SCIOTOVILLE — The Tartans were down but they were far from out.
Drew Lowe hit Zane Scott in the endzone for the potential game-tying touchdown with 2:52 reaming in the game. However, trailing 20-19, East decided to attempt a two-point conversion, which failed when Akia Brown was stopped short of the goal line.
On the ensuing Oak Hill drive, the Tartans were prepared to let the Oaks score to get the ball back.
“On that last play that they scored, we had told ourselves on the very next play, we were going to let them score because I was out of timeouts. He just happened to break it that time,” Tartans head coach James Gifford said.
Zack Fischer threw a wrench into Gifford plans after breaking free on a 53-yard touchdown run. It turns out the unanticipated score, which gave Oak Hill a 26-19 advantage with 2:15 left in the contest, was a good thing.
On the last drive of the game for the Tartans and a some extra time to work with, East relied solely on the right arm of quarterback Drew Lowe, which included a 39-yard strike to Kyle Flannery. On the very next play, Lowe fired a pass over the middle of the field, which was tipped into the waning arms of Ethan Gifford who was standing by himself in the endzone.
“Give credit to God,” Gifford said. “(Ethan Gifford) told me he prayed just before that, he said it was all God. He prayed something like that would happen and it did.”
The 27-yard touchdown connection once again left East trailing by one and once again, James Gifford rolled the dice and went for two. However, unlike the previous attempt, this time Lowe rolled to his right and hit Brown in the flat for the game-winning conversion. After the dust settled and the smoke cleared, East picked up the 27-26 win, which kept the Tartan perfect season intact at 8-0 and also gave them an inside track to the SOC I championship.
“I believe in our guys,” Gifford said. “I believe in our staff making the right calls and I believe in our guys.”
East (8-0, 4-0) was led by Lowe who threw four touchdown passes while completing 9-of-18 attempts for 188 yards.
“That’s the reason why Drew is where he’s at,” Gifford said. “Where they were more physical, we knew we just couldn’t keep running it. They kept closing it down. We tried to widen our splits and they still closed it down. But we did know we had the advantage in athletes and I thought we could out athlete them, and overall, I think that’s what ended up happening.”
Kanyan Bruton was at the receiving end of the first two of Lowe’s touchdown passes while Scott and Gifford hauled in the last two. With the Tartans expecting a physical affair from Oak Hill (3-5, 3-1), the air attack became more prevalent.
“Going into it, I knew they were a lot more physical than us right now,” Gifford said. “We’re just so beat up up front. We’ve got first-year guys playing on the line. We knew it was going to be a dog fight. I felt like we were the better team tonight. But give full credit to Oak Hill for the way they played.”
The fireworks started early in the contest as the Tartans returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown. However, a late block in the back call, took the points off the scoreboard. The penalty proved costly as East drove down to the Oak 5-yard line before being flagged again, this time for holding. On 4th-and-18, the Tartans took a shot toward the endzone but the incomplete pass turned the ball over on downs.
East finally cracked the scored board in the opening quarter when Tartans quarterback Drew Lowe found Bruton on the 10-yard touchdown strike, which capped off an eight play, 58-yard drive. The highlight of the drive came a few plays earlier when Lowe through a bomb to Bruton, covering 34 yards.
In the second quarter, after a Tartan interception, Oak Hill moved the ball to East territory for the first time in the game. However, on a 4th-and-1, the Oaks weren’t given an inch and turned the ball over on downs.
Later in the quarter, the Oaks got even — actually by pulling ahead. With 6:15 remaining in the first half, Walker Smith broke through the Tartan defense from 29 yards out for the touchdown. Fisher added the 2-point conversion to give Oak Hill the 8-6 lead at the break.
The Oaks came out of the half and marched down the field to take a 14-7 lead after a Smith 1-yard touchdown run. The drive covered 60 yards on seven plays, which included another personal foul on the Tartans.
After the Oak Hill score, East preceded to drive down the field with Brown before Lowe and Bruton hooked up again, this time from 9 yards out. After two personal fouls on back-to-back plays — one by each team — the extra point was eventually missed, which kept the Tartans behind on the scoreboard, 14-13.
East fell further behind on the next Oak Hill drive when Fisher broke away from the Tartan defense, racing down the left sideline before finally celebrating after the 56-yard run. The two-point conversion was missed on the incomplete pass. The Oaks led 20-13 at the end of the third quarter.
The lone down fall for the Tartans on the night continued to be penalties and turnovers as East was flagged nine times for 118 yards while turning the ball over twice.
“We’ve got to fix it,” Gifford said. “We overcame this one but we’ve still got Symmes Valley, Notre Dame and the playoffs. Eventually it’s going to bite us in the butt, whether it’s next game or whether it’s first, second or third round of the playoffs. It’s going to bit us in the butt if we don’t fix it.”
East —Bruton 10 yd pass from Lowe (Gifford kick), 3:10
Oak Hill — Smith 29 yd run (Conversion good), 6:15
Oak Hill — Smith 1 yd run (Conversion no good), 8:05
East — Bruton 9 yd pass form Lowe (PAT no good), 5:11
Oak Hill — Fisher 56 yd run (Conversion field), 4:04
East —Scott 8 yd pass from Lowe (Conversion no good), 2:52
Oak Hill — Fischer 53 yd run (Conversion no good), 2:15
East — Gifford 27 yd pass from Lowe (Conversion good), 1:31
Rushing — Oak Hill: Fisher 18-140, Smith 11-77, Clutters 5-20, Hughes 2-6, Carpenter 2-4, Moore 1-1; East: Brown 21-90, Carver 6-35, Scott 4-29, Gifford 1-2, Douthat 1-1, Flannery 2-(-5), Lowe 6-(-16)
Passing — Oak Hill: Hughes 1-2-29, Mullett 0-1-0 ; East: Lowe 9-18-188
Receiving — Oak Hill: Mullett 1-29-0; East: Bruton 4-91, Flannery 1-39, Gifford 1-27, Hatcher 1-19, Scott 1-8, Brown 1-4
Oak Hill 3-5 (3-1); East 8-0 (4-0).
Reach Chris Slone at 740-353-3101, ext 1930, or on Twitter @crslone.