Chris Cox (7) of North Union tackles a Buckeye Valley receiver on Friday. The Wildcats lost the defensive battle, 21-7, to fall to 4-5 on the season.
The North Union Wildcats are a team that has flirted with .500 all season long, following up a loss with a win and vice versa.
The only back-to-back victories came way back during Weeks 2 and 3. This week, the Cats followed suit with a 21-7 loss to Buckeye Valley after winning last week against Galion.
Going into the game, NU head coach Nick Hajjar knew it was going to be a tight contest. However, that it is something he has come to expect out of every game in the Mid Ohio Athletic Conference.
“Just like every week, outside of one game, this is a four-quarter league and it was that way again,” he said. “We’ve got to continue working and try to figure out that formula to get it done in these close games.”
The contest started out on the right path for the now 4-5 Wildcats, when Wes Cope slid inside on a screen pass and plucked it out of the air with nothing but green field in front of him.
Cope returned the interception for a pick six to give the Cats an early score in the first quarter. Drake Price added the point after to make it a 7-0 ball game.
That would be the score line for the majority of the contest as neither side had much luck when they had possession of the ball.
“They played so hard (the defense),” said Hajjar. “They gave our football team a chance to win. They scored early for us and they were lights out.
“It was just one of those nights offensively,” he said. “We were trying to grind and grind to try and find something and it was hard for us offensively.”
Buckeye Valley tried to put some points on the board before the first half ended. The Barons pushed the ball with time running low on the clock.
They found themselves at North Union’s 35-yard line. QB Grant Owens made two attempts at the end zone but fell short.
Owens dropped back on fourth down to take another shot at the end zone, but a sea of Wildcat jerseys rushed him for a sack. That turned the ball over to NU and ended the half with the Cats on top, 7-0.
The second half featured more offensive action. The Barons received the kickoff after the half and took the ball 64 yards on eights plays.
The TD conversion was an eight-yard pass by Owens to Trent Davies. Felippe Scharff added the PAT to tie the game at 7-7.
The Cats continued to struggle on offense. After only picking up 12 yards on their first possession of the third quarter, they had to punt the ball away.
The Barons, on the other hand, were able to move deep into Wildcat country. A stout NU defense, though, stood tall on a fourth down from 17 yards out. Owens made the pass but the ball fell to the ground short of the first down.
The Cats gained some momentum at the beginning of the fourth quarter when Chris Cox came up with an interception,.
The momentum, though, was short-lived when Anthony Padovano threw a deep ball towards the end zone. The pass was picked off by BV’s Joey Verdes at the seven yard-line.
Nearly every North Union player made an attempt to bring down Verdes, but he couldn’t be stopped on a 93-yard pick six. Schraff added the PAT to give the Barons their first lead of the night at 14-7.
The Wildcats attempted to answer back after the swing on the scoreboard.
North Union still struggled to produce on offense, but Price found himself with a good lead on his trailing coverage.
Padovano threw a 40-yard pass to the open Price, but the receiver couldn’t pull in the ball.
The incomplete pass led to a punt.
“We had a couple chances to make some plays and in games like this, those are key moments,” Hajjar said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t get it done tonight.”
Things continued to unravel for NU when a bad snap sailed over Padovano’s head, pinning the Cats deep.
With time running short, the Cats decided to go for the conversion on fourth down, but were not successful.
That gave the Barons the ball deep on North Union’s side of the field. Two plays later, the Barons found the end zone for the third time on the night with a 27-yard run by Davies. Another successful kick by Schraff gave Buckeye Valley a late 21-7 led that would eventually win the game.
Despite the loss, Hajjar believes there is something that his Wildcats can learn from it.
“Sometimes when you have setbacks, that is the best teacher as you move forward,” he said. “I don’t think there is a time line that the answer will surface in. Sometimes it is a kid that makes a difference, sometimes it is play and that can happen at anytime and anywhere on the field.”
The Cats have one final chance to pull off a .500 season when they take on River Valley (on the road) in their final match of the season. Hajjar ended with a statement of perseverance.
“We are going to continue to fight and stick together and see if we can’t end the season the right way.”
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