By Ryan Pritt
ASHLAND, Ky. — For the second straight week, George Washington found itself in the midst of an ugly, dramatic and defensive game.
This time around, the result was so much prettier for the Patriots.
After turning it over deep in South Charleston territory late in the fourth quarter last week, the Patriots (1-1) came up with its own stand this time around, stuffing Paul Blazer quarterback Braxton Ratliff inside the 1-yard line on fourth down with 13.6 seconds left, salvaging a 14-7 win at Putnam Stadium.
The teams were tied at 7 at halftime and George Washington came up with what proved to be the winning touchdown with 6:50 left in the third quarter on an 18-yard pass from Grant Wells to Isaiah Mason. Yet, while there was no scoring the rest of the way, it was anything but boring.
“We’re still not making the plays we need to make, but that goes with some inexperience we’ve got, we’re still getting better,” GW coach Steve Edwards said. “Our kids played hard. They fought to the finish and that’s what you’ve got to do. They sucked it up down there. They could’ve laid down. I’ve had groups that lost their composure, but these guys hung in there and to their credit, they stopped them when they had to.”
In fairness, after the fourth play of the game, GW did a magnificent job of stopping the Tomcats.
Ratliff took the ball 60 yards to the end zone to put Paul Blazer up 7-0 just 1:44 into the game, but wouldn’t score again.
George Washington, meanwhile, couldn’t take advantage of any of their opportunities to add to the lead or put the game away in the second half.
After Wells’ touchdown throw, GW ran 26 plays in Tomcats territory, but turned it over on downs at the 26, missed a 36-yard field goal and fumbled at the 9-yard line.
That allowed Blazer and its sputtering offense to hang around long enough to nearly steal a late victory. Wells punted from the Blazer 48 down to the 25-yard line. Then Ratliff hooked up with Isaac Caines for 53 yards down to the GW 22. Blake Hester took a hand-off on the next play and weaved 16 yards to the Patriots 6, setting Blazer up with a first-and-goal inside of 2 minutes to go.
Ratliff carried the next four plays as regulation ran out (Blazer was out of timeouts) until his stretching run on fourth and 2 was stopped just in front of the goal line, giving the Patriots the ball back with Wells needing only sneak it out of the shadow of his own goal posts to kill the remaining clock.
“Every now and then you’re going to give one up, you just hope it’s not at that point in time in the game,” Edwards said. “But [the defense] did a good job. That’s a good football team. He’s got a really good team. They play hard too.”
Blazer coach Tony Love was just as proud of his defense in holding GW to 282 total yards and Wells to just 118 yards on 14-of-32 passing.
“They prove year in and year out they’re a high-ranking team in West Virginia and you hate you get a chance to beat them and come up short,” Love said. “I’m very proud of our defense. When you’re offense is sputtering you have to be able to lean on your defense and that’s what we were doing tonight. They kept us in the ball game, no doubt.”
GW wouldn’t answer Blazer’s opening score until late in the second quarter as Wells ran in from 25 yards out to tie the game. He finished with 54 yards on 12 carries with Jaquan Hall adding 10 big rushes for 67 yards to help the Patriots keep possession.
Ratliff rolled up 102 yards on 21 carries for the Tomcats with Hester adding 54 more on 14 rushes. Blazer held a narrow edge in total yards.
No matter how it looked, Edwards admitted the victory was a must win with games against Huntington and Spring Valley the next two weeks and contests against Riverside, Hurricane and Capital among others still to come.
“It was an opportunity we needed to get a win and we’re very fortunate to get the win,” Edwards said. “It’s a credit to these kids and what they fought through. They did what they had to do. Now we go back to the drawing board and the next two weeks are biggies, starting with Huntington.”