With the Waverly Tigers fighting to secure a home playoff game and the Oak Hill Oaks fighting for their playoff lives, Friday night’s Southern Ohio Conference Division II battle between the two teams lived up to expectations.
Ultimately, the Tigers did what they needed to do, securing a 27-14 road conquest over the hosting Oak Hill Oaks at Davis Stadium.
Getting the early edge was crucial for Waverly, as the Oaks haven’t been surrendering many points this season. Since this was the first year for the Oaks to play in the larger school Division II of the Southern Ohio Conference, they were a bit of an unknown coming into the season. But the Oaks proved their worth. They fought their way to a 3-1 league record, just like the Tigers, coming into the Friday night’s regular season finale. But only one team could come out victorious. And on this night, the win belonged to the visiting Tigers.
“We knew what they were going to do. They are playing some of their best football late in the season. They’ve beaten some of the teams we’ve beaten,” said Waverly coach Chris Crabtree. “Their style is to keep it close. We probably left some points out there. Give credit to them for some of the things they were doing. It was a hard fought game on both sides.”
The Tigers secured the momentum early, stopping Oak Hill’s opening drive at midfield. The Oaks turned the ball over on downs on their own 49-yard line, having used up four minutes and 16 seconds of clock.
Waverly likes to work quickly on offense, using just one minute and 10 seconds to strike. A 33-yard pass play from quarterback Haydn Shanks to Will Futhey gave the Tigers some momentum. Then Payton Shoemaker did the rest. The Tigers faced fourth-and-goal on the Oak Hill 5-yard line, and Shoemaker fought his way into the end zone for the first touchdown of the game. Grayson Diener connected on the point-after, making the lead 7-0 with 6:34 to play in the first.
It looked like the Tigers were going to have an opportunity to score again quickly. Diener kicked the ball deep to around the 3-yard line where the Oak Hill returner bobbled the catch. He lost the ball and the Tigers appeared to have recovered the fumble. But one official had already blown the play dead. After a discussion by the officiating crew, the Tigers had to kickoff to the Oaks again.
Once again, Waverly’s defense was able to hold the Oaks at bay, forcing them to go three-and-out. The punt went to the Waverly 39-yard line. Back on offense with 4:25 left in the quarter, the Tigers could only gain four yards. Diener prepared to punt the ball away, but a wobbly snap ended up on the ground at his feet. With Oaks rushing toward him, Diener picked up the ball, weaved past one defender and headed to the sideline, picking up the first down with an 8-yard run. That was a crucial recovery to keep the scoring drive alive.
Shanks completed passes to Mark Stulley and Will Futhey with Shoemaker mixing runs in between to get to the Oak Hill 20-yard line. Then Shanks went to the air again, hitting a leaping Penn Morrison at the goal line. Morrison secured the catch in the air and held it with a defender clinging to his jersey. Officially, it was a 21-yard touchdown pass that made the score 13-0 with 2:05 left in the opening quarter.
Oak Hill’s offensive strategy was a slow, methodical time consuming running game. That took the next drive well into the second quarter. This time the Oaks were successful. It took 15 plays to cover 80 yards, ultimately scoring on 4th-and-goal from the 1-yard line with a touchdown from Keaton Potter. The kick was good, cutting Waverly’s lead to 13-7 with 7:21 left in the second quarter.
On Waverly’s next drive, the Tigers quickly moved into Oak Hill territory, getting to the 40-yard line. Shanks went to the air and had his pass picked off by one of the Oaks. However, the intercepting Oak lost the ball and the Tigers recovered. Waverly moved all the way down to the Oak Hill 1-yard line where Shanks had another pass picked off. The Oaks returned the ball to the 22-yard line.
