SULLIVAN TWP. - Black River fumbled eight times Friday night and trailed by two touchdowns a little more than two minutes into its season opener against Western Reserve.
But that didn't seem to faze the Pirates, as they shut out the Rough Riders in the second half en route to a 48-26 non-conference victory at Art Stevenson Field.
Black River snapped an 18-game losing streak in non-league games and a six-game skid against Western Reserve, which was coming off a perfect regular season in 2010.
"It's always great beating a 10-0 team that went to the playoffs last year," said Pirates running back Andrew Vaughn, who rushed for 136 yards and had three touchdowns. "Coach (Al Young) has been preaching all week that this was going to be a tough game and a dogfight, and it was. We came out on top."
Black River turned a disappointing start into a second-half laugher with some aggressive defensive adjustments and an offense that carved up the Western Reserve defensive line.
The change in intensity turned a 26-22 halftime deficit into a blowout with four second-half touchdowns, overcoming a 219-yard performance from second-team Division V All-Ohio back Blake Buckhannon.
"I fully didn't expect that we would fall into a two-turnover, 14-0 rut, but on the flip side of that these kids have got some serious character," Young said. "We saw something like this in one of our scrimmages where we got down and they scored two touchdowns in two minutes.
"Let's face it: We faced some adversity because we weren't playing very well. Just the ability to come back like that and keep plugging away, it just shows a lot."
After Terry Sas scooped one of the Pirates' three fumble recoveries early in the third, Vaughn scored the second of his three touchdowns on the first play from scrimmage with a 71-yard run. He also finished the night with a pair of 2-point conversions.
"The line did a heck of a job out there," Vaughn said. "They were just beating them up, beating them off the ball and being physical."
Two plays later, Pirates quarterback/defensive back Dakota Kuntz intercepted Kyle Pressley to set up a 60-yard scoring run by Jake Sexton (seven carries, 100 yards), which included a stiff arm to Western Reserve's Tate Stoll, that put Black River up 35-26 after three quarters.
Midway through the fourth, Vaughn scored again from 5 yards before Kuntz come away with another pick and ran it back 75 yards.
"Once I got it, I was thinking, 'Just get the end zone. Just get the end zone,"' said Kuntz, who finished 5-of-11 passing for 62 yards and a TD. "When it was in the air, I thought I was going to get hit, but then once I got it, it was nice."
Along with the secondary, the defensive line held strong in the second half and got big third-quarter sacks from Barrett Schmitz and Sas, along with a host of tackles and a fumble recovery by linebacker Austin Jones.
"We didn't change anything," Kuntz said. "It was more that we decided to get more intense and come after people more."
Austin Phillips joined Vaughn and Sexton in the 100-yard rushing club, carrying 13 times for 150 yards, including a 61-yard score in the second quarter.
More importantly, Black River erased the memories of entering conference play 0-3 for six consecutive seasons and is ready to make it two in a row next week at Northwestern
"We're really pumped," Kuntz said. "We can't wait to get out there for next week's game."
Contact Dan Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.