It was a high school football game that lived up to its billing.

In a clash of two unbeatens, the Waverly Tigers and the Portsmouth Trojans went down to the wire Friday evening, Sept. 17 in a clash at Waverly’s Raidiger Field. Big plays ultimately defined the night with the Tigers snatching a 35-34 win in thrilling fashion.

Senior wideout Penn Morrison secured a 16-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Wade Futhey with 45 seconds left on the clock to draw the Tigers within one, 34-33. Waverly then elected to go for the two-point conversion. With both running backs on the sidelines after suffering injuries, Wade Futhey took the snap, rolled right and then flipped it to Wyatt Crabtree who turned up the jets and cruised into the end zone, giving the Tigers the 35-34 one-point lead.

At that point, they just had to keep Portsmouth out of the end zone for 45 more seconds. That had proved difficult throughout the night as Trojan quarterback Drew Roe and the receivers made big play after big play.

It was Penn Morrison who ultimately made the big play, coming down with an interception of a desperation pass from Portsmouth quarterback Drew Roe on the Waverly 10-yard line, sealing the 35-34 victory.

The competitive battle between the two schools wasn’t originally scheduled. But COVID-19 cancellation by opponents made it all possible. The Tigers were thankful to have a game after having their Sept. 10 contest at Chillicothe cancelled by the hosting Cavaliers late on Sept. 9. There was not enough time to find another opponent for that week.

On Monday, Sept. 13, the Tigers learned that their Sept. 17 game scheduled to be played at Washington Court House had also been cancelled. As the week continued, it didn’t appear that any local teams were going to have cancellations that would allow Waverly to find a game.

Then on Wednesday evening, Waverly High School Athletic Director Bo Arnett notified the News Watchman that the Tigers would indeed have a game. Portsmouth was originally supposed to play at Gallia Academy. However, Gallia had cancelled, giving Waverly and Portsmouth, which scrimmaged each other prior to the season, the opportunity to meet in regular season play at Waverly’s Raidiger Field.

“Even though we had some familiarity with them, they’ve definitely improved since the scrimmage,” said Waverly coach Chris Crabtree. “This is a team that has the capability to score some points. With the athletes they put on the field, if you give them a little bit of time and a little bit of a crease, they are going to take advantage of that.”

After Portsmouth won the coin toss and deferred to the second half, the Tigers took the opening kickoff and put together a 7-play, 69-yard drive that took 2:08 off the clock. That drive ending when senior quarterback Wade Futhey completed a 20-yard touchdown pass to his twin brother Will. After Keagan Smith’s kick, the Tigers led 7-0 with 9:35 left in the opening quarter.

Portsmouth didn’t shy away from the Waverly Tigers, who had found themselves ranked eighth in Division IV in the first Associated Press High School Football Poll of the season on Sept. 13. The Trojans answered with a 9 play, 65-yard scoring drive, keeping the ball mostly on the ground. A defensive highlight for Waverly was having Wyatt Crabtree make a leaping deflection of a Drew Roe pass. Ultimately, Trojan Amare Johnson closed the drive with a 10-yard TD run. The kick from Zach Roth was good, creating a 7-7 tie with 6:50 left in the first quarter.

Waverly’s second drive of the night stalled at midfield. However, Tiger senior J.T. Barnett delivered a 47-yard punt, pinning the Trojans at their own 4-yard line. The Trojans made it back to midfield, where Crabtree delivered a tackle for loss of Beau Hammond. Roe’s third down pass attempt fell incomplete. He followed with a punt that went 50 yards into the end zone for a touchback.

The Tigers began picking up big chunks of yardage in the passing game as Jason McClellan secured a catch for 20 yards and Will Futhey grabbed another for 32 yards. But Wade Futhey’s 23-yard pass to the end zone was intercepted by Trojan Darlyone Bryant to end the opening quarter.

Waverly’s defense stepped up again, forcing the Trojans to go three-and-out. Roe punted the ball 41 yards, allowing the Tigers to begin their next drive on their own 36-yard line.

The Tigers started moving the ball with the passing game again, only to have Portsmouth’s Reade Pendleton jump a route at midfield for a 51-yard, pick-6 touchdown. That gave Portsmouth its first lead, 14-7, with 9:48 left in the opening half.

Portsmouth held the Tigers at bay on their next drive after Wade Futhey was sacked on second down, resulting in a 43-yard punt from Barnett two plays later.

Waverly’s defense held though with Mark Stulley, Penn Morrison, Barnett and Braylon Robertson providing tackles. This time, Portsmouth’s punt was followed by a Tiger touchdown.

Sophomore Creed Smith opened the drive for the Tigers with an 11-yard run. Will Futhey secured a catch for 44 yards, Stulley grabbed another for 17 and finally Morrison collected the touchdown catch of a Wade Futhey pass from 7 yards out. After Smith’s kick, the two teams were tied at 14-14 with 2:56 left in the half.

The Trojans looked to and did answer, keeping the ball mostly on the ground with runs from Roe and Johnson. Will Futhey dropped Roe for a loss on 2nd-and-goal, but Roe came back with a 7-yard touchdown run to give the Trojans the lead of 21-14 with 16 seconds left in the half.

Portsmouth aimed to take the lead to 14 by scoring on the opening drive of the second half, but Waverly’s defense was up to the task again forcing a quick punt.

Opening the drive for the Tigers, Creed Smith broke a 22-yard run. After a pass from Wade Futhey to Morrison picked up another first down, Smith ripped off a 13-yard run, followed by a 3-yard run. The final play came with Futhey connecting with Mark Stulley for a 27-yard touchdown strike. Keagan Smith’s kick created a 21-21 tie.

