JACKSON — Long-suffering Cleveland Browns fans will always want to forget “The Fumble” and “The Drive,” however, Jackson Ironmen fans from Friday night inside Alumni Stadium will always want to remember “this” fumble and “this” drive.
In the final nine minutes of a football game never to be forgotten by the Ironmen, Jackson (3-0) converted a goal-line stand into the game-winning touchdown and defeated longtime archrival Gallia Academy 15-9 in the 101st meeting of the two former Southeastern Ohio Athletic League rivals.
The Blue Devils (2-1) scored the opening nine points in the first 13:37, but the Ironmen rallied for the final 15, scoring first just two minutes after Gallia Academy’s only touchdown before getting the game-winner with just two minutes to go.
Jackson head coach Andy Hall said it was an ugly, awful performance by the Ironmen. Jackson had three turnovers, fumbled seven times including on three consecutive snaps in the final minute, and made mental mistake after mental mistake on offense. The Ironmen defense, though, dug deep, and got a Blue Devil fumble on the goal line with nine minutes remaining.
Jackson’s offense then crafted a 17-play, 99-yard, scoring march that took 7:04 to go ahead 15-9 with the two-point conversion pass.
The Blue Devils had two more chances to tie the score and even take the lead, but quarterback Justin McClelland was leveled on a sack which resulted in a lost fumble before a holding penalty negated a 23-yard run and led to McClelland hurrying and throwing incomplete into the end zone on the game’s final play.
“There’s an old saying in the coaching world that it’s better to win ugly than lose gracefully,” Hall said. “We didn’t play well tonight. But when it came down to crunch time, we made a goal-line stand and put together a 99-yard drive. We get the stop, we get into the ‘T’ (backfield formation), we ran more off tackle, our linemen had more grit to themselves and we started to move the football. It goes back to being tough. We have a sign in our locker-room that says ‘We win because we’re tougher.’ That’s our motto here. I reminded our players in the fourth quarter that we have to be tougher in this situation if we want to win.”
Gallia Academy got a McClelland 9-yard TD run following a 12-play, 50-yard drive with 10:23 to play in the second quarter. With the extra-point kick, the Blue Devils, who got a safety in the first quarter on a high snap on an Ironmen punt attempt and tackle in the end zone, held a 9-0 advantage.
On the 12th play of another drive which would have put the Blue and White up two full scores, McClelland appeared to have broken the plane of the goal line on a second-and-4 keeper with 9:04 remaining, but the officials ruled a fumble occurred prior to the ball breaking the plane.
“That was obviously a huge defensive stand. If they go up and score, then we’re in an uphill battle going into the fourth quarter,” Hall said.
McClelland carried 18 times for 43 yards, while Boo Pullins gained 59 yards on 15 attempts.