To get into the Class AA playoffs, No. 20 Sissonville will need a little help from the teams above it in the rankings.
But first, on Friday night, the Indians had to help themselves.
So, after an up-and-down three quarters and clinging to a three-point lead, Sissonville finally seized control, ripping off 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to pull away from upset-minded host Nitro in a 51-27 win. The victory kept Sissonville’s playoff hopes afloat.
“Proud of our guys,” Sissonville coach Marc Wilson said. “I think we backed off the pedal a little bit and their quarterback and running back started running the ball down our throats. That was for real. But our linebackers stopped looking at the [fake] jet [sweep] and started playing downhill and that made the difference.”
Nitro’s quarterback/running back combination of Trevor Lowe and Cam Foster got going in the third quarter, but Sissonville’s tandem of Jackson Foster and Dylan Griffith weren’t bad either. Both went over 100 yards rushing with Griffith rumbling for a game-high 153 yards on 19 carries with four rushing touchdowns and a receiving touchdown. Foster picked up 142 yards on 13 totes and threw for 109 yards on 8-of-14 passing with two touchdowns in the air and one on the ground.
Both were key in Sissonville’s fourth-quarter surge after Nitro stormed back from 17 down to make things interesting.
The Indians led 23-13 at halftime and extended that lead by seven after two Griffith runs to begin the third quarter covered 33 yards and got Sissonville into the end zone.
But Nitro (3-6) was undeterred, answering in four plays with a 26-yard scoring jaunt from Foster to make the score 30-20. The Wildcats held firm on defense, knocking down a Foster pass on fourth-and-4 from the Wildcat 19. Then Lowe engineered an eight-play scoring drive capped by a 16-yard pass to Anthony Jackson, the third scoring connection between the two.
Sissonville’s next drive stalled as well, leading to a punt and, suddenly, Nitro had possession, momentum and was within three points at 30-27 heading into the fourth quarter.
“We were just on edge and you know you can’t screw up, the game is on the line,” Foster said. “We just had to play our hardest.”
The Sissonville defense helped squelch the momentum, forcing a Nitro punt and the Indians (6-3) responded, covering 71 yards in four plays capped with a Foster 4-yard run around the right end to provide the Indians some breathing room at 37-27. From there, it was all Sissonville.
“Good ball players,” Wilson said. “We’ve got to clean up the turnovers. If we do get to the playoffs, they’re going to kill us.”
To his point, Sissonville’s 10-point halftime lead could’ve been much larger if not for three turnovers and some missed opportunities.
But there were plenty of empty chances for Nitro as well, including two unconverted fourth-and-1 plays, one from its own 20-yard line in the second quarter that led to a Sissonville touchdown. That made the score 21-7, a tally that would become 23-7 after a safety on Nitro’s next possession.
Foster was sacked on the next offensive play for Sissonville and fumbled, giving Nitro an opportunity, but a drive stalled out at the Indians’ 4-yard line.
Nitro was close, but early mistakes combined with Sissonville’s efficient final period were too much for the Wildcats to overcome.
“Penalties and dropped balls, it’s kind of been our thing all year,” Nitro coach Zach Davis said. “The games we’ve won we’ve not done that, the games we’ve lost — penalties and dropped balls.”
After Foster’s 4-yard touchdown run in the fourth, Nitro was stopped on fourth-and-1, leading to a five-play, 43-yard touchdown drive for the Indians.
The Wildcats drove deep into Sissonville territory one more time, but a fourth-and-11 from the Indians 22 resulted in an incomplete pass, ending the threat and, for all intents and purposes, the game.
Foster led Nitro with 119 yards on 17 carries and a touchdown. Lowe hit on 14 of 27 passes for 178 yards and three touchdowns — all to Jackson — and added 63 yards on 18 carries. Jackson finished with 93 yards on five receptions.