It didn’t take long for the Tigers to get the ball back. On the first play of Portsmouth’s ensuing drive, Roe completed a 6-yard pass to Johnson, only to have Mark Stulley knock the ball free. Will Futhey pounced on it for the Tigers and returned it 12 yards to the Portsmouth 23-yard line.

It took Waverly just six plays to cover 23 yards, scoring with a Wade Futhey 10-yard pass to Will Futhey, 27-21. The point-after failed, but it didn’t come back to haunt the Tigers.

The Trojans countered with a nine-play, 65-yard drive, culminating with a 13-yard touchdown pass from Roe to Hammond. Defensively, the Tigers stepped up to block the kick, creating a 27-27 tie with 4:21 left in the third.

Waverly’s next drive consumed nearly six minutes, but it came to an end four yards short of the goal line on fourth down. The Tiger defense didn’t allow the Trojans to get a first down and forced another punt.

Once again, the Tigers drove to the Portsmouth 27-yard line where they were stopped on fourth down. The two teams exchanged punts for a final time.

When Portsmouth took possession with 5:12 left in regulation, the Trojans found the big play they needed. On 3rd-and-at their own 40-yard line, Roe connected with Danovan Carr who evaded defenders on a 60-yard run to the end zone. The kick was good, making the score 34-27 with 1:22 left.

Working quickly, the Tigers had to answer or suffer their first loss. Barnett returned a short kick 10 yards to the Waverly 46-yard line. Then Wade Futhey connected with Will Futhey for gains of 9 and 7 yards. Then he fired to Morrison for a 27-yard connection, getting the Tigers within 11 yards of the end zone. Morrison caught the next pass for what appeared to be a touchdown, but it was negated by penalty. The next play, starting from the Portsmouth 16-yard line saw Morrison secure a third-straight catch, this time counting as a touchdown.

Opting to take control and not play for a tie and possible overtime, the Tigers ran the play to make the two-point conversion with Wade Futhey flipping it to Wyatt Crabtree, making the score 35-34.

Now the Tigers just had to hold the Trojans. Roe completed a 24-yard pass to Hammond and a 16-yarder to Pendleton to get to the 50-yard line. He heaved another long one, only to have Morrison come down with it and bring the game to an end.

Wyatt Crabtree was told that he was getting the ball on the two-point conversion play.

“We practiced that all that week,” said Wyatt Crabtree. “I just tried to focus on catching it and getting in the end zone.”

“We drew that up before we even scored the touchdown,” said Will Futhey. “Two plays earlier, we started talking about what we were going to do for the two-point conversion. We had a little debate. We chose that one.”

Wade Futhey completed 31-of-45 passes for 412 yards, 5 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. Penn Morrison had 11 catches for 130 yards and 2 touchdowns. Will Futhey finished with 9 catches for 132 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Mark Stulley also went over the 100-yard mark, having 8 catches for 119 yards and a touchdown.

“We just trusted our guys to make plays. We didn’t panic or get ahead of ourselves when things got rough. We just went and executed,” said Wade Futhey.

Some brotherly pride was exhibited by Will, who has been logging time with the varsity squad since his freshman year.

“I’m proud of him. He had a rough start,” said Will of his twin Wade. “He came out and just led the team like he’s been here (at quarterback) for the whole four years. That’s something incredible to see out of a first-year starter in big game-time moments like this. I couldn’t be more proud.”

Morrison felt like one of Wade Futhey’s interceptions was on his shoulders. He was determined to do whatever he needed to help the Tigers win.

“I’m missed a block that led to a pick-6. I held myself accountable for that and felt like I needed to play well,” said Morrison. “I didn’t get down myself. I just played hard, and Wade made throws.”

Waverly’s starting running back Jase Hurd had just 4 carries for 12 yards before suffering an injury. Sophomore Creed Smith entered and added 16 carries for 93 yards, but he too was hurt late in the game.

“I know we had overcome a lot of tough things tonight with some kids going out there. We almost had to play at one point without a running back. I give our offensive staff a lot of credit for just not letting it affect the game and finding a way to win. This is the total team effort from a staff to a program perspective,” said Coach Crabtree.

“This is the second and third game like this where it’s come down to the last effort. It says a lot of our kids for a program. They were holding their heads at halftime a little bit. It was like, ‘Hey, we’ve been in this situation before and that’s why you play these types of games. This will pay dividends later on down the road.’ They (Trojans) are going to win a lot more football games.”

The trio of seniors agreed.

“It is all about how you bounce back from things like this. We came out, bounced back and won a football game,” said Wade Futhey.

“It is really different only getting to prepare a couple of days for a team like Portsmouth, but I thought we did a really good job of coming out and doing what we needed to do.”

“We did a great job of adjusting in the second half,” added Will Futhey, “We learned how to get the offense going. We started the second half with a little bit of energy that we missed in the first half. Overall, I’m proud of my guys.”

Morrison finished, “We bent, but we didn’t break.”

Statistically as a team, Waverly finished with 23 first downs, while Portsmouth had 19. The Tigers also had 505 yards of total offense, ahead of 411 for the Trojans. Their quarterback, Drew Roe, completed 17-of-32 passes for 183 yards, 2 touchdowns and 1 interception. He also was the leading rusher, having 16 carries for 130 yards and a touchdown.

“I love that Portsmouth staff over there. I’m good friends with those guys,” said Coach Crabtree. “You know we have a mutual respect for each other. You hate to see somebody lose, but that’s the way it goes. We were fortunate to come out on top.”

For the second straight week, the Tigers also found themselves ranked in the Associated Press poll, although they dropped one spot from eighth to ninth.

In a scheduling change, they will remain at home this Friday evening to take on the Portsmouth West Senators. West’s new turf field has not been completed yet, forcing the change of location.

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