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High School Football - Eastern Conference Class 1 Southern Division Championship - Tri-Valley 38, Millersburg 7
Indians keep it close until final frame

Millersburg's Christian Wingard gets off the pass in spite of pressure by Tri-Valley's Hunter Herb. (Photo by Lon Zeiders)

HEGINS • Different field. Different temperature. Same two teams.

Millersburg and Tri-Valley opened the 2014 season playing at the Indians’ home venue Labor Day weekend. They ended the season at Bulldog Stadium Nov. 14, competing for the Eastern Conference Class Southern Division championship.

Unfortunately for Millersburg, the result was the same as well, as the ’Dawgs repeated their season-opening success against the Tribe, pulling away in the final quarter with three touchdowns to prevail 38-7 and become the only area football team to win a title trophy this year.

The contest was closer than what the final score indicated, with the Indians trailing only 12-7 before the ’Dawgs’ final-frame scoring onslaught.

It was the fourth time in the last eight seasons that Millersburg battled for a championship, and the first time since 2002 that the Indians had played for one of the Eastern Conference crowns.

Quarterback Christian Wingard and his offense took the field hoping to avenge the Tribe’s 31-13 opening season defeat. But the Bulldog defense wouldn’t budge, as Anthony Snyder – the Tri-Valley League’s second-leading tackler – and teammate Danny Scheib plugged all the available holes and forced an early takeaway.

The ball transitioned to the ’Dawgs offense led by Hunter Harner, another TVL standout. With the help of Tyler Lucas, Harner and the offense put together a drive that went deep into Indian territory.

With three minutes and change remaining in the opening frame, Harner stepped out of the pocket and – with no Tri-Valley jerseys downfield – kept the ball and zig-zagged his way into the end zone from 27 yards out. The point-after attempt was unsuccessful, giving the Bulldogs a 6-0 lead.

On the very first play of Millersburg’s next offensive set, Wingard dropped back to pass and was intercepted by Jaden Buchanan, who led the league this season with 12 interceptions, eight more than any other player.

Buchanan had a clear path to the end zone to up Tri-Valley’s total to 12-0. The Indian defense stuffed Harner’s two-point conversion attempt, then shut down Tri-Valley’s high-powered offense in the second quarter behind the efforts of Austin Marks, Tylor Erdman, Connor Keim, Austin Hoke and Ethan Troutman.

The Bulldogs also put on a stellar defensive stand, until the clock ticked toward halftime and Millersburg had an opportunity to move the chains.

Wingard, with the help of Austin Lehman and Cole Shomper, kick-started a drive that finally landed them at Tri-Valley’s two-yard line. Behind an enormous offensive push, Wingard crossed the pile line on a keeper as the Indian sideline erupted. With Wingard’s extra point, the Indians were back in the contest, trailing only 12-7.

The third frame mimicked the second, as both teams’ defensive efforts were simply superior to their opponents’ offensive scheme.

The Indian defense continued to put five or six helmets on each of Tri-Valley’s offensive plays, holding the ’Dawgs to a five-point margin. Then with about there minutes left in the third, Harner’s offense seemed to finally crack the code of Millersburg’s previously unstoppable defense.

Other than Tri-Valley’s defensive score, the ’Dawgs and Trive had played one another equally. That all changed when Harner employed his own quarterback keeper to dodge defenders and score from 20 yards out. With the extra point kick successful, Tri-Valley now led 19-7.

With the fourth quarter under way, the Tribe’s offense turned out to be its Achille’s Heel, as  the Bulldogs forced another turnover and Harner subsequently crossed the end zone from five yards out.

The ’Dawg defense then notched two more turnovers that translated into scores – including Harner’s fourth score of the night and a Lucas interception return – that gave Tri-Valley its final 38-7 margin and the EC Class I South trophy.

The championship is Tri-Valley’s first since 2009 when it claimed the District 11, Class A crown and reached the state semifinals.

Despite the loss, Head Coach Brad Hatter – himself a former Bulldog football player – was pleased with Millersburg’s effort, not just Nov. 14, but throughout the season.

“It wasn’t the outcome that we wanted, but hats off to Tri-Valley,’’ he said.

For senior captain Ethan Troutman, it was a bitter sweet ending to a stellar senior year, one in which the Indians finished 6-6 after a 3-7 campaign of 2013 that Troutman and his teammates had vowed not to repeat.

After battling injuries off and on, Troutman shared of his experience wearing maroon and gold.

“I’ve reflected a lot over the past two seasons,’’ he said. ‘‘The injuries also cause you to wonder, ‘What if?’ I’m proud of this team and how we worked. I have no regrets and I wouldn’t have wanted to go out with any other guys than the guys on this team.’’

Troutman finished with 34 yards receiving while Keim chipped in 54 yards on the ground. Wingard led the way for the Indians offensively, with 122 yards through the air and one rushing touchdown.

The loss ended what had been a rollercoaster season for Millersburg. After dropping its first two contests – both at home – the Tribe outscored its next two opponents 75-12, then lost three of the next four, setting at 3-5 with two games remaining in the season.

That proved to be the Tribe’s turning point, as they rung off three straight wins – including two over rival Upper Dauphin Area, one of them a 47-14 dismantling – to punch their ticket to the Eastern Conference final.

The 2014 season ended with four area teams – UDA and Line Mountain, in addition to the Tribe and ’Dawgs – vying for the conference trophy after finishing their respective regular seasons with matching 5-5 slates. (Williams Valley qualified for the District 11-A playoffs, losing to Marian in the semifinal.)

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