Tyler Hart, Contributor
PIKETON — The beat goes on for the Piketon Redstreaks. But by the skin of their teeth.
Behind the usual suspects, Piketon (4-0, 1-0 SVC) stayed perfect on Friday with a hard-fought 28-24 win over Zane Trace to open Scioto Valley Conference play — but not before the Pioneers gave the ‘Streaks everything they could handle and then some.
“I was kind of nervous there for a second,” Piketon quarterback Levi Gullion said. “But I had faith in our defense that they’d get a stop. We’ve got a lot to work on. We’ve got to keep going into practice every day and we can’t take any days off.”
Zane Trace (2-2, 0-1 SVC) opened the game with a long drive, consisting of rushes from Blake Phillips, Ben Nichols and Daniel Barnhart. Phillips finished the Pioneers’ opening drive with a powerful effort to get into the end zone. Noah Fetters capped the drive with a PAT, giving the Pioneers a 7-0 lead with 5:48 to play in the first quarter.
Just as Piketon was ready to showcase its offensive prowess, a fumble on the ensuing kickoff put a halt to allow that to happen.
Zane Trace was able to fall on the loose ball, once again putting itself in striking distance at the Redstreaks’ 8-yard line. The Pioneers then punched in their second touchdown of the night with a Nichols to Barnhart connection.
Nichols rolled out of the pocket and found Barnhart sitting downfield. Barnhart made the catch and plowed through a Piketon defender to score a 19-yard touchdown, making it a 14-0 lead at the 4:20 mark in the first.
Piketon, however, wasted no time in responding.
The Redstreaks’ first offensive possession was capped by a beautiful over-the-shoulder grab from Johnny Burton. Guillion found Burton in the end zone from 19 yards out with 1:19 left in the first, cutting ZT’s lead to 14-6 — a failed two-point try.
Following a defensive stop, the Redstreaks struck again for the first score of the second quarter.
Piketon covered 88 yards with five plays as Zane Thacker punched the team’s second score in from two yards out. Following a second failed two-point try, the Pioneers’ had dwindled to 14-12.
“We keep the work up and we keep putting it in during practice,” Piketon’s Zane Brownfield said. “This week, we did a lot of first team versus first team and that helped a lot.”
After Zane Trace’s next drive stalled, the Redstreaks again found paydirt.
Led by an impressive display from Gullion, on the ground and in the air, Piketon drove 91 yards for a touchdown — a sequence that ended with a seven-yard rushing touchdown from Gullion. With 4:01 to play in the first half, the Redstreaks had their first lead at 20-14.
But Zane Trace had an answer.
The Pioneers drove to the Redstreaks’ 15-yard line before a holding call and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty returned the ball to the 35-yard line. A short carry by Nichols led to kicker Noah Fetters closing out the half with a 30-yard field goal, making it a 20-17 halftime tally.
While offense was the story of the first half, defense took center stage in the second.
Zane Trace’s defense was able to intercept Gullion twice in the third quarter on back-to-back drives. The first interception came at the 10:21 mark where Gullion’s pass was tipped at the line. The Pioneers’ Braedyn Barrett was in the area to come away with the football.
Following the interception, the Pioneers cashed in on a drive that ended with a one-yard touchdown run from Barnhart — one that came on a 4th and goal play. That gave ZT a 24-20 lead.
On the next drive, Gullion was picked off again, this time at Zane Trace’s nine-yard line. The Pioneers closed out the third quarter with a lead but with 10:21 left in the fourth, they were forced to punt.
That turned out to be a game-changing play.
The Pioneers’ ran a fake punt but it was sniffed out and intercepted by Brownfield. He ran it back to midfield with 10:10 left on the clock.
Gullion and Camren Loar then connected for a 42-yard gain to open the drive. Then, from eight yards out with 9:57 remaining, Gullion took it to the house on another keeper to make it a 28-24 ballgame — a successful two-point try via Gullion.
Both defenses then made multiple stops as the clock continued to tick.
Zane Trace had the last opportunity to find the end zone late in the game, but Loar sealed the win.
On a 3rd and 14 play at Zane Trace’s 17-yard line, and with nine seconds to play, Loar picked off a pass and ran out the clock, keeping Piketon perfect on the season.
“Offensively, I was struggling. I was making dumb decisions,” Gullion said. “That kind of fueled my play on defense. I have to do a better job of recovering after I make those mistakes. I need to keep a positive attitude. If not, it rubs off on the other guys.”
Piketon will look to keep it rolling next Friday at Unioto before they return home on Sept. 24 against Paint Valley. Meanwhile, Zane Trace travels to Huntington in Week 5.