Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
Southern Ohio Sports Authority is presented by OhioHealth.
GREENFIELD — Andrew Potts gave a simple answer to a simple question with the game on the line Friday night.
Just before what would be the deciding two-point conversion, McClain coach Keith Penwell asked his star running back if he wanted to run “wedge” — a dive play directly up the gut.
Potts’ answer? “Yep. I’ll go get it.”
And that’s exactly what he did.
After trailing 35-21 late in the fourth quarter, Potts’ two-point conversion came with just 1:46 left on the game clock and was the knockout punch in a dramatic 36-35 victory over Northwest.
“These guys never stopped playing. They kept fighting,” Penwell said. “They played physical, they made adjustments during the game and I’m super proud of them. The work they’ve put in, their grit, their determination … We’ve been on the wrong side of this plenty of times and it feels really good to be on the right side of it. I’m just super proud of them.”
Penwell’s decision to hand the ball to Potts was never really a conundrum. As soon as Potts scored from six yards out to make it a 35-34 score, Penwell knew what was to come.
“At that point in time, I felt like we had the momentum,” Penwell said. “I thought that if there was ever a time to go for it, it was right then. We put it on our kids’ backs. We believe in them. They delivered.”
When the fourth quarter began, momentum was certainly not on McClain’s sideline. After a touchdown near the end of the third quarter, Northwest (1-1) held a 35-21 advantage.
But that’s when the Tigers started to scratch and claw their way back into things. Potts’ late touchdown put an exclamation point on that momentum shift, erased that 14-point deficit and allowed McClain (2-0) to stay perfect.
“I think this is the first time we’ve beat Northwest. They’ve beaten us all the way through junior high,” Penwell said. “But I try not to dwell on the past. When I started here, I wanted to start fresh and I knew I had some good kids. I know they’re going to work and I know they’re going to go out there and fight. They play with passion and they’re aggressive. This is a great start for them.”
The Tigers recovered a squib kick to begin the night’s action and promptly took a 7-0 lead three plays later when Drake Stapleton found Max Eikenberry for a 20-yard touchdown toss. Later in the first quarter, McClain’s lead swelled to 14-0 when Potts scored from a yard out with 2:10 left.
At that point, it looked like the Tigers may run away with a win. However, Northwest’s Connor Lintz had other plans.
The do-it-all defensive back picked off a pass and returned it 38 yards for a score, putting his Mohawks on the board at the 9:08 mark in the second quarter — trimming the deficit to 14-7.
After each team traded possessions, Northwest had a chance to score just before halftime and took full advantage of that opportunity. Quarterback Tanner Bolin found Lintz, who proceeded to break a tackle and slice his way 30 yards into the end zone with 15 seconds left, forcing a 14-14 tie at halftime.
Lintz struck again early in the third. At the 10:49 mark, he received a punt and weaved his way through McClain’s special teams unit for a 76-yard touchdown to give the Mohawks a 21-14 lead.
Then, with 8:24 to go, Carter Runyon picked off a pass and returned it 48 yards for the team’s fourth straight score, putting Northwest on top, 27-14 — following a missed PAT.
But, with momentum firmly on the Mohawks’ sideline, Potts had seen enough. As the junior began to leave his mark on the game, his teammates followed his lead.
“We went up 14-0 and then a couple of big plays from Northwest really got us,” Potts said. “But I couldn’t have [scored] three touchdowns without the line. And our wide receivers spread the defense out.”
Potts scored from 11 yards out with 4:59 remaining, cutting the deficit to 27-20. Northwest answered with a 15-yard touchdown pass from Bolin to Michael Bender — a pass that ricocheted in and out of Lintz’ hands and fell into Bender’s arms — to go ahead 35-21.
McClain’s next score came at the 8:32 mark in the fourth when Stapleton found Eikenberry again for a 15-yard touchdown to cap a lengthy scoring drive and cut the lead to 35-28. The Tigers’ defense then forced a turnover on downs with just 4:48 remaining.
Potts and company then took just over three minutes to drive 83 yards for a score — which was capped by the deciding two-point try.
“[Potts] is just a workhorse and he’s a tough tackle,” Penwell said. “The other team knows that one man isn’t going to [bring Potts down]. They’re going to have to bring two or three guys. And the offensive line did a great job. They were physical tonight.”
Statistically, Potts ended the night with 30 carries for 175 yards and three touchdowns.
Stapleton was 9-of-17 passing for 157 yards alongside two touchdowns and two picks, and added 42 yards on the ground. Eikenberry caught five passes for 76 yards and two scores, and Kaden Penwell had three catches for 76 yards.
Northwest was led by Lintz, who had five catches for 89 yards and a score, alongside an interception return for a touchdown and a punt return touchdown. Bolin finished 11-of-21 through the air for 119 yards with two touchdowns and a pick while also adding 57 yards rushing.
While Northwest attempts to get back on track in Week 3 at Huntington, McClain will welcome Zane Trace to Greenfield. The Pioneers will also come into that matchup undefeated.
“Our schedule isn’t easy. Northwest is a good football team and now we’ve got Zane Trace, which is a good football team,” Penwell said. “But that’s OK. We accept the challenge and we keep going at it.”