ORRVILLE — Not many days go by when someone doesn’t ask a member of the Orrville football program if they can repeat as the Div. V state champion.
"It’s obviously something the kids think about, but it’s something that’s very difficult to do," Red Riders coach Doug Davault said. "You have to play very well, avoid injuries and it takes some pure luck along the way.
"I do think we can compete for it again, but this team has a long way to go."
Orrville may have a long way to go to reach its ultimate goal, but the road to winning the Principals Athletic Conference title got a lot shorter after a 23-16 victory over Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy at Red Rider Stadium Friday.
When it’s all said and done, this may be looked back on as the de facto PAC title game.
The Red Riders (7-0, 4-0), ranked No. 2 in this week’s Associated Press Div. V poll, took over sole possession of first in the league after Marquael Parks rushed for three touchdowns, and a bend-but-don’t-break defense came up with several huge plays.
Despite scoring 14 unanswered points in the fourth quarter led by a 223-yard rushing night from quarterback Michael Bevington, the Royals fell to 5-2 (3-1).
Fortunately for Orrville, which pushed the state’s fifth-longest winning streak to 14 straight games, it had a 23-2 cushion after three quarters before the CVCA offense finally started converting in the red zone.
CVCA actually finished with a 369-303 edge in total yards, but Orrville’s defense stepped up repeatedly when backed against the wall.
"We got a little sloppy toward the end, but the defense really played well in the second and third quarters," Davault said. "That’s two weeks in a row where we got really tough when the other team got inside the 20.
Orrville started strong by taking the game’s opening kickoff and driving 53 yards on seven plays, capped by Parks’ 8-yard scoring run. Cooper Haley was 4-for-4 passing for 57 yards, completing passes to four different receivers.
The Riders tacked on another first-quarter touchdown after Jake Phillips’ interception and 28-yard return gave them the ball at the Royals’ 16-yard line. Three plays later, Parks jetted up the middle for a 2-yard scoring run, but the PAT kick was blocked and Orrville led 13-0.
The Orrville defensive front of Austin Armstrong, Jacob Bailey, Dustin Pumphrey and Ben Amstutz came up with just enough big plays to stop the Royals.
CVCA drove to the Riders’ 3 with 53 seconds left in the first half, but Shane Douglas was wrapped up by middle of the line after Bailey made the initial hit. Orrville had a bad snap out of end zone on the ensuing play, which resulted in a safety and a 13-2 lead at the half.
Armstrong, who had three sacks and a fumble recovery, said the defense has improved each week.
Parks carried the ball 30 times for 137 yards, and Haley was 13-for-19 passing for 171 yards. Parks now has 25 total touchdowns this season, following up a sophomore year in which his 56 TDs were one short of the all-time OHSAA record.
It’s not often Parks has been held to just 4.6 yards a carry, but a lot of the credit goes to CVCA’s defense and the coaches’ game plan.
"We’re so spoiled by Marquael and his 50-yard, all-over-the-field runs, that when he doesn’t have them some people might think, ‘Oh, he didn’t play very well,’" Davault said. "I thought he played hard and our whole team played hard. I liked our effort, but we have got to clean up all the mistakes that were making."
CVCA coach Dan Larlham told his team during a long postgame talk that he shoulders a lot of responsibility for the loss.
"I told them that there’s no way our offense should have been held to 14 offensive points tonight," Larlham said. "I left way too many calls on the board and I put us in some bad spots and tried some things that didn’t work. I’m going to get better and I know my guys will respond.
"Give Orrville credit, too. They’re the best team in the conference and Parks is probably the best kid that I’ve ever coached against."
CVCA scored fourth-quarter touchdowns on runs by Bevington (5 yards) and Douglas (2) before Orrville put together a long drive to run out the clock.
Bevington, who’s listed at just 6-foot, 165 pounds, carried the ball 30 times to pick up his 223 yards. He was also 6-for-15 passing for 74 yards, while Douglas carried the ball 15 times for 60 yards.
"I tell a reporter every week that my quarterback is the toughest player on the field and the toughest in the conference," Larlhman said. "He’s a bad, bad man. In the offseason he works harder than anybody we have, so even though he only weighs 165 he’s in shape enough to handle the beating he puts himself in sometimes."