Buccaneers fall short in Battle for the Pick overtime, 35-34

Senior Elijah Bryant runs the ball Friday night at Lewis.

WESTON — Amongst all the games being played underneath the Friday Night Lights of the Mountain State last Friday night, few, if any had the dramatics, the atmosphere or the sheer level intensity on both sides as the Battle for the Pick, the annual meeting on the gridiron between rivals Buckhannon-Upshur and Lewis County. While the Battle for the Pick is one of North Central West Virginia’s most storied rivalries, with well over a century of shared history between these two programs, the 2022 edition of the game has to rank near the top of the list of the most tightly contested in series history as both team’s thrilled the packed homecoming crowd in Weston throughout the course of an overtime epic.

The Buckhannon-Upshur football team, coached by Zach Davis entered the rivalry match-up a little banged up, down a few key contributors after a tough 2-3 start to the 2022 campaign that highlighted by wins at home against Ripley and rival Philip Barbour. Coach Davis and the Buccaneers entered last Friday, October 7 looking to simultaneously keep control of the Pick after beating Lewis County last year and solve their road woes by picking up their first road win of the season, after suffering losses to Bridgeport, John Marshall, and University all coming on the road.

The Buccaneers chose to open the game off with their offense. Coach Davis’ confidence in his offense was rewarded with a solid drive as the Buccaneers marched the ball down to the Minutemen one-yard line. Quarterback Dawson Tenney capped the Buccaneers opening drive off by keeping it himself on a sneak for the one-yard score to put Buckhannon-Upshur up 7-0. The Minutemen responded by seized control of the game for much of the remainder of the first half, building a 21-7 lead with three unanswered scores. Aside from the game’s opening drive and a huge 71-yard touchdown pass from Tenney to Bryson Johnston which was negated by a holding call, the Buccaneers offense was largely quiet in the early stages of the game. The Buccaneers offense roared to life in waning minutes of the second quarter, as Johnson found the edge on a toss play, streaking along the Buckhannon-Upshur sideline for a 25-yard touchdown run, to cut the Minutemen lead to 21-14 right before the half.

The Buccaneer defense held Lewis County to a three-and-out on their opening possession of the second half opening up an opportunity to tie the game with a good drive. Tenney and company delivered, driving the ball to the Minutemen five-yard line where Savion Farmer wouldn’t be denied, punching it in to knot the game up at 21-21.

A wild third quarter continued with Lewis County taking the following kickoff 60-yards, setting them up well into the redzone on the Buccaneer 20-yard line. Despite the best efforts of the Buccaneer defense, the Minutemen found the endzone on a seven-yard run a few plays later to regain control of the lead with just over four minutes left in the third quarter.

Keeping his composure, Tenney showed the maturity of an experienced signal caller far beyond his years, masterfully orchestrating a late game scoring drive by skillfully getting the ball to his playmakers, under pressure in a hostile environment on the road in a close rivalry game. Tenney capped the drive off himself with his second one yard rushing touchdown of the game to knot things up at 28-28 at the beginning of the fourth quarter.

The Buccaneer defense came up with a massive stop on Lewis County’s proceeding drive, forcing a turnover on downs after Taiwo Thropp sacked Lewis County quarterback Bryant Zielinski on fourth down setting up the opportunity for the young Buccaneer offense to put together a game-winning drive.

The Buccaneers advanced the ball well into Lewis County territory, however with time running out, Coach Davis trotted his special team’s unit onto the field for a 30-yard game-winning field goal attempt with just ten seconds left in the fourth quarter. The kick sailed wide left, closing out regulation with both teams still evenly matched at 28-28.

In the proceeding overtime period, the Buccaneers chose to open up with the ball. The Buccaneers wasted no time, striking on their first play from scrimmage in the overtime period, as Farmer found a seam and exploited it to the tune of a 20-yard touchdown romp. The following Buccaneers extra-point attempt was no good, yet the Buccaneers held a 34-28 lead, just needing to keep Lewis County out of the endzone to seal the deal.

The Minutemen dashed the Buccaneers hopes of keeping “the Pick” with a three-play 20-yard drive, with running back Braydon Carder punching it in from one-yard out. Minutemen kicker Owen Accord nailed the extra point kick, allowing Lewis County to escape with a one-point overtime win at home in one of the most memorable games in the series 110 year history.

The Buccaneers, despite being down several key contributors, still put themselves in a position to win the game. The Buccaneers offense enjoyed a solid day, amassing more total offensive yards than the Minutemen, outgaining Lewis County 319-277, picking up 20 first downs compared to Lewis County’s 18. Despite the loss, the Buccaneer coaching staff has to be pleased with the production of their ground game, as they rushed for 365 yards on 60 carries. Farmer led the way for the Buccaneers backfield, racking up 235 yards and a pair of scores on 34 carries.  Johnston proved to be a viable threat both running the ball and as a receiving threat out of the backfield, amassing 98 yards and a score on 15 carries. Tenney carried the ball two times, each time scoring from one yard to put together an odd stat line of 2 rushes, 2 yards, and 2 touchdowns.

Coach Davis offered his thoughts on this year’s Battle of the Pick overtime shootout, saying, “I thought our team played their hearts out. It was a heck of a game. I am very proud of our players. They gave great effort. Hats off to Lewis County and Coach [Dustin] Cogar. They had their players ready to play and they earned a victory. We will get back to work this week and I know our guys will respond.”

The devastating rivalry loss hurts the Buccaneers standing in the race for a playoff spot, as Coach Davis and company fell to 2-4 on the season as their road woes continue to haunt them this season. The Buccaneers will be back in Tennerton this Friday, September 14 as they welcome Oak Hill to town. Kickoff is schedule 7:30 p.m. at Freal “Red” Crites Memorial Stadium.

Senior Elijah Bryant runs the ball Friday night at Lewis.

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