EAST LIVERPOOL - In the annual "Battle of the Bridges" it was the battle of turnovers that made the difference.
Oak Glen gave the ball away six times on Friday, while East Liverpool played nearly mistake-free football as the Potters cruised to a 33-13 victory at Patterson Field.
The victory was the second of the season for the Potters (2-6), while the loss puts the Bears (4-4) playoff hopes in serious jeopardy.
East Liverpool's D.J. Austin intercepts a pass as Oak Glen's Clayton Flowers closes in. (Photo courtesy of Jimmy Joe Savage)
East Liverpool was whistled for just four penalties in the game and committed only one turnover in what coach Rick Prescott said was the team's best overall performance of the year.
"We talked all week about playing four quarters and limiting our mistakes," he said. "We've been on the other side of the turnover battle. We've been preaching ball control and playing to the whistle. We were in good shape and we were efficient."
East Liverpool senior Stefan Yoho stole the show doing a little of everything for the Potters. Yoho finished with 129 yards rushing with a touchdown on 22 carries. On defense, he returned a fumble 22 yards for a score and collected two interceptions.
"He's really becoming an all-around player," Prescott said of Yoho. "He's a leader and he's got tons of athletic ability. He's really coming into his own in all facets of the game."
For the Bears, three interceptions by Bub Haddox and one by Chase Hartley together with two lost fumbles proved to be too much to overcome.
"When you lose the turnover battle that bad, it's hard to compete," Oak Glen coach Ian Whittington said. "We did a lot of positive things, but turnovers killed our drives. We had way too many on their side of the field. It's nearly impossible to recover from that many mistakes."
The Bears' first turnover came on their first possession. Zack Staley set up Oak Glen on the East Liverpool 14-yard line with a 39-yard run, but Haddox was picked off by Yoho.
Oak Glen would get on the board first, however, when Haddox found paydirt from three yards out. The score was set up by a 34-yard run by Trey Smith and the Bears led, 7-0, with 4:45 left in the first frame.
Midway through the second quarter, another Haddox interception - this time by D.J. Austin - led to the Potters first touchdown as John Miscuk barreled through the Oak Glen defense from five yards out.
Payton Newlun got his first start at quarterback for East Liverpool with Kade Reynolds out with an injury. The senior started the game with seven incompletions, but on a 3rd-and-5 on the Oak Glen 35-yard line he found Tyler McComas on a 28-yard reception which set up the Potters' second score. This time it would be Newlun himself who found the end zone from seven yards out to give his team a 13-7 advantage with one minute left in the half.
"You can't argue with what he did for us," Prescott said of Newlun. "He was ready for the opportunity and we put the ball in his hands."
After forcing Oak Glen to a three-and-out, East Liverpool nearly scored again before the break. Newlun found Zack English on a 46-yard completion all the way down to the Oak Glen 9-yard line. With only half a second on the clock, however, Newlun's last attempt fell incomplete to send the game to halftime.
The Bears came out of the gates strong in the second half with a 11-play, 68-yard scoring drive that took four minutes off the clock. After Haddox left the game with an injury, Chase Hartley entered at quarterback and capped the drive with a 25-yard touchdown run to tie the game, 13-13, with 7:47 left in the third quarter.
It took only one play for the Potters to answer.
Yoho broke several tackles in the middle of the Oak Glen defense and was off to the races, 68-yards for the score and East Liverpool led, 20-13, with 7:27 in the third frame.
Just two plays later, a Smith fumble was recovered by East Liverpool's Chris Russell. But the Potters would give the ball back three plays later when Clayton Flowers intercepted Newlun.
The Bears couldn't cash in on the opportunity though and neither team would score again until late in the final frame.
Still trailing by just one score, Oak Glen took over with four minutes to play in good field position on their own 44-yard line after an East Liverpool punt was partially blocked. After Russell sacked Hartley for a 13-yard loss, his next pass was tipped, caught by a Bears' lineman who then fumbled the ball. Yoho scooped up the loose pigskin and ran 22 yards for the score.
Haddox returned for the next Oak Glen series and was promptly picked off by Newlun who would then cap the game's scoring with a 3-yard run with one minute to play.
"I got exactly what I expected from East Liverpool," Whittington said. "They played physical and we gave them too many shots and they took advantage of it. They fought us tooth and nail and made the plays when we didn't."
Oak Glen, which came in ranked No. 22 in the WVSSAC playoff ratings, will now need to win their final two games and get plenty of help to have any chance of playing in the postseason.
"We need a miracle to get in," said Whittington whose Bears have a bye week before hosting Point Pleasant. "We need a lot of teams in front of us to lose and all the teams we beat to win out. It's a far shot, a very far shot, but I've seen crazier things happen."
The Potters will look to keep their momentum alive next week when they host Cleveland East Tech.
"We had a great week of practice and I'm looking for another one," Prescott said. "The focus is there. We've been stressing that the next game starts on Monday because that's when we get to work. These guys believe in themselves and are putting in the preparation."
NOTES: Newlun finished with 93 yards on 3-of-15 passing with an interception. ... Oak Glen was led by Smith's 70 yards rushing on 12 carries. Haddox was 3-of-11 for 3 yards and three interceptions, while Hartley was 3-of-5 for 30 yards with a pick.