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Second half surge lifts Malvern over Conotton Valley
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By Leigh Ann Rutledge
Malvern and Conotton Valley both came into a cross-county battle Friday with big opening week wins in their back pockets.
The Hornets blanked East Palestiine 55-0 and Conotton Valley downed Strasburg 48-8, setting up an important early season contest of unbeatens.
The two teams played a close game in the first half with the host Hornets holding an 18-12 lead at intermission. The Hornets took control in the second half, coming away with a 40-12 win.
“We knew Conotton was going to come out and hit us in the mouth. We needed a game like this,” said Malvern Head Coach Matt Chiurco. “We had yet to face adversity this year and we faced it tonight. We needed it and I’m proud of these guys.”
Leading 18-12 going into the second half, the Hornets scored three unanswered touchdowns, one in the third quarter and two in the fourth.
“Our depth really showed in the second half and we looked like the better conditioned team. Conotton has a real nice team with some good athletes,” Chiurco continued. “This was a good win for us. We still have a long way to go, but we really like this team.”
It appeared Xavier Watson scored the first points of the game for Malvern when quarterback Tristan Phillips handed the ball off to Watson, who ran 42 yards to the end zone.
However, in a game plagued with penalties, the first one for a block in the back against Malvern was on that play, and the ball was moved back to the spot of the foul. On the next play, Phillips connected with Watson, then with Walker, setting up first-and-goal on the 2-yard line. Phillips ran the ball in for the touchdown. The extra point was blocked, giving the Hornets a 6-0 lead with 39 seconds left in the first quarter.
Conotton began their next drive on their 30-yard line and cranked out a first down before the end of the quarter. Quarterback Evan Rice connected with Maddox Walter for 28-yards to the Hornets 45-yard line. On a keeper, Rice ran to the end zone to tie the game 6-6. The two-point conversion failed.
On their next possession, the Hornets moved the ball down field, despite penalties against both teams. A hand off from Phillips to senior Bryson White resulted in a 29-yard gain to the 2-yard line. Watson ran the final two yards for the score. The two-point conversion was no good and the Hornets were up 12-6.
With 6:40 left in the first half, the Rockets took control of the ball and scored a touchdown of their own.
With gains by Rice and Drake Mullins, the Rockets moved into Hornet territory.
A late hit call against the Hornets moved the ball to the 35-yard line. On a third-and seven play from the 32-yard line, Rice found senior Garson Imes open for a catch and run to the 1-yard line, where Rice took the ball in. With the two-point conversion no good, the game was tied 12-12.
Malvern regained the lead with 59 seconds left in the half when Phillips passed to KJ Thomas for a touchdown. The extra point was good, but a flag for holding against Malvern brought the ball back. A pass by Phillips for a two-point conversion was intercepted, giving the Hornets the 18-12 lead at halftime.
The Rockets opened the second half steadily moving the ball down the field. A holding penalty and a fumble for a loss of 17 yards, followed by a sack and too many men on field, thwarted the drive and resulted in a punt.
On the ensuing Malvern drive, the Rockets began to implode. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty moved the ball an additional 15 yards to the 2-yard-line. Thomas capped off the drive with a 2-yard score. The two-point conversion was good, putting the Hornets up 26-12.
The Hornets opened the fourth quarter with a 61-yard passing touchdown from Phillips to Walker. The two-point conversion was no good.
The Hornets put an exclamation point on the game when Thomas added a 45-yard touchdown. The two-point conversion was good, giving the Hornets a 40-12 win.
Malvern ran the ball 37 times for 289 yards, the Rockets 38 for 173, and total yards of 429 for the Hornets and 210 for the Rockets.
“I thought our three backs ran well. Xavier, Bryson and KJ just compliment each other so well. All three of them are very different backs,” Chiurco said of the players. “I thought Tristan did a good job managing the game and I thought our wide receivers did a great job blocking on the perimeter.”
On the defensive side for the Hornets, White had 11 tackles, with one for loss; Watson, seven tackles, three for loss; and Walker, two tackles, two for loss and two sacks. Phillips and Ball each had an interception and a tackle.
Conotton Valley Head Coach Don Hertler noted his team hung in the game.
“Malvern was very well coached and is a very talented team and played a good football game,” Hertler said. “Playing a good competition showed us why we need work. We need to make great improvements after all losses. Some of our kids are playing extremely hard, but we still are not truly together as a team and that’s what we have to do, a better job coaching and playing.”
“Our offensive line seemed like they wore Conotton down in the second half. I thought we played really well defensively. Xavier and Bryson were all over the field,” Chiurco said. “We have some small things to fix and we’ll get after it this week as we prepare for our first road game at Waterloo.”
The Hornets face Waterloo Sept. 3. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.
The Rockets host Newcomerstown Sept 3. Action begins at 7 p.m.
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