AMANDA — On an evening Amanda-Clearcreek dominated visiting Hamilton Township in total yardage and led for most of a Mid-State League Buckeye Division game, the Aces could never put away the pesky Rangers.
“It felt like the game was going back-and-forth, especially in the second half,” Amanda-Clearcreek senior Jesse Connell said. “We would get up by (10 points) and then they’d score and cut it back to three.
“We knew we’d have to come up with a stop in the end.”
The Aces did just that when they forced a turnover on downs with 1:43 remaining and Connell chewed up 11 yards on the next play for a first down to seal a 35-32 win on Friday to remain unbeaten in league play.
Amanda-Clearcreek outgained Hamilton Township 471-238 in total offense, but the Rangers hanged around the entire night thanks to 16 points from their special teams and defense.
After feeding the Rangers a steady diet of power football, the Aces went to a wrinkle in their playbook when Connell connected with tight end Lane Stevens on a 37-yard halfback pass for a touchdown to put the Aces ahead 35-25 with 8:06 remaining.
“I had a defender coming towards me, because he thought I was going to run the ball and Lane was running down the right side of the field open,” Connell said. “All I had to do was float the football to him and give him a good pass to catch. He did his job and I did my job.”
As they had done all night, the Rangers responded with an 18-yard touchdown pass from Brock McGuire to Ato Forson on a post route to shave the Aces’ lead back to three points with 4:46 remaining.
Following an A-C punt, the defense rose up and did its job by tackling Hamilton Township’s Brad Maynard four yards short of the first down marker after he caught a screen pass on fourth-and-11.
Taking over on the Rangers’ 36, Connell ripped off an 11-yard carry to allow the Aces to go in victory formation and cap a perfect 5-0 regular-season in The Pit.
“With the community support we get, we talk about defending The Pit because any good season starts with protecting your home field,” A-C coach Steve Daulton said.
The Aces averaged 6.9 yards per carry and finished the evening with 339 yards on the ground. Peyton Madison had 95 of his 121 yards rushing in the second half, Connell consumed 87 yards on 21 carries, Alex Fairchild covered 80 yards on just seven totes and Jayse Miller added 53 yards on seven carries.
“We’ve become pretty comfortable in our jumbo package and quick snapping when we run to the line,” Connell said. “It’s more of a hurry up and grind offense, but that suits our team fine.”
Hamilton Township (3-5, 2-3) reached the scoreboard first on a 22-yard field goal by Gavin Wilhite in the first quarter. The field goal was set-up by a short field when the Rangers took over on the Aces’ 40-yard line following a fake punt.
Amanda-Clearcreek (7-1, 4-0) responded with a seven-play drive that went 65 yards. Fairchild had two carries for 29 yards on the possession and Miller added three totes for 27 yards, including a 19-yard touchdown run. The first of five extra points by Jonathan Weaver made it 7-3 Aces.
“It all starts up front and our offensive line set the tone for the game,” Daulton said. “They continue to progress and get a little more comfortable and a little better every time we play.”
Grant Guiler recovered an onside kick to give the Aces a bonus possession that they turned into a touchdown when Fairchild took a pitch from Madison and ran it around right end from nine yards out.
With 110 yards rushing in the first quarter, it felt like the Aces were about ready to take control of the game, but Forson had a different idea when he returned the ensuing kickoff 84 yards for a touchdown to cut the A-C lead to 14-9 after a two-point conversion pass failed.
Hamilton Township scored the first nine points of the second quarter on a safety, followed by a 68-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Maynard to take an 18-14 lead with 2:29 remaining.
“To give up two kick return touchdowns, that’s unacceptable,” Daulton said. “That’s one thing we’ll watch on film and get to work this week on cleaning up, because we can’t have that going forward.”
The Rangers seemed poised to take a lead into intermission, but Madison intercepted a deflected pass from McGuire to set the Aces up on the HT 22. Fairchild scored five plays later when he took a pitch from Madison around left end for a six-yard score to give the Aces a 21-18 halftime lead.
Hamilton Township drove inside the red zone on the opening possession of the second half, but Miller recovered a fumble to halt the drive.
Madison faked an option hand-off to Fairchild four plays later and followed his blockers to burst free up the middle for a 61-yard touchdown to push the Aces’ lead to 28-18.
The Rangers countered with a 15-yard touchdown pass from McGuire to Maynard later in the quarter to shave the Aces’ lead back to three.
McGuire completed 15 of 21 passes for 121 yards and two touchdowns for the Rangers. Madison was 6 of 11 passing for 95 yards.
“Our defense made some plays at key times, but those couple of touchdowns Hamilton Township scored was a credit to them,” Daulton said. “They took what we gave them and were pretty efficient.”
The Aces travel to Teays Valley (6-2, 4-0) next week for a battle of league unbeatens.
“Every game is big, but this is championship week and we have to come in with a different mindset, have a great week of practice and get ready for Teays Valley,” Connell said. “It was nice to win tonight, but we’re capable of executing a lot better than we did against Hamilton Township.”