Blues Soar Into Playoffs

Blues Soar Into Playoffs
Blues Soar Into Playoffs

ABOVE, PM sophomore running back John Snider takes the ball down the field. Snider rushed for 30 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries. AT RIGHT, Fighting Blue junior running back Jalen Mitchell hustles with the ball while teammates block for him. Mitchell rushed for 78 yards on seven carries and scored a touchdown on a 55-yard reception. (Ronnie Coffey photos)

Blues Soar Into Playoffs
Blues Soar Into Playoffs

AT NEAR RIGHT, PM junior lineman Elijah Griffin holds back James River’s George Toliver as JR’s Aaron Bridges runs around them. Griffin played well on both sides of the ball, sacking JR quarterback Zeal Hammon in the fourth quarter. AT FAR RIGHT, Fighting Blue senior running back Nick Reid hustles with the ball as defenders await and teammate Dylan Critzer (9) approaches to help out. (Ronnie Coffey photos)

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PM Steps Up in Second Half, Wins Fourth Straight Game

Powered by a strong second half, the Parry McCluer High School football team defeated James River 27-14 in the final game of the regular season on Friday night in Buchanan. With the win, the Fighting Blues secured a spot in the Region 1C playoffs.

Quarterback Ty Ruley ran 90 yards and scored two touchdowns on 19 carries for the Blues (4-2), who won their fourth consecutive game. Ruley completed 3-of-8 passes for 83 yards, including a 55-yard TD pass to Jalen Mitchell.

It was a quality win over James River (1-5), the Blues’ former Pioneer District rival. JR has moved up from Class 1 to Class 2, competing against larger schools, and is now in the Three Rivers District.

The game got off to a slow start, with both teams unable to get past midfield on their first drives. With Ruley and Mitchell doing most of the running, the Blues did get to the JR 12-yard line late in the first quarter, but they came up short on a fourth-and-5 run.

The PM defense quickly stopped the Knights, and Nick Reid returned the punt to the JR 28. Mitchell then made a couple of runs to set up John Snider for a 5-yard run up the middle into the end zone. Snider also made the extra point kick to give the Blues a 7-0 lead with 43.3 seconds left in the first quarter. Mitchell rushed for 78 yards on seven carries, while Snider rushed for 30 yards on 11 totes.

Neither team threatened to score in the second quarter until the Knights got their offense going late. Facing fourth-and-18, JR decided to go for the first down and just got it when Brian Moran caught an 18-yard pass from Zeal Hammon at the PM 18-yard line.

After several short runs, the Knights made a trick play. Instead of Hammon passing the ball, he pitched it to Kahlique White and then ran toward the end zone. White passed to Hammon for a 12-yard TD with 7.4 seconds left in the half.

The extra point kick to tie the game at 7-7 was made by Morgan Marshall, the first female ever to score a point for the JR football team. Marshall would receive more recognition at halftime, when she was named the homecoming queen.

PM head coach Mark Wheeler said the first half “was rough for us. We just couldn’t get into our groove.”

He was pleased with how the Blues played in the second half after making adjustments. “We really came out on fire,” he said. “We were just not having any fun during the first half and even though we were tied 7-7 at halftime, the guys seemed to be down, like we were losing. After some attitude adjustments, we were able to come out and really have some fun. Football is a game, and playing games should be fun! If you are not having any fun playing the game, you shouldn’t be playing.”

On JR’s first possession of the second half, the Blues’ defense prevented the Knights from getting a first down.

After the Blues’ got the ball back, Ruley was sacked, but he recovered quickly. On thirdand-25, he passed the ball to Mitchell, who sprinted away from defenders for a 55-yard TD. The PAT was blocked, but the Blues led 13-7 with 8:14 left in the third quarter.

With aggressive tackling by Zavery Wallace and Trey Secrist, the Blues stopped the Knights again. Teaming up to run the ball down the field were Ruley, Snider and Nick Reid. The series of runs ended with a 2-yard plunge into the end zone by Ruley, and Snider ran for the two-point conversion to extend the Blues’ lead to 21-7 with 2:58 left in the third quarter.

The Knights got a second TD when Hammon completed a 15-yard pass to Adam Bridges with 6:37 left in the game, and a PAT by Marshall cut PM’s lead to 21-14.

To put the game away, the Blues scored on the next drive, milking the clock by making short runs up the field before Ruley bolted away for a 47-yard TD to extend PM’s lead to 27-14 with 1:41 left in the game.

JR then attempted to score on a long pass, but J.B. Wade intercepted it, and the Blues took a knee to end the game.

Pleased with the Blues’ offensive production in the second half, Wheeler said, “Our offense has really taken off. I feel like we know that we can score points at any time. Ty, Jalen, Nick and J.B. are really something special and our line has been blocking well to really get our spread game where it needs to be. Trey Orren and John Snider have really helped develop our power running game also. Our offense is just fun to watch. You just don’t know what is coming next.”

Wheeler said the defense struggled at times, but it didn’t break. “The main thing that we need to focus on is tackling. Many times, we were in position to really unload, but didn’t get our head across the body and wrap up. We have to fix this if we are going to have any success on defense from here on out. We were better in the second half, but we’re still not where we need to be tackling-wise.”

One of the better defensive plays was when PM’s Elijah Griffin sacked Hammon at the start of the fourth quarter.

Reviewing the regular season, Wheeler was pleased how the Blues recovered from losing their first two games to win the final four, finishing 3-2 in the Pioneer District and winning all of their road games. “Basically, our first two games were more like preseason scrimmages for us developmentally as a team,” he said. “Usually we have much more time to prepare for the season, and this year we just had to go with what we had. With basketball and wrestling having such successful seasons, we only had most of our starters for a week before our first game.”

Looking ahead to the playoffs, Wheeler said the Blues have to be physically tough to be successful, but he added, “The key to keep on winning is the mental aspect. We have to show up each day ready to put the work in at practice. A football season is hard on the body, but the real challenge is in the mind. We will do what we’ve been doing all year. We are going to take each playoff game one at a time and put the work in. If we do this, anything is possible.”

First Quarter

PM – Snider 5 run (Snider kick)

Second Quarter

JR – Hammon 12 pass from White (Marshall kick)

Third Quarter

PM – Mitchell 55 pass from Ruley (kick blocked)

PM – Ruley 2 run (Snider run)

Fourth Quarter

JR – Adam Bridges 15 pass from Hammon (Marshall kick)

PM – Ruley 47 run (run failed)

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING – PM, Ruley 19-90, Mitchell 7-78, Snider 11- 30, Reid 2-13, Team 1-(-3). JR, Cuddy 11-48, Church 8-42, White 1-8, Hammon 12-4.

PASSING – PM, Ruley 3-8-0 83. JR, Hammon 5-11-1 53, White 1-1-0 12.

White 1-1-0 12. RECEIVING – PM, Mitchell 1-55, Reid 1-18, Tolley 1-10. JR, Adam Bridges 2-21, Moran 1-18, White 2-14, Hammon 1-12.

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