SULLIVAN TWP. — The red zone was the Black River football team’s dead zone Friday, and that was enough to make 24th-year coach Al Young use the word “ridiculous” at least a dozen times in postgame interviews.
His frustration was understandable. The Pirates saw four drives end inside the Northwestern 5-yard line in a 35-12 non-league loss.
Black River (1-1) also lost a fumble on the Huskies 14 and had another returned 15 yards to the house by All-Ohio safety Malachi Nolletti. Down 16, it then drove the final nail into its own coffin by getting stuffed at the 1 with 9:35 left.
“We were on the 1-yard line how many times?” Young said. “It’s ridiculous. I’m sorry. It’s ridiculous.
“I’m upset and mad because we’re a better football team than 35-12,” he added. “That’s ridiculous.”
If anything, the Pirates were consistent despite using three quarterbacks. They had drives end on downs at the Northwestern 1, 2, 5, 5, 32 and 33, fumbled six times and allowed Northwestern (2-0) to score 21 points off their miscues.
Star running back Andrew Vaughn (26 carries, 149 yards, 2 TDs) did all he could and senior Brock Waltz (5-for-10, 35 yards) eventually emerged as the go-to quarterback, but the Black River offensive line was humbled by 300-pound defensive linemen Matt Hunter and Joey Workman.
“I don’t care what you do between the 20s. You’ve got to punch in it in the red zone,” Young said. “Three times we came up empty. I’m sorry, field goals aren’t going to get it done.”
Operating out of the Wildcat, Vaughn began the red-zone ridiculousness by overthrowing open tight end Nick Sas on fourth-and-goal from the 5 after a grueling 13-play, 5-minute drive. Bell and Vaughn were stuffed inside the 3 just 5 minutes later.
The game was still scoreless at that point, and the Pirates went on the move again after recovering a fumble. Then sophomore Vernon Beard, whose two fumbles resulted in Waltz taking over, completed the first pass of his career and Nolletti turned momentum on its head.
Beard dropped back and drilled 5-foot-8 Aaron Schmitz in stride. The problem was the 6-3 Nolletti was waiting, and he rocked Schmitz so hard the ball popped into the air. Northwestern’s Wyatt Edwards grabbed it and rumbled to the Black River 25, giving way for Tyler Smith (26 carries, 191 yards, 3 TDs) to score on the next play.
It only got worse from there. Vaughn was forced to leave the game with a mild injury, and backup Dalton Toth had the ball jarred free by the Huskies’ Tanner Topp. Nolletti calmly picked it up and scored to make it 14-0.
When Black River punted from its own 44 shortly thereafter, it had 33 plays to the Huskies’ six, outgained them 124-56 and had the ball for 14:18 of the game’s first 16 minutes.
Less than 3 minutes later, Black River trailed 21-0 when Smith found paydirt again.
“I think defense was where we needed the biggest lift tonight,” Nolletti said. “With such a good player (Vaughn) on the other end, we knew offense would take care of itself. We needed to get big stops.
“It was a big swing. We took advantage of it, and it gave us a real boost.”
After the Pirates failed on fourth down at the Northwestern 32, Pat McIntyre gave them life by intercepting Nolletti. Vaughn capitalized on a 17-yard TD run, but the Huskies responded to start the second half to make it 28-7.
Black River’s defense held firm the rest of the way and another Vaughn TD made it 28-12, but the offense’s lowest moment was yet to come.
The Pirates moved the ball inside the 5 and eventually faced third-and-goal from the 1. Waltz misfired through the air, and backup fullback Colin Filak — playing only because sophomore David Bell (14 carries, 55 yards) left with a concussion — was slammed cold on an off-tackle attempt.
Northwestern was forced to punt shortly thereafter, but Black River turned it over on downs again. Nolletti then delivered the dagger by capping a 68-yard drive on a keeper.
“We need to do a better job coaching, period,” Young said. “We need to find 11 guys, and I don’t care if I have 11 guys go both ways. That’s fine. I’m going to find 11 guys who can play defense around this place who can shut people down, and then I’m going to find five guys (on the offensive line). I thought I had five, but obviously our blocking on the goal line isn’t that good.
“We need to get tougher. We need to get more physical. I’m not happy in any way, shape or form with how we played.”
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Northwestern 35, Black River 12
NORTHWESTERN 0 21 7 7 — 35
BLACK RIVER 0 6 6 0 — 12
N — Tyler Smith 25 run (kick blocked), 11:11.
N —Malachi Nolletti 15 fumble return (Smith run), 10:05.
N — Smith 10 run (Ryan Morr kick), 5:21.
B — Andrew Vaughn 17 run (run failed), 1:13.
N — Smith 1 run (Morr kick), 6:33.
B — Vaughn 10 run (run failed), 2:31.
N — Nolletti 5 run (Morr kick), 2:02.
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