By Brad Morris
It appeared Circleville was on the verge of its third consecutive runaway win against a Scioto Valley Conference opponent on Friday when it hosted the Westfall Mustangs.
Instead, what was once a 27-6 lead had melted down to 27-14 in the fourth quarter with momentum starting to shift toward the Mustangs.
That’s when Scott Moats had seen enough.
The Circleville senior quarterback broke a trio of tackles to score from 45 yards out midway through the fourth quarter to help the Tigers ultimately secure a 34-22 win.
“It was my time to step up right there,” Moats said. “We had guys cramping up and battling in the second half and we hadn’t done a lot on offense coming out of halftime. I saw the defender crash, saw my line to run and knew it was my time to make something happen.”
Circleville (3-0) enters Mid-State League Buckeye Division play next week unbeaten for the first time since 2015, thanks in part to its physical running attack.
The Tigers amassed 289 yards rushing, led by sophomore back Jude Blair covering 141 yards on 23 carries and scoring three times and Moats adding 136 yards rushing on just nine totes and a score. Moats was also an efficient 9 of 11 passing for 105 yards and a touchdown.
“Our offense really performed well in the first half and Jude really got us going running the football and giving us a lot of momentum,” Moats said. “Our offensive line has just been amazing in each of our first three games. They are winning the line of scrimmage virtually every time.”
The Tigers took the opening kickoff and gave the Mustangs a heavy dose of their run game, using nine plays to cover 65 yards and drain 4:46 off the clock. Blair gained 43 yards on the drive, capped by a four-yard touchdown run. The first of four extra points by Moats gave the Tigers a 7-0 lead.
“I’ve been preaching since the first day that I got here last year that we are going to be a physical football team on offense, defense and special teams,” Circleville coach Steve Evans said. “Our guys came out and they did what they do best.
“Our line blocked hard, we have a good group of guys to tote the football and weapons on the edge when teams try to take away our run game.”
Circleville then took advantage of the early season punting struggles Westfall has experienced. A 24-yard punt gave the Tigers the ball on the Westfall 40.
Blair scored three plays later when he made a cutback to his left coming through the line of scrimmage and took off on a 24-yard run to the house.
Joe Streitenberger blocked the next punt attempt by the Mustangs, with the Tigers recovering 15 yards away from the goal line. Blair scored three plays later on a six-yard run to make it 21-0 Tigers.
After getting shutout 35-0 at Logan Elm last week, the Mustangs were undeterred by another sizable deficit and continued to battle, putting together a nine-play drive that went for 74 yards.
A 34-yard pass from Bryce Wickline to Jaden Towler put the Mustangs into the red zone, and Wickline capped the drive five plays later with a one-yard sneak to make it 21-6.
Circleville came right back to take a 27-6 lead into halftime when Omari Graham took advantage of a blown coverage and caught a wide-open pass from Moats that he took in from 34 yards out.
Westfall (1-2) scored the lone touchdown of the third quarter.
A 61-yard strike from Wickline to Casey Cline on a seam route gave the Mustangs first-and-goal from the one.
After being driven back to the six, Wickline connected with Cline on fourth-and-goal in the right corner of the end zone. Cline wrestled the ball in midair away from a Circleville defender to make it 27-14, following a two-point conversion run courtesy of Joey Wright.
“We made some adjustments at halftime and we came out and won the second half,” Westfall coach Logan Stepp said. “Circleville did a great job with its inside zone read and hitting on its cutbacks there in the first half. In the second half, I felt like our defensive line fought through things better and our linebackers weren’t overflowing like they were in the first.
“That allowed us to get some stops and give our offense some time to work and we were able to move the football pretty effectively with our passing game.”
The Mustangs then stopped two Circleville drives that penetrated as deep as the Westfall 22 and 38 to continue and gain some momentum.
After watching Circleville’s first three possessions of the second half result in no points, Moats changed that with his aforementioned 45-yard touchdown run. He broke the final of three tackle attempts at the 20-yard on his way to paydirt.
“Key players step up at key times with key plays, and that’s what Scott did right there,” Evans said. “It felt like Westfall had the momentum or at least had it started going their way and that changed the game.
“I told our guys that last year we would have found a way to lose this game. We would have let this spiral out of control, but tonight our guys battled through adversity, and they made enough plays when they had to.”
Westfall capped scoring with a six-yard touchdown pass from Wickline to Towler, with the duo hooking up again on a two-point conversion.
After being held to 77 yards passing in the first half, Wickline passed for 189 yards in the final two quarters and finished the evening 18 of 32 with a pair of touchdowns.
“We had some guys rotating in and out with cramping, but both teams had to play through that,” Evans said. “We knew Westfall had a nice passing attack coming into the game and they were able to do some things there in the second half that we will take a look at on film and work on.
“I knew Coach Stepp felt like he didn’t have his team prepared the way he wanted to last week against Logan Elm and I knew that wasn’t going to happen for a second-straight time with the type of program he came from (Stepp was an assistant coach at West Jefferson). I told him after the game that I was impressed with how his kids kept battling and competing.”
Cline had five grabs for 105 yards and a score and Towler brought down five receptions for 98 yards and a score.
The Tigers welcome two-time defending regional champion Bloom-Carroll (2-1) next week, a 35-0 winner last night at Jonathan Alder. The Mustangs return home to kickoff SVC play with Paint Valley (1-2), which fell 48-0 last night to Washington Court House.
“It’s a great opportunity for our guys,” Evans said. “Obviously, Bloom-Carroll has been on a tremendous run, and they have another very good team this year. It’s exciting to be 3-0 and have this opportunity, and hopefully our fans pack the bleachers next week and root us on.”
Score By Quarters 1 2 3 4 F
Westfall 0 6 8 8 22
Circleville 7 20 0 7 34
CV — Jude Blair 4 run (Scott Moats kick), 7:14.
CV — Jude Blair 24 run (Scott Moats kick), 11:13.
CV — Jude Blair 6 run (Scott Moats kick), 8:23.
WF — Bryce Wickline 1 run (kick tipped), 4:32.
CV — Omari Graham 34 pass from Scott Moats (kick tipped), 1:36.
WF — Casey Cline 6 pass from Bryce Wickline (Joey Wright run), 4:59.
CV — Scott Moats 45 run (Scott Moats kick), 6:27.
WF — Jaden Towler 6 pass from Bryce Wickline (Jaden Towler pass from Bryce Wickline), 4:06.
First downs 13 18
Rushing yards 22-41 41-289
Passing yards 256 105
Comp.-Att.-Int 18-32-1 9-11-0
Total yards 297 394
Fumbles-Lost 3-0 0-0
Penalties-Yards 2-15 7-75
Punts-Ave. 4-15 3-33.3
RUSHING – Westfall — Bryce Wickline 13-34, Tanner Scheel 1-(-3), Joey Wright 6-10, Cade Hall 2-16, Team 1-(-11), . Circleville — Jude Blair 23-141, Scott Moats 9-136, Drew Thornsley 6-16, Angelo Travis 1-6, Team 2-(-10).
PASSING – Westfall — Bryce Wickline 18-32-1-256. Circleville — Scott Moats 9-11-0-105.
RECEIVING – Westfall — Casey Cline 5-105, Trent Walters 6-49, Caden Hall 1-25, Jaden Towler 5-98, Joey Wright 1-(-1). Circleville — Daniel Cutliff 4-25, Omari Graham 1-34, Nolan West 3-27, Jacob Johnson 1-19.
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