By ANDREW GRIMM
For The Times Leader
CADIZ – With the big numbers Kobe Mitchell puts up offensively, it would be easy for one to forget the senior standout is a star on the defensive side of the ball, too.
It was a defensive play by the Akron basketball recruit that shifted the course of the game and put Harrison Central on track to keeping the V.A.L.E.S. Trophy with a 49-34 victory Friday night.
With Buckeye Local knocking on the door at the 2-yard-line looking for the lead midway through the second quarter, Mitchell forced a fumble and took the ball 98-yards the other way to instead put the Huskies on top.
They would stay in the lead the rest of the way.
“That was a huge play for us, stripping it and returning it for a touchdown. That was big time stuff,” Harrsison Central head coach Anthony Hayes said. “You know the old adage, big time players step up in big moments.”
Mitchell did plenty of damage on offense, too, throwing for 211 yards and a pair of touchdowns while rushing for another 139 and two scores, using his legs to pick up some key first downs in the fourth quarter when it was a one-score game.
“I couldn’t be happier for a kid like him to be able to able to close his high school career out with a win,” Hayes said. “It was a hard-fought win.”
For the Panthers, who got off to a good start and stayed within striking distance until the closing minutes, that big momentum swing ended up being costly.
“That’s a 14-point swing,” Buckeye Local head coach Roger Herbert said. “We put the ball on the ground and unfortunately for us the wrong guy picked it up.
“I thought our guys battled and kept punching with them and they got us in the end.”
It is the ninth-straight V.A.L.E.S. Win in the rivalry series between the teams for Harrison Central, though Friday was the closest in recent years.
“Hats off to coach Herbert, I don’t think my friend gets nearly enough credit for what he’s done there and what he continues to do,” Hayes said. “It means a lot to us to win this game, we look forward to playing this game every year. Our districts border each other, it’s 10 minutes from Cadiz to Adena, these kids all know each other.
“For us to come out and win this game is huge for our program.”
James Brooks, who got off to a terrific start to the season before injuries limited him through most of the rest of the season, also had a big night, rushing for 44 yards and score on six carries while turning four catches into 96 yards – including a key 71-yard score in the fourth quarter – and a touchdown.
“We’ve saw it the last two weeks, he’s started getting better and better and I think he was really getting healthy,” Hayes said. “He was really banged up after about Week 3 and really wasn’t himself. Him being healthy makes us a much better team.”
Hayden Taylor, who missed the start of the season and Hebert said was finally a full-go, had a big night in his final performance in a Buckeye Local uniform, rushing for 179 yards and four touchdowns while throwing for another 71 yards.
“This is the first week we actually turned him loose and let him run,” Herbert said. “Getting him involved and getting him going makes us a lot better football team. Since he’s been back, we’ve been a lot better.”
The Panthers finished with 382 yards rushing, with emerging sophomore standout Trey Hoover adding another big night to his resume with 168 yards and score. They finish the season 3-7.
“One thing we talk a lot about is progress and improvement,” Herbert said. “Four years ago, we weren’t competitive in any game, it was a running clock every game. Now, we’re banging with some good teams and winning some games. The progress is definitely coming.”
Trevor Carman hauled in six Mitchell passes for 66 yards for the Huskies, who finished with 394 yards of offense. He was ejected from the game in the third quarter following a Taylor touchdown run and about 15 minutes of the referees conferencing.
The Panthers held early leads of 6-0 and 14-7, as Taylor broke free for a 42-yard score a couple plays after the defense forced a fumble, and Hoover answered Mitchell’s first score – a 13-yard run – by powering in from 15 yards out.
Mitchell fired his first scoring pass to even the score at 14 early in the second, then his big defensive play put the Huskies on top 21-14 at the break.
Brooks capped the opening drive of the second half with a 1-yard plunge to make it 28-14, before Taylor and Mitchell started trading scores and big plays.
Taylor scored on a 40-yard run, which ended with multiple personal fouls and Carman ejected after he crossed the goal line, making it 28-20 after three quarters.
Mitchell capped a scoring drive with a 3-yard run to again make it a two-score lead, but Taylor again found pay dirt from a yard out to make it 35-28.
Mitchell then connected with Brooks on a short pass on what was a key third down after the Huskies had dodged a bullet and recovered their own fumble, and he broke it for a 71-yard score with 5:33 to go.
Taylor had one more answer, a 31-yard run, before a Brooks 25-yard run and the Huskies defense forcing a fumble ended the Panthers hopes of taking the trophy from Cadiz.
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