PURCHASE LINE — On a crisp, cool night, the Purchase Line Red Dragons were red-hot on both sides of the ball as they rolled to a 43-14 victory over Blacklick Valley in a non-conference football game Friday night.
In all facets of the game the Red Dragons seemingly couldn’t be stopped as they outgained the Vikings 451-189 while forcing four turnovers.
It wasn’t as easy as it appeared early on for Purchase Line. Following three unsuccessful runs to start the game following a false start penalty, the Red Dragons were forced to punt. As Royce Bish attempted to kick it away, Blacklick’s Rayce Lanzendorfer blocked the punt.
With the ball at the Purchase Line 11-yard-line, quarterback Blake Ray wasted no time connecting with Joe Lesso for the score. Garrett Smith then connected with Nathan Smith on a halfback option for the two-point conversion putting the Vikings up 8-0 just over two minutes into the game.
Looking to bounce back with a score of its own, Purchase Line put the ball in the hands of its best player, junior running back Grant Syster.
Purchase Line wasted no time answering as Syster took the handoff off the left side of the line on the third play of the drive and slipped past defenders along the sideline on his way to a 48-yard touchdown just over a minute later. Quarterback Alec Sunderlin hooked up with Gavin Ewing for the two-point conversion, knotting the score at 8-all.
“I give a lot of credit to Blacklick Valley; they were able to stick one in on us there early,” Purchase Line coach Brandon Overdorff said. “They had two weeks to prepare, and they took full advantage of it, but our kids stepped up. Grant made a great run and got us right back in the football game.”
After Syster’s long run, the Vikings appeared to regain their footing as Garrett Smith found some running room picking up a big first down on the next drive, but on third-and-3 from the Vikings 49-yard line, Ray was sacked for a 5-yard loss by Quentin Woods.
After taking over at their own 26-yard line, the Red Dragons methodically marched down the field. Syster punched it in again, this time from 5 yards, giving the Red Dragons a 14-8 lead.
Following an interception by Woods to stall a Vikings drive around midfield, Purchase Line quickly added another score as Sunderlin hooked up with Todd Greene on a 35-yard catch-and-run that expanded the lead to 20-8. Sunderlin connected with Ewing again on the two-point conversion to make it 22-8.
A few minutes later, Zack Bartlebaugh added a 2-yard score and the ensuing two-point conversion, making it 30-8 with 4:36 left to go in the first half.
“You have to be really happy with 30 points in a half,” Overdorff said. “Offensively, we did a lot of good things. I liked how we ran the ball hard and the passing game seemed to click, which was nice to see. It was an area that we needed to improve in.”
In the first half, Sunderlin completed 5 of 10 passes for 88 yards, including the touchdown to Greene.
As the Red Dragons’ offense continued to roll through the Vikings’ defense in waves, the defense was a different story. After the quick touchdown from Ray to Lesso, Blacklick Valley couldn’t muster anything offensively, going three-and-out twice and turning the ball over twice in its five first-half possessions following the early touchdown.
At halftime, the Vikings had just 33 yards of total offense.
“Our defense is getting better every week, and that has been our mantra all season: Get better every week,” Overdorff said. “For one half that is a pretty good outing.”
The second half, much to the chagrin of Ovendorff, didn’t go as well as the Red Dragons wanted.
After forcing a fumble on the second play of the second half, the Red Dragons drove right down the field but failed to score from the 2-yard line when Sunderlin was intercepted in the back of the end zone by Garrett Smith on fourth down.
Not being able to score from in close would prove to be a problem in the second half for the Red Dragons. Twice in the second half Purchase Line left points on the field by turning the ball over inside the 5-yard line.
“I was a little disappointed in our second half,” Overdorff said. “I thought we should have put them away earlier than we did, but we still have work to do, no doubt about that.”
Although there is still work to be done for the Red Dragons, picking up their first win of the season is a good starting point. It wasn’t just the veteran players leading the way, the Red Dragons received big contributions from all levels of the team in all facets of the game.
In a glimpse of the future, freshman running back Hunter Rice scored on a 46-yard run. Rice gained 68 yards on three carries.
“Hunter has a very bright future here,” Overdorff said. “He gave a lot of people a glimpse of what he is going to be capable of here at Purchase Line in the future.”
Just over two minutes later, following a 66-yard run to the 1-yard line from Blacklick’s Ishaiah Scott — his lone carry of the night — Issac Wurm crossed the goal line with just under 30 seconds to go, bringing the Vikings within 22 points, but Todd Greene sealed the game for good on the ensuing kickoff, picking up the bouncing ball around his own 24-yard line and racing untouched up the right sideline for a 76-yard kickoff return just before the final horn sounded.
“I am happy with where we are. It’s a good win, one that we are going to enjoy celebrating,” Overdorff said. “The kids worked their tails off like crazy and deserved this win.”
Syster finished with 172 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries, Sunderlin finished with 123 passing yards, and Greene finished with 179 totals yards and two touchdowns.