POCA — It’s difficult to measure how far Poca has come in just one year, but try this on for size:
At the start of last season, the Dots were trying to rid themselves of a losing streak that eventually reached 39 games. But as the end of this regular season draws near, the program is gunning for a 10-0 record and celebrating its first conference championship in 12 years.
Still, the Dots needed every ounce of resolve Friday night to get their ninth victory, holding off a youthful and determined Herbert Hoover squad 14-9 at rain-slickened O.O. White Stadium.
The game wasn’t decided until Poca’s Luke Spradling recovered an onside kick with 50 seconds remaining. Hoover (1-8) scored its first touchdown just moments before on a 1-yard quarterback sneak by Rhett White, set up by a 46-yard bomb from White to Nathan Harper.
Poca (9-0) rode the efforts of junior tailback Owen McClanahan, who carried 20 times for 183 yards and scored both his team’s touchdowns. The Dots finished with only 218 yards of offense, all but 15 coming from McClanahan, who also caught a 20-yard pass.
“We did enough to win it,’’ said Poca coach Seth Ramsey. “We’ve got a lot of things to clean up and a lot of things to get better at, but you’ve got to have games like this. Coach [Tim] Meyer does a great job up there at Hoover and he had his guys ready to play.
“These games test your mental fortitude. If we do the little things right that we think we can do, then maybe we get out of here quicker than we did, but it’s a win and we’ll take it and we’ll get ready for Wayne.’’
Poca came into the game No. 2 in the Class AA ratings. The only thing now standing between the Dots and their first 10-0 regular season since 1978 and a top playoff seed is Friday’s upcoming home game against Wayne. Even when they won three straight AA titles from 2001-03, the Dots were never unbeaten in the regular season, going 7-3, 7-3 and 8-2, respectively, in those seasons.
With a current 8-0 league record, Poca also wrapped up at least a share of the Cardinal Conference championship, its first since tying with Wayne in 2006. The Dots can take their first outright Cardinal crown since 1999 by beating the Pioneers next week.
The Dots led just 7-0 at halftime on Friday, where it remained until Hoover drove inside the Poca 5 to start the fourth quarter. However, 27 yards on penalties on one play moved the Huskies back to the 32 and they later settled for John Campbell’s 26-yard field goal to make it 7-3 with 6:54 left in the game. On that drive, Huskies tailback Ben Kee broke off gainers of 30 and 22 yards. He ended with 115 yards on 19 attempts.
Hoover appeared to have the Dots in a hole shortly thereafter, as they faced third-and-6 from their own 19. McClanahan took a pitchout to the left and gained 32 yards and an additional 15 yards was tacked on for a Hoover penalty, placing the ball at the Huskies 34. Five plays later, McClanahan turned in a spinning, 9-yard TD run on third-and-6 to elevate the lead to 14-3.
“We knew they were going to try and stop the pitches,’’ said McClanahan, who took over as lead back when 1,000-yard rusher Ethan Payne was lost to a hip injury three weeks ago. “That’s why we tried to run it up the gut. But they were filling it up, so we were just trying to work it to the outside, work it to the outside. Just get on our blocks and do what we could do.’’
Hoover’s defense was particularly impressive to start the second half, as it forced consecutive three-and-outs by Poca, which didn’t pick up its initial first down of the half until McClanahan’s 32-yard run with about five minutes left in the game.
“We feel good about the kids and the way they played,’’ said Hoover’s Meyer. “Coach [Ricky] Nelson, our defensive coordinator, put together a heck of a game plan that kept us in the game. Our kids listened to them, they executed and did everything that we as coaches asked them to do. I can’t ask for anything more out of these kids. They played their butts off.’’
In the first half, each side had scoring opportunities thwarted by offensive penalties and the choppy field conditions.
McClanahan’s 59-yard burst in the first quarter helped put Poca at the Hoover 10, but an intentional grounding penalty eventually forced the Dots to yield the ball on downs. Poca later got to the Huskies 12 largely on a 20-yard pass from Jay Cook to McClanahan, but Hoover again made a defensive stand and the game remained scoreless.
An Ethan Miller interception in the second period then put Poca in good field position at the Hoover 30 and five plays later, McClanahan took a toss sweep 4 yards for a touchdown. Joe Starcher’s extra point made it 7-0 with 5:53 left to halftime.
The Huskies reached the Poca 46 for a third-and-4 in the second quarter, but a 15-yard holding call pushed Hoover out of scoring contention.
A strip sack of Cook by Nick Grayam forced a fumble recovered by Huskies teammate Michael Rollins, who returned it 25 yards to the Dots 33, but another penalty short-circuited that drive that ultimately resulted in a Hoover punt.