BY JIM HAYNES
Times-Reporter sports writer
DOVER It was a heck of a ride.
The Indian Valley Braves fell to the Steubenville Big Red 17-14 in a hard-fought Division IV regional final game in front of a spirited crowd at Crater Stadium on Friday night.
Steubenville’s defense shut down the Braves’ potent offense in the second half, but head coach Matt Lancaster was proud of his kids.
“We just couldn’t get on track offensively tonight, and we made some negative plays. And when you have an offense like we do, we can’t afford to make those negative plays,” Lancaster said. “But I couldn’t be more proud of our kids effort and fight all season long up to the very end.”
Indian Valley finishes its magical season at 10-3, while Steubenville advances to the final four with a record of 9-4.
VIDEO: Indian Valley-Steubenville Highlights
Taking a page out the Indian Valley style of offense, Steubenville received the opening kickoff and drove 67-yards in 15 plays with a steady dose of quarterback Mandela Lawrence-Burke, who eventually scored on a 5-yard touchdown run putting Big Red on top 7-0.
Not to be outdone, Indian Valley put together a 17-play, 69-yard drive of their own.
The drive looked to be stalling inside the Big Red 30 when the Braves were facing a fourth-and-5. The Braves chose to go for it, as quarterback Brady Byers threw a deep pass intended for Caden McGuire.
The ball seemed to be just out of the reach of McGuire when a Big Red defender pushed him in the back for pass interference, giving the Braves a first down at the Big Red 15-yard line. Three plays later, Jake Davis ran it in from 2 yards out to tie the game at 7.
On Big Red’s ensuing possession, running back Johnnie Blue broke free on a 48-yard scamper down the sideline, putting the ball at the Braves 17 yard line and giving momentum back to Steubenville. But after a chop-block penalty moved the ball back to the 31-yard line, Big Red connected on a 33-yard field goal to grab the lead again at 10-7.
Indian Valley came right back on its next possession.
After moving the ball down to the Big Red 33-yard line, the Braves faced another fourth-down play, and once again Byers fired deep down field to Logan Ryan, who made a beautiful catch for a 32-yard gain to the 1-yard line.
Davis punched it in from a yard out, giving Indian Valley the lead and plenty of momentum with 3:35 left before halftime.
That drive by the Braves seemed to stun the Big Red, and it showed on their next possession as an inspired Braves defense held them to a three-and-out, forcing a punt with 2:30 left before half.
The fired-up Indian Valley crowd was on its feet as it could sense the huge momentum swing on the field, however Big Red shut down the Braves’ last drive before the half, leaving the score 14-10 going into the locker room.
It was the last time Indian Valley threatened in the game.
After the teams traded possessions to open the second half, Steubenville finally broke through again by going 78 yards in seven plays, capped by Blue scoring from 7 yards out to give Big Red the 17-14 lead they would never relinquish.
Indian Valley got one last shot with just over two minutes remaining in the game, but the Big Red defense held on downs to seal the game.
Byers’ injured his throwing arm while playing defense early in the fourth quarter, but Lancaster felt that wasn’t a factor in play-calling late in the game.
“Brady tweaked his arm there a little bit, but I don’t think it affected him,” Lancaster said. “I’ll take some of the blame in the second half of this one because I didn’t put our kids in the best positions out there at times tonight.”
Reach Jim at 330-364-8425 or email@example.com
On Twitter: @JamesEricHaynes