Vikings bounce back

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WILLIAMSTOWN - Big-time performers step up when their team needs them the most.

When Williams Valley needed someone to step up, Cole Barnhardt answered the call.

The senior tailback scored four touchdowns and rushed for 133 yards as the Vikings knocked off previously unbeaten Tri-Valley 28-14 in a Tri-Valley League showdown on Oct. 12.

In front of a packed house at Stauffenberg Field at Viking Stadium, Barnhardt scored on runs of 9 and 4 yards, returned a punt 60 yards for a score and clinched the victory with a 35-yard interception return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.

"I told the team that we don't lose at home. That's our biggest responsibility," Barnhardt said. "We never lose at home. This is our house, and nobody comes into our house and beats us."

Barnhardt is the Vikings' leading rusher, but had to take on an even bigger offensive role when leading receiver Cody Miller suffered a severely sprained ankle on Williams Valley's first offensive play.

Miller, who leads the area in receptions (23), receiving yardage (635) and receiving touchdowns (11), received treatment on the sideline and tested the ankle, but did not return.

"Once we lost Cody, that's 600 hundred yards of receiving," Williams Valley coach Tim Savage said. "That's Stephen's (Sedesse) favorite target. He's the one that the offense goes through as far as throwing. He knows all the double moves, all the formations, and when he went down, it became much more of a condensed playbook.

"Cole stepped up and got the win for us."

For most of the first half, the Vikings (6-1, 5-1 TVL) struggled to find any kind of offense. So did the Dawgs.

Each team was forced to punt on its first four possessions until the Vikings put together an eight-play, 87-yard drive late in the second quarter. Barnhardt had runs of 27 and 15 yards in the drive, while Trevor Whelski rumbled 26 yards to the Tri-Valley 9. Barnhardt scored on the next play.

After the Williams Valley defense forced another Tri-Valley punt, Barnhardt returned the punt 60 yards down the home sideline to give the Vikings a 14-0 halftime lead.

"I was filling in for Cody, because Cody got hurt," Barnhardt said. "I saw it coming, and I saw their gunners were inside. I saw the wall on our side, followed the wall and followed my blockers. That's all I had to do."

Tri-Valley (6-1, 5-1 TVL) responded in the third quarter with a pair of scoring drives behind the running of quarterback Hunter Harner.

Harner rushed for 62 yards in a nine-play, 65-yard scoring drive to open the second half, scoring from 18 yards out. After a Williams Valley fumble, the Dawgs quickly scored again, as Harner tied the game at 14 with an 8-yard run with 3:10 left in the third quarter.

Harner finished with 105 yards rushing on 21 carries.

"I thought we played a real hard first quarter and a half. But then some of our guys got tired and started taking a break," Tri-Valley coach Mike Ulicny said. "We told our kids that in a game like this, we don't have a lot of guys out on the field, and you have to push it.

"In the second half, they did. We took it back, got the game tied and had the momentum."

The key play of the game came moments later, after the Tri-Valley defense forced a three-and-out.

On the Dawgs' first play of their next possession, Whelski delivered a punishing hit on Harner to force a fumble, and Nick Rodichok recovered at the Tri-Valley 40.

Williams Valley then capitalized, putting together a 10-play drive that ended on Barnhardt's 4-yard run. Sedesse's two-point conversion run gave the Vikes a 22-14 lead with 9:22 left.

"The kid made a great hit. He hit Hunter's hand and knocked the ball out," Ulicny said of the fumble. "They made the play. The ball didn't bounce our way."

Tri-Valley had two more chances to tie the score, but each time the Williams Valley defense held. On the Dawgs' final possession, Barnhardt stepped in front of pass and returned it 35 yards to paydirt to clinch it.

The victory tightens the Tri-Valley League title race, as Pine Grove (6-0, 5-0 TVL) leads both the Dawgs and Vikings by one game in the loss column.

It also boosts Williams Valley's District 11 Class A playoff hopes, considering that all of the other contenders - Tri-Valley, Mahanoy Area, Pius X and Schuylkill Haven - lost this weekend.

"If we would have come out tonight and not shown up, it would have said a lot about the kind of kids we have and us as a coaching staff," Savage said, referring to last week's 14-6 loss to Pine Grove. "It was vital for us to come out here, preform well and get a win. To do it without Cody makes it even more special because it shows the focus we had for this game."

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