SUMMERSVILLE — Many of the difficulties and uncertainties of recent months were set aside for a couple hours Friday night in some of the state’s high school football stadiums.
While just glad to finally get out and mix it up with a foe, the Shady Spring Tigers also got some added pleasure out of the evening by holding off Nicholas County 29-27, ending the Grizzlies’ recent dominance since the series between the two schools resumed in 2015.
Veteran Shady Spring head coach Vince Culicerto was happy for his team, as well as for the Grizzlies, just to get to take the field.
“It’s crazy,” said Culicerto. “You’re practicing. ... We read the news. We know we might not play next week. We could, we could not.
“But all I told ‘em is ‘we’re playing tonight.’ Be happy for it; I don’t care how many fans are in the stands. We are playing tonight, and it’s high school football and it’s Friday and we’re playing. Take each game one at a time because for sure you don’t know when your next game’s going to be.”
After leading 22-19 at halftime, Shady Spring secured a 29-19 lead when Isaiah Valentine took a shovel pass from reserve quarterback Cameron Manns and scored from 8 yards out midway through the third quarter. The Grizzlies later responded with a Jordan McKinney 6-yard keeper, and Jeffrey Girod’s conversion pass from McKinney made it 29-27 with 2:27 remaining.
With the Tigers clinging to the two-point lead, the Grizzlies took over on downs with 1:40 to play in the fourth, seeking a big win in the closing minutes such as the ones they recorded in 2019 (19-13) and 2018 (26-24). They eventually faced a fourth-and-12 at the Shady 25 and, after a timeout, McKinney threw into the endzone for receiver Wesley Hill, with two Tigers defending, and the incompletion allowed the Tigers to take over and move into victory formation.
“Finally to beat them is good, because these boys have been real close the last couple years and have just been a play away, and that came to a play away again,” Culicerto said. “They (Nicholas) are young and we’re decently young. We’ve got some veterans, and there was lot of young boys stepped up for us tonight. You saw our 10th-grade quarterback. ... He throws the ball well. He made a couple mistakes; of course a 10th grader is going to.”
Taking over for injured starter Jared Lilly, Manns was 11 of 17 for 185 yards through the air. He tossed two touchdown passes and also scored on an 11-yard run.
“The second half defensively we went with a different set, and it worked better on their inside game,” said Culicerto.
“They were shredding us inside early, and they did a good job mixing up plays.”
“We just had to settle down and tackle better.”
“It’s good to finally get back out here after waiting so long and get a win,” said Shady Spring senior center Austin Gwinn. He admitted it’s been difficult “not knowing if you’re going to get to play.”
“All around, we played pretty good, everybody did.”
“Both teams are going to be very competitive and both teams are going to battle,” said Nicholas County coach Gene Morris. “It’s always a great contest. It’s always one of those deals where we’ve come out on the upper end a couple times and they came out this time.
“Their receiving corps is really good and they can move the ball through the air, and we just had a lot of trouble stopping (the passing game).”
Shady Spring drew first blood on a 38-yard run by Valentine with 17 seconds to go in the first quarter. McKinney’s 1-yard TD burst and the PAT kick from Brayden Short evened it up at 7-all with 8:54 left in the second frame.
On the Tigers’ next possession, Nicholas County’s Jacob Williams recovered a Shady Spring fumble, then the Grizzlies got a nice 35-yard completion from McKinney to Garrett Kesterson to the Shady 3. Williams plunged over two plays later for a 13-7 Nicholas lead.
With the score remaining 13-7, Manns stepped in and engineered a nice scoring drive for the Tigers that culminated with a 32-yard scoring pass to Jacob Showalter. Will Harmon’s PAT kick handed Shady a 14-13 lead with 4:55 left in the second.
The quarter was far from over, as Nicholas County grabbed the lead back at 19-14 on a 3-yard run by Williams with 1:15 to play.
Finally, Shady once again forged ahead with a 63-yard drive near the end of the first half. Manns completed a long pass to Jadon Hershberger, then Manns scored on an 11-yard keeper, and the conversion pass from Harmon to Hershberger put the Tigers up 22-19 going into the locker room at intermission.
On the evening, Valentine led the Tigers’ rushing attack with 76 yards. Hershberger caught seven aerials for 141 stripes.
For the Grizzlies, McKinney rushed for 128 yards and a pair of scores and threw for 116 yards, Williams had 55 rushing yards and two TDs, Kesterson hauled in three passes for 57 yards, and Girod had four catches for 33 yards.
Barring any Covid-19-related changes, Nicholas County is scheduled to play at Wyoming East at 7 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 11.
Shady Spring is set to visit Summers County at 7:30 p.m. on Friday.
Meanwhile, Fayette County squads will remain sidelined again this week due to being in orange status. Next up, provided the county goes into yellow or green status this Saturday night, is a Midland Trail-Meadow Bridge encounter in Meadow Bridge on Monday, Sept. 14 at 7:30 p.m. Oak Hill is slated for a Sept. 18 game at Lincoln County, but before that, the Red Devils plan on hosting Princeton at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 14.
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Shady Spring 29, Nicholas County 27
SS (1-0): 7 15 7 0 — 29
NC (0-1): 0 19 0 8 — 27
SS: Isaiah Valentine 38 run (Will Harmon kick), 0:17, 7-0
NC: Jordan McKinney 1 run (Brayden Short kick), 8:54, 7-7
NC: Jacob Williams 1 run (kick failed), 7:04, 13-7
SS: Jacob Showalter 32 pass from Cameron Manns (Harmon kick), 4:55, 14-13
NC: Williams 3 run (kick failed), 1:15, 19-14
SS: Manns 11 run (Jadon Hershberger pass from Harmon), 0:49, 22-19
SS: Valentine 8 pass from Manns (Harmon kick), 8:25, 29-19
NC: McKinney 6 run (Jeffrey Girod pass from McKinney), 2:27, 29-27
RUSHING — SS: Isaiah Valentine 14-76-1, Jadon Hershberger 11-42-0, Cameron Manns 5-17-1, Jacob Showalter 2-10-0. NC: Jordan McKinney 21-128-2, Jacob Williams 16-55-2, Kaleb Clark 5-12-0, Garrett Kesterson 2-8-0.
PASSING — SS: Cameron Manns 11-17-0-185-2, Jared Lilly 3-3-0-31-0. NC: Jordan McKinney 11-17-0-116-0, Jacob Williams 0-1-1-0-0.
RECEIVING — SS: Jadon Hershberger 7-141-0, Jacob Showalter 4-70-1, Isaiah Valentine 2-10-1, Tyler Mackey 1-13-0. NC: Jeffrey Girod 4-33-0, Garrett Kesterson, 3-57-0, Jacob Williams 2-5-0, Wesley Hill 1-11-0.
TAKEAWAYS — SS: Jacob Showalter (INT). NC: Jacob Williams (FR), Tyler Timmerman (FR)