By Steve Keenan
It’s a trend Valley coach Benny Hopkins realizes that, if it continues, will rise up and bite his team somewhere down the line.
The Class A No. 9 Greyhounds got off to a quick 14-0 start against No. 18 Midland Trail Friday at WVU Tech’s Martin Field, then survived a lackluster finish and limped home with a 14-6 triumph over the Patriots.
“That’s the way it’s been the past two to three weeks,” said Hopkins. “We start and stop.
“We didn’t play very well. The best part was taking the knee at the end of the game.”
“We just have to eliminate mental mistakes,” countered Midland Trail coach Joe Dean. “The kids played their hearts out.”
During the second half, game officials directed all of the game action toward one end zone to avoid problems created by a sewer leak at the other end of the field.
Prior to that, the teams had combined for all of the evening’s scoring.
Valley’s Keyshawn Payne intercepted a Jake Grimmett pass and, five plays later, the Greyhounds got a nice 39-yard touchdown burst from Darius Hutchinson with 7:55 left in the first to take a 6-0 lead.
After forcing Trail into its second straight three-and-out, Valley received a huge boost from freshman Henry Barron, who got several nice blocks from teammates and raced 81 yards to paydirt with a Grimmett punt that, combined with Matt Whiteside’s two-point conversion run, staked the hosts to a 14-0 lead.
But Trail didn’t wilt, responding with a 16-play, 67-yard drive that chewed up 7:34 and ended with three straight completions — with the last one being an 8-yard scoring hook-up from Grimmett to Ethan Barker with 9:52 left in the second period.
That would be the last of the scoring, however, as Midland was hampered by some key mistakes and 127 yards in penalties throughout the game, and Valley never got its offense going against the smaller Patriots.
Paced by Grimmett’s 128 rushing yards and 62 more through the air, Midland Trail outgained Valley 186-178. Thanks largely to the long Patriot possession in the first half, Valley had just 17 offensive plays in the first two quarters (including five in the first period), compared to 27 for Trail.
Valley’s leading running back, Cody Winter, was limited to 69 yards on 13 carries, and Hutchinson gained 58 yards and scored once on seven carries, but he coughed the ball up twice, with Valley losing one.
“We’re supposed to be able to block those guys up front,” Hopkins lamented. “And that kid (Grimmett) is a pretty hard-nosed runner.”
Still trailing 14-6, Grimmett and his teammates had a chance at a possible tie as the clock wound down in the fourth.
Following a shanked Winter punt, the Patriots took possession at the Valley 45 with 8:25 to go. Sparked by an impressive 16-yard run by Grimmett on third-and-14 — a play in which he was hemmed in by several Valley defenders but side-stepped his way to a first down — Midland Trail eventually faced a third-and-16 situation at the VHS 23. However, a Grimmett incompletion and a Trail personal foul led to a fourth-and-31 from the 38, and a Grimmett aerial fell incomplete and the ’Hounds took over on downs with 4:31 left.
On Midland’s final possession, Barron broke up a pass and Valley got the ball on downs again, this time with just :23.6 left.
Barron’s punt return score was the game’s turning point, Dean stressed.
“Special teams play was the difference,” he said. “That punt return should have not happened.
“Give Valley credit. They had great blocking and it was a nice run, but we can’t follow the play downfield.”
Midland Trail (5-4) closes out the regular season at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at home against PikeView.
“If we want even a chance at the playoffs, we have to take care of business Thursday,” said Dean.
Valley travels to Class AA No. 12 Summers County Friday to conclude the regular season.
Valley 14, Midland Trail 6
MT (5-4) 0 6 0 0 — 6
V (8-1) 14 0 0 0 — 14
V: Darius Hutchinson 39 run (run failed), 6-0, 7:55
V: Henry Barron 81 punt return (Matt Whiteside run), 14-0, 5:32
MT: Ethan Barker 8 pass from Jake Grimmett (kick failed), 14-6, 9:52
RUSHING — MT: Grimmett 25-128, Devon Steele 1-1, Garrett Coleman 1-1, Ryan Wilson 2-1, Paul Cooper 3-2, Glen Neal 1-(-1), Team 1-(-8). V: Cody Winter 13-69, Hutchinson 7-58-1, Whiteside 5-(-8), Raeshawn Breckenridge 5-14, Casey Stewart 2-12, Keyshawn Payne 2-12.
PASSING — MT: Grimmett 7-15-2-62-1, Neal 0-2-0-0-0. V: Whiteside 1-3-0-10-0, Breckenridge 0-1-0-0-0, Winter 1-1-0-6-0.
RECEIVING — MT: Barker 4-40-1, Steele 1-3, Wilson 2-19. V: Dante Wilkerson 1-10, Whiteside 1-6.
TURNOVERS — MT: Grimmett (FR). V: Payne (INT), Winter (INT).