COLUMBUS GROVE — Pandora-Gilboa turned a negative into a positive in more ways than one when it beat rival Columbus Grove 25-13 in its football opener on Friday night.
First, the Rockets’ defense stopped Columbus Grove for negative yardage on 12 plays in the game — eight of them in the first half.
Then it gutted out a second half when its lead was only six points for most of the final two quarters without several key players on the field because of leg cramps.
“We fought. We had a lot of bad things going on there with cramping and whatnot, but we fought our tails off. I’m so proud of these players,” Pandora-Gilboa coach Matt Hershey said. “I’m so proud of the guys who stepped up and took over when our stars went out.”
“We were just looking for our athletes on the sideline. Who can we plug in that’s going to do a job?” he said about the cramps that hit quarterback Jared Breece, wide receiver/linebacker Riley Larcom, linemen Isaac Stall and Dylan Bryan and wide receiver/defensive lineman Travis Maag.
After the Rockets took a 19-13 halftime lead, the only scoring in the second half came on a 46-yard touchdown run by P-G’s Peyton Traxler with 1:13 left in the game.
“Defensively, to hold them to zero in the second half is just a fantastic job,” Hershey said.
All of the touchdowns before Traxler’s run came through the air.
Columbus Grove jumped out to a 6-0 lead on the second offensive series when Blake Reynolds connected with Caleb Barrientes on a 59-yard touchdown pass.
Pandora-Gilboa answered with a 36-yard touchdown pass from Breece to Larcom with 4:24 left in the first quarter.
The Rockets took the lead and never lost it on a 5-yard TD pass from Breece to Silas Schmenk in the first minute of the second quarter. Breece’s third touchdown pass, a 38-yarder to Maag with 6:07 to play in the first half, gave Pandora-Gilboa a 19-6 lead.
Reynolds found Zac Ridenour with a 38-yard scoring pass three minutes before halftime to cut the lead to 19-13.
“We stopped the run most of the night. Not every time, but most of the time,” Hershey said. “It was extremely hard for them to run. They beat us (for touchdowns) on big plays. Without big plays, it’s a shutout. But they made the plays, the long passes.
“If we can limit the big plays, we’re hard to score on.”
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414.