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November 6, 2011

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HILLIARD — It wasn’t the first trip to a Division I regional football quarterfinal for Orange coach Brian Cross, but the same couldn’t be said for his team, and the Pioneers found the road in Division I can be plenty rough.

Orange’s first venture into the big school division had its moments, but the Hilliard Davidson Wildcats had many more and knocked the Pioneers out of the playoffs with a 22-0 victory Saturday night at the Hilliard Davidson Sports Complex.

Defense was the name of the game, especially in the first half. Orange (8-3) bent a little in the first 24 minutes, but didn’t break, giving up only a 32-yard field goal to Hilliard Davidson (10-0) sophomore Jack Johns at the end of the first half.

“I thought our defense played well pretty much the whole night,” Cross said. “They played about as well as we thought they were going to play, but we couldn’t move the ball at all.”

The Pioneer offense, which had averaged nearly 38 points a game coming in, found the going pretty rough against a Wildcat defense that had allowed only 28 points all season. Orange had just 72 yards of total offense in the game, but managed just 15 yards in the second half.

Davidson stopped Pioneer senior running back Brandon Schoen, the county’s leading rusher, holding him to just 22 yards on 15 carries.

“We’re very proud of our defense and what they were able to do tonight,” Hilliard Davidson coach Brian White said. “We saw them doing some great things on film and they scored a lot of points this year. Brandon had a bunch of touchdowns for them this year, and for us to hold him scoreless, let alone their whole team, is a credit to our defense.”

“We couldn’t get anything going offensively, and that’s what hurt us tonight,” Cross said. “We had a fourth and one we didn’t convert in the first half that we should have, then we kick the ball away, they come down and kicked a field goal before the half. That was a big momentum swing.”

Meanwhile, Davidson’s Alex Mickley was able to gain yardage and get tough first downs when the Wildcats needed them. Mickley led all rushers with 192 yards on 28 carries with two touchdowns, helped ably by his large offensive line.

“He’s been special, especially since we lost our fullback to injury in week five,” White said. “Alex has had to take on a heavier load these last four games. We’ve played some stiff competition with Coffman, Upper Arlington, Darby and now Orange, but he’d be the first to tell you without his teammates, he wouldn’t be doing what he’s able to do.”

Orange’s best chance to score came late in the second quarter, when Pioneer sophomore linebacker Jake Lewis forced a fumble that Schoen recovered at the Davidson 44-yard line.

After a two-yard loss, junior quarterback Kofi Hill picked up 11 yards on a scramble to the Wildcat 35, but a lateral to Schoen on third down went nowhere, and Schoen’s attempt on fourth down also gained nothing.

“We couldn’t simulate their quickness in practice, so blocks we thought we could get we weren’t getting, and those guys were making tackles,” Cross said. “You have to tip your hat to their defense. They’re very good, and their offense was good enough to get it done.”

Later in the quarter, Mickley rushed for 35 yards on first down, setting up Johns’ field goal that gave the Wildcats the halftime edge.

In the second half, the Pioneers stopped Davidson’s first drive, but went three-and-out on their first attempt, and Davidson senior Tyler Talbott took senior Daniel Bull’s punt back 53 yards for the first touchdown of the game with 7:17 left in the third quarter.

Davidson held the ball for over 28 minutes in the game, but kept the ball more most of the late third and fourth quarters. The Wildcats ground out the final 4:03 of the third quarter and held the ball for over nine minutes of the fourth, allowing them to take command.

“That’s the name of the game for us; to play as a total team,” White said. “Offense helped the defense, defense helped the offense and it worked out for us tonight in getting a great win over what we thought was a really good team coming in.”

The Pioneers were hit by a unlucky bounce after stopping Davidson at the end of the third quarter. Talbott’s punt hit Orange’s Lewis in the foot and the Wildcats’ Chase Delande recovered the ball and took it into the end zone for an apparent touchdown, but since a muffed punt cannot be advanced, Davidson instead took the ball back at the Orange six.

On the very next play, Mickley ran the ball in, Johns kicked the extra point, and Davidson led 16-0 with 11:47 to play.

“They got that punt return earlier, which wasn’t on our defense, that was on our punt return team, and then a punt hits one of our guys in the fourth quarter and that leaves them with six yards to get. That was, pretty much, the game right there,” Cross said.

After another Orange three-and-out, the Wildcats took possession again, ate up nearly seven minutes of clock and drove 64 yards on 12 plays, with Mickley again scoring from six-yards out with 3:15 left.

Hill added 14 yards rushing on six carries and completed 3 of 10 passes for 30 yards with one interception, which led all quarterbacks. Luke Wolford had two receptions for 20 yards and Bull one catch for 10 yards for the Pioneers.

“We’ll enjoy this season,” Cross said. “This was a great opportunity tonight. We’ll learn from it and get better in the future.”