Ryan Numberger, Contributor
KINNIKINNICK — A team’s true identity is usually shown during the midst of adversity.
After a hard-fought 28-24 road loss to Piketon two week ago, Zane Trace was handed a dose of adversity.
But the Pioneers have responded to that punch. After a win over Huntington last week, ZT continued to get back on track with an explosive performance on both sides of the football.
In a game most predicted to be a blowout heading into Friday night, the Pioneers (4-2, 2-1 SVC) made sure to cover the spread while showing their prowess early and often before cruising to a 49-12 win over the Mustangs.
“Coach [Heath Hinton] tells us to respect all of our opponents,” Zane Trace’s Ben Nichols said. “We did that in practice all week, did what we were supposed to do and came out here and got the win.”
ZT’s rout started early when Drew Lane tallied an interception to halt Westfall’s first drive.
That turnover would ultimately lead to the first score of the game. With 7:46 left in the first quarter, Daniel Barnhart rushed for a 20-yard touchdown to make it a 7-0 ballgame.
The Pioneers’ defense then came up big once again, recovering a muffed snap on a punt attempt to give Nichols and company the football. Much like the previous drive, the Pioneers scored again on a rushing touchdown — this time from five yards out, thanks to Nichols, making it a 14-0 tally.
Westfall (1-4, 1-2 SVC) did not want to let momentum fully get away. On their next drive, the Mustangs scored in just three plays. It came through the air, thanks to a catch by AJ Shoults, to cut the deficit to 14-6 — following a failed two-point try.
Following that score was a defensive showing from both teams. The next two plays from scrimmage resulted in two interceptions, one for each unit, to keep the score close.
But the Pioneers, once again, took advantage of their given opportunity.
Zane Trace turned an excellent defensive play into another touchdown when Nichols rushed for his second touchdown of the night, this time an eight-yard keeper, to make it a two-score game.
Nichols’ score didn’t end the scoring in the first quarter.
Westfall’s next possession resulted in a fumble recovery for a touchdown, thanks to a quick reaction from ZT’s Hayden Branningan. That score made it a 28-6 Pioneers with 1:40 left — and, however early, put the game out of reach.
“Our offensive line does a great job with blocking,” Nichols said. “All credit goes to them. They opened the holes to run through.”
The offensive miscues continued to pile up for the Mustangs. On their next drive, a punt attempt was blocked, giving the Pioneers possession at Westfall’s 25-yard line.
Three plays later, a Pioneer would be in the end zone once again. Nichols got it done on the ground for his third score of the night, reaching paydirt from 18 yards out to make it 35-6.
Zane Trace’s Blake Phillips scored the team’s next touchdown, via a four-yard rush, before Riley Hartsaugh added a seven-yard touchdown run before halftime, extending the lead to 49-6.
Awaiting the Mustangs and Pioneers in the second half was a continuous running clock, which the Pioneers would use to their advantage.
Zane Trace used the entirety of the third quarter, running 14 plays to speed the game along, before fumbling the football. The Mustangs, whose first second half possession started the fourth, scored on a late 11-yard run to make it a 49-12 ballgame, the night’s final.
Nichols finished 6-of-8 passing for 84 yards while adding 29 yards rushing and three scores. Hartsaugh led the Pioneers on the ground with 91 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries. Phillips added 33 yards rushing while Barnhart added 23 more.
Zane Trace now travels to Unioto while Westfall looks to get back on track, hosting Adena.
“We played really great tonight and got some stops,” Brannigan said. “We did what coach taught us to do all week in practice. We got the job done.”