MALVERN -- Hold onto that game film, coaches. ESPN Classic might just be calling.
In a barnburner of a game, Newcomerstown High came up on the short end of what otherwise was a great second half of football, falling to undefeated Malvern, 29-27, on Friday.
The exciting, but disappointing ending was set up when Malvern broke a 21-21 tie with a 15-yard pass from Hornet senior quarterback Doug Wood to Travis Tucci with only 1:11 to play. The sophomore receiver made an amazing grab in the end zone near the side line for six. Wood nailed the two-point conversion with a pass to Maurice Johnson to make it 29-21.
The Trojans, who came to life on offense in the second half after being shut out in the first, were not about to fold. With 1:04 on the clock, Newcomerstown took over at its 35 where senior quarterback Caleb Rankin completed passes of seven and 17 yards to move the ball to the Malvern 41. A pass interference moved the ball to the Hornet 26 and with the clock ticking under 15 seconds, Rankin took the snap. Finding no open receivers, he took off down the left-center of the field and then cut right. It was a great foot race to watch as Rankin and two Hornet defenders converged at the same moment to the far right corner of the end zone. Rankin won the battle as he fell over the pylon, barely getting the ball in for the score.
As the teams lined up for the potential game-tying two-pointer, both sides of the stands poured out the noise as loud as they could.
Taking the snap, Rankin dropped back and after several seconds suddenly found an open receiver, but with the defense rushing in, the ball came down just barely short of its target. Malvern then recovered the onside kick and ran out the little time remaining to seal the deal.
"Overall I'm more proud of how our guys played harder than any of our wins that I've had here and never gave up," said Newcomerstown coach Eric Brock. "They did what we coached and made the adjustments we gave them at halftime. That was a good team we just played. One of our goals was, win or lose, that we gain the respect of our opponents. I think we did that tonight. As long as we get better, we're going to win games."
Malvern opened the scoring on its second possession of the evening when Wood hit a well-covered Nick Palleschi, whose height advantage gave him the edge for a 29-yard scoring pass. Zach Johnson's PAT made it 7-0 with 3:19 to go in the first quarter.
The Hornets' second score came at the 2:53 mark of the second period. Wood hit Tucci on a deep crossing pattern and he raced untouched into the end zone. The extra-point kick was low.
An interception in the end zone right before halftime by Trojan defender Chandler Shyrock helped keep the score 13-0.
The Trojans' offense had been held in check for the entire first 24 minutes of play. Their five possessions resulted in four punts (a 30- yard average by Matt Ayres) and a lost fumble. Rankin's stats were only 3-of-5 in the passing game for eight net yards, and the running game wasn't doing much better.
Things changed dramatically in the second half, however.
On their second possession, the Trojans hit paydirt when Rankin connected to Serafin Sanchez on a 64-yard strike. Sanchez juked one would-be tackler and got the other so twisted around that he could only watch as Sanchez took off for the end zone. The extra-point was no good, making it 13-6.
Rankin helped set up the next Newcomerstown TD with an exciting 67-yard punt return. With the ball at the nine-yard line, Rankin hit Darian Arnold with a pass and the junior spun around and dove into the end zone for six. T. J. Wright made the extra-point, had it nullified for a penalty, then booted it again to tie the game at 13-13 with 2:17 to go in the third.
A 65-yard return on the ensuing kickoff set up the Hornets at the Trojans' 15. Tyler Carpenter eventually ran in from the one and a Wood to Maurice Johnson pass on the conversion made it 21-13 as the third quarter ended.
The Orange and Black responded quickly on their next series, with the key play being a 59-yard completion from Rankin to Bubba Harris. Rankin carried it in from the one and then tossed the two-pointer to Shyrock to knot the game again, this time at 21.
Both teams punted before Malvern scored to make it 29-21 and set the stage for the dramatic finish.
Rankin finished 11-of-18 for 189 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions for Newcomerstown (2-3, 0-2 IVC). He also ran for 80 yards on 10 carries and returned the punt for 67. Sanchez finished with two receptions for 74 yards while Harris had the one big catch for 59 stripes.
For the Hornets (5-0, 2-0 IVC), Wood was 16-of-24 for 197 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception. Maurice Johnson had 11 yards on 28 carries while Tucci had six catches for 106 markers.
NEXT-- Newcomerstown plays at Strasburg on Friday at 7 p.m.