GALLIPOLIS, Ohio — It sounded like a bell being rung, but what you actually heard was a five-ton gorilla leaving the Old French City.
The Gallia Academy football team snapped its nine-game losing skid in convincing fashion Friday night following a 31-14 victory over visiting Warren in a Week 8 Southeastern Ohio Athletic League contest at Memorial Field in Gallia County.
The Blue Devils (1-7, 1-0 SEOAL) never trailed in the contest, as the hosts stormed out to a 19-0 third quarter advantage and ultimately never looked back.
The Warriors did manage to keep things interesting with a pair of quick scores wedged around the start of the fourth period, which allowed the guests to close to within 19-14 with 9:39 remaining in regulation.
GAHS, however, answered with consecutive scoring drives on its next two possessions and also forced Warren (0-8, 0-2) to lose the ball on downs over its next two drives, which all but sealed the deal on the Blue Devils’ first triumph of the 2015 campaign.
Kole Carter took a pair of kneel downs to run out the final 53 seconds of the game, then the Blue Devils were off to ring the Victory Bell at Memorial Field — something that hadn’t happened in a little over a calendar year.
After struggling through seven winless weeks on the gridiron, second-year GAHS coach Josh Riffe seemed very relieved to finally have that first victory of the 2015 campaign. Not so much for himself, but rather for his troops.
“I think the big thing for me right now is seeing how the kids just keep fighting. They’ve never given up through all of the adversity and they’ve just continued to battle,” Riffe said. “I’m really happy for them right now, to get to enjoy ringing that bell, because they absolutely deserve this moment. It feels really good for all of us to get this monkey off of our backs.”
Neither team mustered points in the first stanza, but the Blue Devils made the most of their second possession in the second quarter. Kole Carter capped a 4-play, 34-yard drive with a 15-yard scamper for a 7-0 edge at the 5:27 mark.
Warren responded by marching the ball down to the GAHS 36-yard line, but WHS quarterback Bryce Gandee had the ball stripped away on a first down run. Brett Hively picked the loose ball up and rumbled 57 yards to paydirt at the 2:57 mark, giving the Blue Devils a 13-0 cushion entering halftime.
The Warriors owned a 131-124 advantage in total offense at the break, but the guests were also minus-1 in turnover differential. GAHS did claim a 9-7 edge in first downs in the opening 24 minutes of play.
The Blue Devils took full control of the game with their opening drive of the second half, which covered 51 yards in nine plays and resulted in points. Carter hit Matt Bailey with a 15-yard TD pass at the 8:09 mark of the third to give the hosts a comfortable 19-0 cushion.
Warren started making its push late in the third quarter, as the guests covered 28 yards in three plays en route to their first points of the night. Jake Davis scored on a one-yard run at the 1:25 mark to get the Warriors to within 19-7.
Gallia Academy was forced into a punting situation, but a bad snap resulted in a tackle for loss and a loss of downs — giving WHS the ball at its own 44 just 16 seconds into the finale.
Five plays and 56 yards later, the Warriors had cut their deficit down to a single possession after Davis scored on another one-yard run for a 19-14 contest with 9:39 left in regulation.
Gallia Academy responded with a big kickoff return by Devin Henry, which gave the hosts the ball at the Warren 24-yard line. Six plays later, the Blue Devils owned a 25-14 edge after Carter plunged in from three yards out with 8:03 left in the fourth.
GAHS retained possession at the Warren 49 after a loss of downs, then marched that distance in seven plays to wrap up the victory. Carter nailed the coffin shut with a 21-yard TD run at the 3:12 mark, giving the hosts a 31-14 advantage.
“Give Warren a lot of credit because they made some good adjustments at halftime and their kids never quit,” Riffe said. “We were more than a little concerned when they made that run at us late, but our kids responded and found a way to get it done when we needed it most.
“We were tested all night long and a lot of people stepped up and made plays on both sides of the ball for us. That’s what makes this one so special.”
The Blue Devils outgained the guests by a slim 258-253 overall margin and also claimed a 16-11 edge in first downs. The hosts finished plus-2 in turnover differential and were also flagged 11 times for 115 yards, compared to 10 penalties for 96 yards by the Warriors.
Carter led the Gallia Academy rushing attack with 177 yards on 32 carries, followed by Bailey with 10 yards on four attempts. Carter also finished the night 7-of-21 passing for 88 yards and a TD, with Bailey leading the wideouts with four grabs for 65 yards and a score.
Davis paced the Warriors’ ground game with 85 yards on six carries, followed by Cole Riffle with 74 yards on 10 totes. Gandee was 12-of-23 passing for 70 yards, with Davis leading the receivers with nine catches for 48 yards.
Besides Hively’s defensive score for the Blue Devils, Carter also recovered a fumble recovery and Colton Campbell had an interception. Davis had the lone takeaway for Warren with an interception in the first half.
Gallia Academy will play in its 2015 home finale next Friday night when it hosts Logan in a Week 9 SEOAL contest at 7 p.m.
Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.