Last year, Happy Valley turned away Oneida in the first round of the playoffs, becoming the first team in about a decade to hold the Indians scoreless.
This year, Oneida returned the favor, dominating one of Class 2A’s hottest teams with a 23-7 win over the Warriors at Jim May Stadium on Friday.
The Indians advanced to the second round of the state playoffs by dominating defensively, particularly in the second half, and with a strong rushing attack that seemed to return to its early-season form.
Happy Valley, which had won three consecutive games — by combined scores of 105-23 — and was coming off a 21-0 shutout of Region 1-2A champion South Greene, struggled to move the football against the Indians’ defense. While the Warriors hit on a 44-yard pass play for a score in the first quarter, Oneida’s defense got better as the game progressed and was particularly good against Happy Valley’s rushing attack.
“Defensively, I thought we played really well,” Oneida head coach Tony Lambert said. “I thought we played hard. I thought we played sound. I saw some great individual efforts. I saw some guys straining all over the field. I was very proud of that.”
After that first quarter touchdown strike from Dakota Cochran to Blake Young, Happy Valley did not threaten to score again, finishing with 154 yards of offense and just six first downs. The Warriors had just 27 yards on the ground.
Still, the score was tied at seven as the fourth quarter began, before the Indians put two touchdowns on the board in the final period.
The Indians, who had scored just one rushing touchdown in three-plus games since leading rusher Bryson Buttram was lost to a season-ending knee injury at Rockwood last month, put three rushing touchdowns on the board against the Warriors, with Johnny Manis scoring twice in the fourth quarter to help his team seal the victory. For the game, the Indians finished with 252 rushing yards and went to the air just twice. Kolby Morgan led the way with 134 yards on 18 attempts.
Oneida started the game by marching the length of the field and scoring on a 5-yard run by Matt Hood with 7:25 remaining in the opening quarter. It was 7-0, and the Indians appeared to be on the verge of taking command early, especially when the Warriors fumbled the ensuing kickoff.
But Oneida handed the ball back to Happy Valley with a fumble of its own on the next play, and the only time the Indians would sniff points again in the first half was a 33-yard field goal attempt in the second quarter, which was missed.
“Good teams have to take advantage of that,” Lambert said of the missed opportunity in the first quarter. “If we put it to 14 right there, it changes the whole complexion of the ballgame. It’s good to know that we can overcome some of that adversity and still come out on top, but that’s tough. That was disappointing.”
By the end of the first half, Happy Valley seemed content just to get to the locker room with the game tied. But if the Warriors had any thoughts of taking the lead on the opening possession of the third quarter, the Indians quickly put an end to that, as their defensive line began to take over the game.
“Coach (Billy) Barnhart and Coach (Shawn) West worked those guys really hard,” Lambert said of his defensive line. “They had some things I thought we could key on. We did a great job of staying on our keys.”
The stalemate finally broke early in the fourth quarter. First, Johnny Manis scored on a 3rd-and-goal from the one to give the Indians a 14-7 lead with 10:52 to play. Then, after the Indians’ defense forced a three-and-out, Happy Valley watched a deep snap sail over the punter’s head, resulting in a safety after the ball was kicked out the back of the end zone. After an exchange of punts, Oneida salted the game away with a 15-yard touchdown run by Manis with 1:44 remaining.
“Any time you can survive and advance, that’s what it’s all about,” Lambert said. “We started with 32 in this pool and we’re down to 16 now, so that’s big.”
Oneida will travel to Region 1-2A champion South Greene this week. The Rebels are coming off a 44-26 win over Wartburg in the opening round of the playoffs and have won seven of their last eight games. However, the lone loss was a 21-0 defeat by Happy Valley.