Jonathan Alder’s Tyson Mast has his neck wrenched on this Zanesville face mask penalty Friday evening. The Pioneers rolled past the Blue Devils, 35-0, to advance in the Division III playoffs. (Journal-Tribune photo by Sam Dillon)
There is nothing like a high-scoring contest to push a football team’s fans into a huge frenzy.
Coaches, however, know what really wins games.
The Jonathan Alder Pioneers (7-0) put their defensive prowess on full display Friday evening with a 35-0 victory over Zanesville.
The triumph came during JA’s first Division III playoff game (after a bye week) and advances the Pioneers to next Friday’s home showdown against neighboring London.
“The biggest factor in winning this game was our defense,” said JA coach Brett Glass. “We forced Zanesville into a lot of three-and-outs and recovered some turnovers.”
A look at the game stats reveals just how dominant the Pioneers played on the defensive side of the ball.
The Blue Devils (3-4) struggled to gain 91 yards of total offense on 39 plays.
The Pioneers’ secondary was stingy against Zanesville’s passing attack (74 yards on just 11 completions).
JA’s defense, however, was positively Scrooge-like miserly when it came to the Devils moving the pigskin on the ground.
Zanesville turned 16 snaps into running plays and gained a mere 17 yards.
The initial quarter was sluggish for both sides as punts were swapped during the first three possessions.
Alder quarterback JT Keith was a bit slow in getting untracked with his passes and Alder’s ground game wasn’t as sharp as normal.
Did the bye week have anything to do with the slow start?
“It might have been a little bit of rust,” conceded Glass. “However, you also have to give credit to Zanesville.
“Their front six were strong and we didn’t do a very good job of blocking them.”
Alder’s punt on the second possession of the night resulted in the Devils starting from their own 18.
The Pioneers’ defense overpowered anything Zanesville’s offense tried to do.
The Devils were backed up so much that punter Trey Wyatt had to kick from his own end zone.
His offering left Alder with a short field at the Zanesville 45.
Running back Will Heisler picked up some critical yardage, helping JA move all the way down to the one-yard line.
From there, Keith bulled into the end zone for the first touchdown.
The Pioneers will miss senior kicker Dylan Moore for the rest of the season. He suffered an ACL injury a couple of weeks ago. The injury will require surgery in early November.
Freshman Charlie Aurin, however, put his foot to the ball for the extra point that gave Alder a 7-0 lead.
Zanesville’s next possession moved into the second quarter, aided by a roughing-the passer penalty.
The Blue Devils appeared to tally a TD, but the score was nullified by a holding penalty.
The Pioneers took advantage of the infraction and eventually forced Zanesville into a fourth-and long.
The Devils were close to the red zone and tried for the first down.
The decision backfired when Kyle Kidd tackled Zanesville quarterback Isaac Mayle.
Alder took over on downs at its own 32 and began the march to its second score.
Keith connected on a pass to Jackson Izzard.
A pass interference call on the Devils moved the ball to midfield.
Keith tossed offerings to Tyson Mast, Heisler and Izzard to march down to the Blue Devils’ 14-yard-line.
Keith misfired on two attempts, but then found Izzard for a 14-yard scoring strike.
Aurin was again accurate on his PAT, pushing Alder out to a 14-0 lead with 4:34 left until halftime.
A quarterback sack by Chase Maynard put a major crimp in Zanesville’s next series.
The Devils punted on fourth-and-12, setting JA up on its own 27.
Keith found open receivers in brother Jonathan and Izzard as Alder moved into Zanesville territory.
The first-half timer showed less than two minutes when Keith reared back his trusty right arm.
He zipped a pass that Izzard finished in the end zone.
Aurin’s PAT sent Alder into the break with a 21-0 advantage.
JA’s first series of the third quarter moved well into Zanesville territory.
Alder lost the ball, however, when Keith’s pass was picked off by Mike Norman.
The Blue Devils could not take advantage of the turnover and had to punt.
Alder likewise had to kick the ball away, but recovered a Blue Devil fumble on the ensuing return.
That turnover set the Pioneers up on the Devils’ 43-yard line.
Mast picked up yardage down to the 34.
Zanesville was also whistled for a face mask infraction that stepped off 15 more yards.
Heisler carried the ball on three consecutive plays, the last of which was a five-yard TD run.
Aurin, who stands maybe a shade or two over 5-0, booted his fourth extra point, stretching JA’s margin to 28-0.
By the time the final period began, the Pioneers had the contest well in hand.
However, they still wanted one more score.
Backup running back Brendan Liford did a good job of moving the ball toward the goal line.
He carried it on seven straight plays, getting the pigskin down to the one-yard-line.
It was fourth down, but the Pioneers didn’t intend for anyone else to be rewarded.
Liford took his eighth handoff and went into the end zone for the score.
Aurin then capped his perfect night with the conversion that gave JA a 35-0 margin.
As such, the remaining nine-plus minutes flew by under the running clock rule.
Alder regained possession late in the game and ran seven plays with running back Blake Seum picking up valuable
Back-up quarterback Doug Nussbaum then went into victory formation to end the contest.
Glass said the difference from the start of the game until Alder finished with 386 yards of total offense was the play of
the offensive line.
“Our line came through for us, especially during the second half,” he said. “We played hard and getting a shutout was