Eagle football’s running game bests Otters’ aerial attack

BRISTOL — In a Friday night Division II high school football game featuring Otter Valley’s potent passing and the host Mount Abraham/Vergennes team’s bruising rushing, the Eagles’ ground-and-pound approach came out on top, 36-18.
Led by senior Kevin Pearsall’s 30 carries for 157 yards and an offensive line that allowed the Eagles to run for 340 yards on 63 carries, the Eagles offset a strong performance from OV senior quarterback Tyler Rowe.
Rowe completed 17 of 31 passes for 202 yards and two touchdowns and ran seven times for another 68 yards and a TD.
The Otters also dropped a half-dozen passes, and the Eagle defense sacked Rowe four times and double-teamed OV’s top receiver, senior Dylan Mackie (two catches, one for a TD), forcing Rowe to look for other targets.
OTTER DEFENSIVE BACK Dylan Mackie closes in on the Eagles’ Nevin Jemison during Friday night’s game.
Independent photo/Evan Johnson
OV Coach Kipp Denis said miscues were costly as his team dropped to 1-2.
“That’s all it is. Mistakes, more mistakes, dropped passes, penalties,” Denis said.
Denis said he had just juggled his offensive line after players returned from ineligibility — other than Rowe OV rushers earned 23 yards on eight carries.
“We’ve got to do some work on the offensive line. We’ve moved some players around,” Denis said.  
All that said, Denis said the Eagles, also 1-2, deserved the W.
“Mount Abe was looking for a win, and they got it,” Denis said. “Hats off to them.”
Both Pearsall and Eagle Coach Lee Hodsden pointed to the offensive line — center Brandon Tierney, guards Cyrus Devine and Brady Gebo, and tackles Jonathan Lapell and Christien Paquin — as the heart of Friday’s win.
“The kids were controlling the line of scrimmage, and that’s why we won,” Hodsden said.
Pearsall — who also sacked Rowe three times, recovered a fumble, and made a team-high nine tackles — enjoyed seeing the guys up front create so many holes.
“They gave all they could give,” he said. “That’s all I could ask for.”
OTTER WIDE RECEIVER Nathaniel Hudson powers down the sideline Friday.
Independent photo/Evan Johnson
It took a while for the Eagles to establish control. OV stopped their opening drive at the OV 11, denying fullback John Bent on fourth-and-two.
Rowe then completed five passes to move the Otters 89 yards for a 6-0 lead. Rowe twice hit Nate Hudson (five catches) on third down to keep the drive alive, and on fourth-and-10 from the Eagle 12 he found Kameron Strickland at the right pylon for the TD at 3:44.
The Eagles moved to the OV 41, but Otter linebacker Matthew Fox (a game-high 10 tackles) broke up Pearsall’s option pass on fourth down and OV took over early in the second quarter.
From there Pearsall’s first sack, aided by Nick Longar, helped stop OV. The Otters went for it on fourth and three from their 48, but good coverage led to an incompletion. The Eagles scored eight plays later on a direct snap to Bent, who covered the final two yards at 6:34.
On that drive the Eagles often used direct snaps to Pearsall and Nevin Jameson (12 carries, 83 yards) behind two blockers, with QB Parker Hines on the sidelines. They used that formation often the rest of the game and on the conversion, on which Pearsall plowed in to make it 8-6.
Two OV penalties led to a OV punt that struck an Otter in the back, and Pearsall fell on the loose ball at the OV 23 with 2:48 left in the half. Eight plays later, it was 14-6 at 0:10, when Pearsall went in standing from the OV 1.  
THE OTTERS’ DEFENSIVE line faces off against the Eagles Friday evening in Bristol.
Independent photo/Evan Johnson
To start the second half OV moved to the Eagle 45. But a dropped pass and a fourth-down Pearsall sack set the Eagles up on the OV 49. Hines (17 carries for 95 yards) then ran for 19 and 16 yards on a five-play drive before scoring from 8 yards out. Pearsall punched in the conversion to make it 22-6.
After a Nathaniel Blake kickoff return put OV on the Eagle 47 Rowe completed passes to Hudson and Alex Polli before scrambling for a 5-yard score at 6:40 of the third. Eagle Brian Larson’s diving pass deflection on the conversion kept the score at 22-12.
The Eagles answered with a 59-yard drive to make it 28-12. Hines opened with the Eagles’ second and final pass of the day, a 40-yard bomb to Ira White, and added an 18-yard run to set up Pearsall’s 8-yard TD rumble at 3:53 of the third.
OV scored again. After a big loss and a penalty gave OV a first-and-30 at its own 39, Rowe scrambled for 28 yards. A roughing penalty put the ball on the Eagle 17, and on the next play Rowe lofted an over-the-shoulder strike to Mackie in the end zone to cut the lead to 28-18.
In the fourth quarter the Eagles iced the game with a 53-yard, 13-play drive that made it 36-18 with 4:44 to go. Pearsall, Nevin Jemison and Hines took turns carrying the ball, and Pearsall scored on a 1-yard run. Hines ran in the conversion. Sacks by Pearsall and Ryan Stoddard ended any hopes of an OV rally.
Pearsall noted fumbles had derailed an attack that had moved the ball in the Eagle losses, and they took care of the ball on Friday.
“We still had penalties tonight, but we practiced all week just holding onto the ball on handoffs and everybody working together,” he said.
The win gives the Eagles confidence they can make the Division II postseason for the first time, Pearsall added.
“It means everything to us,” he said. “We have a bit of drive in us to go on this week to Lyndon, and go on to the next week and keep winning and hopefully make playoffs this season.”
PARKER HINES FINDS a hole through the Otters’ defense Friday.
Independent photo/Evan Johnson
Hodsden praised the Eagles’ better fundamentals after film study and their execution of the defensive game plan, and agreed with Pearsall the result could give the Eagles a spark.
“It’s just huge. It’s great for the program,” Hodsden said. “The kids finally see what it’s like to win and have fun.”
Denis credited the Eagles and said the Otters would have better days.
“They played tough. There’s nothing fancy. You’ve got to stop the run, and we didn’t stop the run,” he said. “We’ll coach them up and get them ready for U-32. It’s a long season. We’re not going to throw the towel in quite yet, that’s for sure.”

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