JOHNSTON CITY — The closer opponents get to the end zone, the tougher Johnston City’s defense appears to get.
Sesser-Valier drove inside the Indians’ 15-yard three times Friday night and produced no points, the difference in their 35-14 win that tightened their grip on the Black Diamond Conference.
In posting its sixth straight victory since a Week 1 loss to Nashville, Johnston City (6-1, 6-0) put itself in position to clinch at least a tie for the conference title with a win next week at Carmi-White County.
The reasons? Big plays on offense and a defense that permitted 372 yards but bowed up when required. The Red Devils churned out drives of 6:58 in the second quarter and 6:14 in the fourth quarter, yet failed to convert.
“They could be on the centimeter line and I wouldn’t be worried,” said Indians star Austin Brown. “We’re always confident we can make the big play and keep them out of the end zone. We bend but don’t break.”
Brown, who’s verbally committed to Wisconsin, again played up to billing. He accounted for 132 yards from scrimmage and ended S-V’s marathon second quarter drive with a pick in the end zone.
But Johnston City showed again it’s more than Brown. Heath Neibch threw for 164 yards, while Isiah Watson bagged 127 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries to supply the balance any offense needs.
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Neibch’s first thoughts were on what the defense meant.
“Those guys are just dogs,” he said.
Sesser-Valier couldn’t have started the game any better. It needed just five plays to earn a 7-0 lead. Carson Hoffard flipped a short pass to Chelf in the left flat and he ran through a couple of arm-tackles before showing off his speed to finish a 59-yard touchdown connection.
The Red Devils were on the verge of taking a 14-0 lead when they reached the Johnston City 10, four plays after recovering a fumble on the Indians’ first play. Then things turned the other way for good.
An intentional grounding call cost S-V 13 yards and eventually stalled its drive. Johnston City required just six plays to tie the score as Brown jumped over two defenders to haul in Neibch’s 38-yard touchdown pass with 4:47 left in the first quarter.
It became 15-7 just over three minutes later when Watson plunged 2 yards for the go-ahead score, followed by Brown converting a 2-point run after the Indians lined up to kick the PAT.
Boston Peyton recovered a Red Devils’ fumble at the 32 and Johnston City made it 21-7 with 10:10 remaining in the half. Neibch faked to Watson on the option and strolled into the end zone from the 3, raising the ball into the air as he crossed the goal line.
S-V made its bid to get back into the game when it drove nearly seven minutes from its 39 to the 4. But it failed to score as Brown stepped in front of a forced pass over the middle and intercepted it in the end zone.
The Indians delivered a back-breaking blow just before halftime, converting the pick into a fourth straight touchdown. Neibch zipped a slant to Corbin Hickey and he ran through an arm-tackle on his way to a 49-yard score with 15.0 seconds on the clock for a 28-7 lead at intermission.
The play capped a perfect half for Neibch. He was 7 of 7 for 159 yards and accounted for three touchdowns.
“If you look at film, you’ll see I had all day long to throw those deep fades to Corbin,” Neibch said.
Hoffard accounted for 192 total yards, completing 9 of 17 passes for 145 yards. Chelf put together a 134-yard night from scrimmage before leaving late in the third quarter with a leg injury.