Junior Serafin Sanchez made a game-saving interception at the Newcomerstown High 10-yard line to thwart a dangerous New London drive late in the game and help preserve a 13-6 Trojan victory Friday at Lee Stadium.
With arms extended as high as they would go, a leaping Sanchez snagged the ball from a pack of players that had closed to where the pigskin was coming in for a landing.
When asked what he thought when he saw the ball coming towards him, Sanchez replied, "I just said, 'Oh man, I better intercept this!' ".
The win gave Newcomerstown its best start since 2003 at 2-1. It was the team's second straight game where their opponent did not get on the scoreboard until the fourth quarter and it also avenged a 48-0 thrashing that the Trojans suffered last year to the Wildcats.
More importantly, it was a test of composure for the young Trojans, as they held on under pressure in a game that went down to the wire.
"We need games like this", said Trojans' head coach Eric Brock. "We're still a young team and even though it wasn't a pretty win, it was a win that we needed. We're 2-1 right now and that's better than we've been in a while. Our team is getting better and we're looking forward to next week as we start league play."
Down by seven points with 3:16 to play, the Wildcats took over at their 20 after a 43-yard punt by the Trojans' Matt Ayres. Clay Wilson's nine-yard reception, followed by his 28-yard run, moved the ball into Trojan territory. A pass interference call put the ball at the 27, and with 1:10 showing on the clock, New London quarterback Taylor Reidy dropped back and let go of the one he'd like to have back into the hands of Sanchez.
Newcomerstown quarterback Caleb Rankin, who was an offensive machine with 133 yards rushing, 92 passing and two running scores, took a knee on the next few plays to bring the game to a close for the cheering Orange and Black faithful.
"There are some things that didn't go our way in the second half," Brock commented. "We got to the point our defense had to step in and make a play. Either they were going to score or we were going to stop them or make a turnover. Serafin stepped up and made a great play to ice the game for us."
NHS got on the board with its second drive of the game. Starting at their 22, the Trojans faced third-and-six when Rankin eluded the rush and ran straight up the middle. He weaved his way through the crowd and suddenly split the defenders in the secondary and won the race to the end zone with a 74-yard TD run. T.J. Wright's PAT made it 7-0 at the 2:20 mark of the first quarter.
The next scoring series began in the second quarter after Billy Mardis recovered a Wildcat fumble on the 45-yard line.
Rankin and Josh Miller switched to offense and willed their way to the end zone to complete a 55-yard drive that took only two plays. Miller started with a 23-yard run that featured several stiff-arms against Wildcat defenders.
Rankin took Miller's cue on the next play as he kept the ball on an option and rumbled 32 yards for the score. A last second block at the five-yard line from wide receiver Jansen Lenzo allowed Rankin to get into the end zone untouched the rest of the way.
"Caleb has been running well with the ball," said Brock. "Some of it's designed; some of it's him making a play. We
wanted to establish the run more this week and Josh has been working hard to get us yards. We have areas to improve, but we're getting there. A 'W' is a 'W' and I'm very proud of all of our guys."
The Trojans did not score the rest of the game, but managed effective ball control. The hosts took over in the third quarter at the 9:45 mark and drove 50 yards in 13 plays, chewing up close to seven minutes off the clock, but
Wright's 30-yard field goal attempt was wide right. New London came right back though with its only scoring drive of the night. The Wildcats (0-3) used a 10-play drive to pull within seven points.
A key play was on fourth-and-four at their 43 where Reidy hit Wilson with a 25-yard pass.
The junior QB eventually hit Dalton Hall with a four-yard reception for six. The Trojans blocked the extra-point.
Newcomerstown, who had no turnovers on the night, came through with a 319-194 advantage in total offense. Rankin was 8-of-15 for 92 yards with no interceptions. Sanchez had four receptions for 55 yards to lead all receivers. Miller racked up 82 ground yards on 17 carries.
"Our goal was to be 2-1 heading into league play," Brock offered. "We knew that would be tough because we were going against two ex-playoff teams from last season (Caldwell and River). New London is usually tough and whipped us last year. All of our goals are still in place and that's all we can ask for."
NEXT-- Newcomerstown entertains undefeated Inter-Valley Conference foe Tuscarawas Central Catholic on Friday at 7:30 p.m.