Oak Hill went back to its ground-and-pound offense, driving all the way to the Waverly 24-yard line where they fumbled the ball and the Tigers recovered. They turned the opportunity into points. Shanks started the drive by hooking up with Will Futhey on a 48-yard pass to get into Oak Hill territory. Payton Shoemaker followed with runs of 9, 12, and 7 yards to score. That made the lead 19-7 with 1:07 left in the half after the conversion try failed. The score remained there at the break.
The third quarter was a battle of defenses. Waverly had the ball to begin the third quarter after a short kick. But the Tigers couldn’t pick up a first down. Shoemaker’s 4th-down run at midfield was short. Waverly turned the ball over on downs.
Oak Hill tried to sustain another drive, but had a 4th-down run stopped short by Waverly senior Dakota Swepston.
The Tigers came back with a drive of their own, getting to the Oak Hill 8-yard line where Diener attempted a 25-yard field goal. The ball sailed just wide of the uprights, keeping the score at 19-7.
Oak Hill began its next drive midway through the third quarter and continued it into the fourth quarter, ultimately getting within five points of the Tigers after Triston Diltz scored on a 1-yard rushing touchdown, 19-14. At that point, 8:25 was left in the fourth quarter.
The Oaks attempted an onside kick, but Waverly’s Penn Morrison was able to make the recovery. That led to Waverly’s final scoring drive. Shoemaker broke off a big 37-yard run on the second play. Ultimately, he carried the ball five times on that drive, scoring from 7 yards out. He followed with the conversion run to make the score 27-13 with 5:33 to play essentially sealing the win.
“At that point in the game, that was an opportunity to get out on the edge more. We had probably wore them down a little bit,” said Crabtree. “We had to take what they gave us. They played some good defensive and played us solid.”
On that final drive where Shoemaker did all of the running, he received the majority of the handoffs on a pitch from Shanks. That was key to opening up the running game.
“Their line was coming off real hard inside, so we tried to pitch it so we could get out quicker,” said Shoemaker. “I think it helped us seal the edge better and hit it quicker so they didn’t have time to pursue as much. That gave me a little more time.”
Shoemaker learned that he had surpassed 2,000 rushing yards during the contest when he exited the game late in the fourth quarter. Officially, it is 258 carries for 2,039 yards and 28 touchdowns this season.
“I didn’t know until the very last play. They said, ‘Payton you’re done.’ Then they said, ‘By the way, you got 2,000.’ I didn’t know. It seemed like I got about 50 yards. All of those short runs just add up,” said Shoemaker.
“The offensive line did a great job. It is a nice feat to have on the resume, but ultimately we got the win to nail down a home playoff game. That’s the main thing and hopefully we would go 1-0 next week.”
Shoemaker talked in detail about his entire team, including the line, which lost freshman Brock Adams to injury late in the first half.
“We’ve had guys banged up. Obviously Shanks has been playing with injuries all year. Brock went down tonight, which really hurt us, but we’ve always had the next-man-up mentality. Tonight Blaise (Reader) came in and played a really good game after Brock went down. That is a hard position to come into,” said Shoemaker.
“This was a big game for us to clinch a home playoff game. Blaise hasn’t had a lot of reps there, so for him to come in there and play well was great. Defensively we’ve had guys play a bunch of different positions and be able to step up. I’m really proud of this team. They fight through adversity, do their job and do a great job.”
The Tigers appear to be hosting a Division IV Region 15 home playoff game Saturday night at Raidiger Field against an opponent to be determined.
“That’s cool and awesome. In 2016, we got the home game. Not having to travel somewhere is going to be nice. It will be good for the community and the school. It should be a good time,” said Crabtree.
“I’m proud of our kids and the way they fought. We just kept battling. We bent at times but ultimately we held when we needed to defensively. Then we went and put the points on the board when we needed to. A win is a win. The fun is in the winning. We will celebrate it here tonight, but then we have to get back to work next week.”
Waverly finishes the regular season at 8-2 and the SOC II at 4-1.
More details and a special section on the Waverly Tigers will be included in Wednesday’s News Watchman.