WATERFORD - Twice the Waterford Wildcats had the ball first-and-goal inside the 5-yard line and found themselves stymied by the Miller Falcon defense.
But when they needed the big plays, the youthful 'Cats found a way to put the ball in the end zone.
Guided by a pair of rushing touchdowns from Austin Lang and a critical 1-yard scamper by freshman quarterback Isaac Huffman after an interception the Wildcats held off the Falcons for a 20-12 victory in Waterford Friday evening.
KEVIN PIERSON The Marietta Times
Waterford quarterback Isaac Huffman (14) prepares to deliver a pass as Miller defensive end Stephen McGrath (88) applies the pressure during the second quarter of a football game in Waterford Friday night. Waterford won 20-12.
"They sucked it up and played well. They made the plays when they had to," praised Waterford football coach Tom Tucker.
No play was bigger than Huffman's interception of Miller quarterback Garrett Sinift, which came just one play after the Falcons' defense thwarted the Wildcats on a fourth down play just four yards from the endzone.
"Everyone just did their job. That's what it takes to win ball games," Lang said.
Waterford 20, Miller 12
Miller (0-1) 6 0 0 6 - 12
Waterford (1-0) 0 6 8 6 - 20
M: Garrett Bartley 65 pass from Garrett Sinift (kick fail) 2:11
W: Austin Lang 4 run (kick blocked) 2:54
W: Isaac Huffman 1 run (Jaret McCutcheon run) 0:04.8
M: Dakota Wilson 1 run (run fail) 7:02
W: Lang 0 run (run fail) 3:30
MILLER (0-1): First downs 10; Rushes/yds 24-119; Passing (comp-att-TD-int) 13-20-1-2; Passing yds 119; Total yds 238; Penalties/yds 6-60; Punts/avg. 2-26.5; Fumbles/lost 3/1
WATERFORD (1-0): First downs 13; Rushes/yds 40-105; Passing (comp-att-TD-int) 10-15-0-1; Passing yds 91; Total yds 196; Penalties/yds 7-70; Punts/avg. 1-33.0; Fumbles/lost 0/0
Miller: Rushing: Garrett Sinift 13-80; Dakota Wilson 9-35, TD; Aaron Waldrop 1-3; Dakota Tittle 1-1; Passing: Garrett Sinift 13-20-119 yds, 1 TD, 2 int; Receiving: Aaron Waldrop 3-10; Dakota Wilson 4-23; Austin Doughty 5-21; Garrett Bartley 1-65, TD
Waterford: Rushing: Austin Lang 19-59, 2 TDs; Jaret McCutcheon 15-41; Isaac Huffman 6-5, TD; Passing: Isaac Huffman 10-15-91 yds, 1 int.; Receiving: Brendan Dailey 2-15; Tyler McCutcheon 1-22; Austin Lang 2-9; Dalton Ball 4-45; Montana Brooker 1-0
On a night where defense reigned supreme for both teams, it was key plays at opportune moments that guided the Wildcats, who were outgained 238-196 in total yardage.
Of the 434 yards of total offense gained by the two teams, 97 came on two plays and 192 came on just six plays, meaning the two teams combined to gain the remaining 242 yards on 93 plays from scrimmage.
"It was a good, hard fought game between two teams," said Miller football coach Sean Bartley.
Neither team held more than a single score advantage in the contest, with the Falcons getting the scoring started with the longest play from scrimmage of the contest in the first quarter when Sinift connected with Garrett Bartley on a 65-yard touchdown pass with 2:11 in the opening stanza.
That long pass play accounted for over half of the Falcons yardage in the first half, as Miller managed just 25 yards on the ground against the Wildcat defense in the first 24 minutes.
Answering the challenge from the Falcons' touchdown, the Wildcats began the second quarter by taking their first possession 63 yards to the endzone on 12 plays, taking a span of nearly eight minutes off the clock.
Those 63 yards on that drive, however, accounted for all but 25 gained by Waterford in the first half.
"We have to get a little better offensively, be a little more consistent with it," Tucker said.
Consistency evaded the Wildcats and Falcons, as the teams went into the locker room knotted at 6-6.
Big plays in the second half proved to be the difference, with the Falcon defense making key stops to keep Waterford out of the endzone, only to watch the offense give the ball right back.
"We had two or three really big fourth down stops right against the goalline," Bartley said.
After being stiffled at the 4-yard line with 18 seconds to play in the third quarter, the Wildcats capitalized on the Falcons' attempt at trickery.
Sinift attempted to connect with his wide receiver on a hook-and-go pattern, which accounted for the Falcons' first score, only to have Huffman out-leap the receiver to make the interception and return it to the 1-yard line.
On the next play, Huffman was rewarded for his defensive work as the freshman quarterback slid into the endzone for the decisive go-ahead touchdown.
Down but not out, the Falcons answered Huffman's touchdown run by taking their ensuing possession 57 yards to paydirt, with Dakota Wilson bringing Miller within two points with 7:02 to play in regulation.
Bitten by the passing game on the previous drive, Miller ran the football 12 straight times to find the endzone, but the Falcons couldn't quite gain the advantage back.
"When they scored, we lost the momentum but we gained it back," Lang said.
The momentum changer proved to be Jaret McCutcheon's kickoff return following Wilson's score, which gave Waterford the ball at the Falcon 38. "We responded well there when it was 14-12, got a heck of a good kickoff return and punched it in," Tucker praised.
Leading 20-12, the Wildcats capitalized on another big play by the defense as Tyler McCutcheon recovered a fumble on the following kickoff.
On the next possession, the Wildcats thoroughly milked the clock, at one point taking over a minute and a half of game time while running just two plays.
"One play wings a ball game. Everything can change in one play, so clock management is definitely important," Lang said.
All the time taken off the clock by the Wildcats proved huge, as Sinift and the Falcon offense managed to move the ball from their own 23 to the Wildcat 24 on their last possession, before time forced their hand and they turned the ball over on downs.
"They played well, and I'm real happy with them," Tucker said.