miscues in the game, neither team mounted much offense. Oblong had just 139 total yards, while Sangamon Valley had 161.
Meese led OHS with 55 yards rushing in seven attempts - all of which came in the fourth quarter, while Fielder posted 51 yards and two touchdowns on 14 attempts. Richards completed just two of his 14 passes, with both of them going to Belford for 38 yards and a touchdown.
"Nate really gave us a spark," Pusey said. "I thought we were well-conditioned and it showed late because they were tired. It was a good, tough, solid game and I'm glad we got the win."
Sangamon Valley was led by Hemingway with 108 yards and a touchdown on the ground in 35 attempts, while he also caught two passes for 25 yards.
At Ron Welsh Field, Oblong
Sangamon Valley 0 7 8 0 - 15
Oblong 0 8 0 14 - 22
SVHS 2Q (6:13) Mason Hemingway 9 run (Caleb Rutherford kick)