RACINE, Ohio — A tale of two halves … with a fortunate twist at the end.
Visiting Portsmouth Notre Dame rallied back from a 13-point halftime deficit by scoring twice in the third quarter, but Southern responded with a quick strike late in regulation while beginning the Mike Chancey era on a good note Friday night following a thrilling 21-14 victory in a Week 1 gridiron matchup at Roger Lee Adams Memorial Field in Meigs County.
The host Tornadoes (1-0) stormed out to a 7-0 advantage just 13 seconds into the game as Jaylen Blanks returned the opening kickoff 85 yards to paydirt.
SHS followed that up with a quick three-and-out defensive stand and a pair of interceptions on the next three drives by the Titans (0-1), which allowed the Purple and Gold to secure a 7-0 edge after 12 minutes of play.
After picking up a first down on a fourth-and-three running play, the Tornadoes followed two plays later with an aerial assault that allowed the hosts to secure a two-score advantage.
Dylan Smith hauled in an eight-yard pass from Blake Johnson on a first-and-goal play, which allowed Southern to claim a 13-0 cushion at the 10:16 mark of the second stanza. That 13-point advantage also stuck headed into the break.
The second half, however, quickly turned in favor of Portsmouth Notre Dame — and it all started with the Tornadoes’ first turnovers of the night.
After a quick three-and-out to start the second half, the Titans recovered a fumble at Southern’s 40 with 9:14 remaining in the third period.
Two plays and 40 yards later, Notre Dame was on the board as Sam Kayser rumbled 25 yards to paydirt for a 13-7 contest with 8:56 remaining in the third quarter.
Southern was forced into a punting situation on its next possession, then a bad snap resulted in a loss of downs — giving the guests possession at the SHS 35 with over eight minutes still remaining in the third.
Kayser wrapped up a three-play, 35-yard scoring drive with a 22-yard touchdown run at the 7:31 mark of the third — allowing Notre Dame to take its first lead of the game at 14-13.
The score remained that way until deep into the final period, but Southern had a chance to reclaim the lead after putting together a 17-play drive between the third and fourth quarters that ultimately ended at the PND 10-yard line because of a lost fumble.
The Tornadoes’ defense, however, responded by forcing a quick three-and-out — and a long Dylan Smith punt return gave the hosts possession at the PND 22 with 3:39 left in regulation.
Still trailing by a single point, Southern’s first play from scrimmage resulted in a holding call — which backed the hosts up to the 31-yard line.
On the next play, Crenson Rogers hauled in a 31-yard pass from Johnson as he rumbled into the endzone — allowing the Purple and Gold to secure a 21-14 edge with 3:09 remaining.
The Titans made one final push down the field, but Smith picked off a fourth-and-20 halfback pass by Kayser — which ultimately sealed the deal on the Week 1 triumph.
Southern surrendered almost 100 more yards of rushing (167-71) in the contest, but an all-important plus-1 turnover differential also played a large part in the final outcome.
Afterwards, SHS coach Mike Chancey — who last coached a high school game at Meigs during the 2011 campaign — was pleased with the resiliency and effort that his troops gave in his return to the sidelines.
As he noted, it wasn’t easy to get this victory — which simply added to how special this outcome was.
“We played a very good football team tonight that was well-coached. I am proud of our kids for continuing to play hard,” Chancey said. “We had a couple of injuries and a couple of costly turnovers, but in the end we just kept battling and found a way to win.
“Anytime the kids give a great effort, I’m going to be proud of them. This outcome just make things a little better. It’s a great start to our careers here at Southern.”
The Tornadoes claimed a 244-194 overall edge in total yards, including a sizable 173-27 advantage in passing yards. SHS had a dozen first downs in the win, compared to only 10 by the Titans. PND was also penalized four times for 30 yards, while Southern was flagged seven times for 77 yards.
Riley Roush paced the SHS rushing attack with 36 yard and 15 attempts, followed by Blake Johnson with 12 carries for 29 yards. Johnson was also 9-of-14 passing for 173 yards, throwing two touchdown passes and no interceptions.
Crenson Rogers led the Tornado wideouts with 86 yards on four catches, followed by Dylan Smith with three grabs for 48 yards. Clayton Wood also had two catches for 39 yards.
Sam Kayser led the PND rushing attack with 26 carries for 138 yards, followed by Ben mader with 27 yards on 12 totes. Drew Cassidy also completed 3-of-8 passes for 27 yards, throwing two interceptions and no touchdowns. Isiah Johnson led the Titan wideouts with two catches for 10 yards.
Jaylen Blanks had two interceptions for Southern in the first half and Dylan Smith came away with the other pick.
The Tornadoes have now won four consecutive season openers, including three straight against Portsmouth Notre Dame.
The Purple and Gold return to action Friday when they travel to Frontier for their final non-conference contest of the fall.
Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.