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Hammer uses defense to upset Cougars, 41-26

Huntington Hammer’s Rodney Fritz, left, and Andre Portis, right, crunch Canton Cougars’ quarterback Brian Kover for a sack. The Hammer beat Canton 41-26 for a win in the first game of the franchise’s history. (The Ironton Tribune / Kent Sanborn of Southern Ohio Sports Photos)

By JIM WALKER

Tribune Sports Editor

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Arena football was created with high-powered offense in mind.

That concept wasn’t the mindset of the Huntington Hammer defense.

The Hammer returned five turnovers for touchdowns to upset the UIFL favorite Canton Cougars 41-26 Sunday in their inaugural game before approximately 2,000 fans.

Defensive back Kevin Allen Jr. was the main force in the defensive performance. Allen return all three of his interceptions for touchdowns and the Hammer also ran back two fumbles for scores.

“I just happened to be in the right place,” said Allen. “Our offense struggled. Our defense just picked it up. Our defense played immaculate all day. Once our offense gets going, I don’t know where we can go.”

The Hammer offense managed only a meager 79 total yards, 59 through the air as quarterbacks Matevious Young and Fred Ray were a combined 7 of 27 with five interceptions.

Unfortunately the Cougars have five turnovers of their own. Quarterback Brian Kover was 13 of 31 with three interceptions and lost two fumbles under a heavy Hammer rush all afternoon.

Huntington coach Josh Resignalo was unhappy with the offensive struggles, but he was more than happy with the defense.

“This was a defensive game,” said Resignalo. “We did a good job putting this defense together. If our defense plays like that all season, we’re going to be something.”

Canton’s opening drive ended with Seth Burkholder booting a 35-yard field goal.

The Cougars got the ball back late in the quarter but quarterback Brian Kover was hit while throwing the ball and the wobbly pass was picked off at the 7-yard line by Allen who returned it for his first score.

Wes Shemill’s kick put the lead at 7-3.

Canton drove to the Hammer 12, but Allen came up with the big play again as he returned an interception 40 yards and the lead was 13-3.

The rest of the half belonged to the Cougars who got a 6-yard scoring run by Adrian Burt and an 18-yard Kover to Tim Smith touchdown pass that put them up 16-13 at the half.

The second touchdown was aided by a roughing the kicker first down on a missed field goal attempt.

Ray — who took over at quarterback in the first half for Young — guided the Hammer on a scoring drive to begin the second half. Ray hit two of his three attempts in the drive including a 10-yard strike to Kenny Davis and the Hammer was back on top at 20-16.

“It was Martevious’ first indoor game. It’s a lot different than playing outdoors,” said Resignalo.

“Obviously the offense needs some work. We’ll get it worked out this week. We relied on our defense and they took us to victory.

That was the end of the offense’s contributions for the game forcing the defense to step forward and take charge.

Canton answered quickly with a 48-yard field goal by Burkholder to get within a point.

Matt Speed turned in a big defensive play for the Cougars by intercepting a pass at the 2-yard line and running it back to the Hammer 1-yard line when Kover scored on third down for a 26-20 lead.

That was the end of Canton’s everything.

Huntington had a 32-yard drive to the Cougars’ 8 but Ray suffered his fourth interception. Speed ran his second pick back to his own 10.

On the first play, Allen intercepted his third pass and ran it back 12 yards for the score. Shemill’s kick gave the Hammer the lead for good with 3:41 to play.

“I just jumped the route. I saw the receiver got left and I just jumped it,” said Allen.

Canton’s next series resulted in more offensive woes. Kover was hit by Rodney Fritz and Andre Portis scooped up the loose ball and ran 6 yards for the touchdown with one minute left.

The Hammer defense still wasn’t done.

A bad snap rolled on the turf and Fritz came up with the ball that he returned 15 yards for the score with 33 seconds to go.

Huntington plays Eastern Kentucky at Pikeville on Friday.

Canton 3 13 10 0 = 26

Huntington 7 6 7 21 = 41

First Quarter

Ca – Seth Burkholder 35 field goal 11:08

Hu – Kevin Allen, Jr. 7 interception return (Wes Shemill kick) 3:37

Second Quarter

Hu – Kevin Allen, Jr. 40 interception return (kick failed) 11:40

Ca – Adrian Burt 6 run (kick failed) 7:29

Ca – Brian Kover to Tim Smith 18 pass (Seth Burkholder kick) 3:32

Third Quarter

Hu – Fred Ray to Kenny Davis 10 pass (Wes Shemill kick) 12:37

Ca – Seth Burkholder 48 field goal 10:07

Ca – Brian Kover 1 run (Seth Burkholder kick) 5:23

Fourth Quarter

Hu – Kevin Allen, Jr. 12 interception return (Wes Shemill kick) 3:41

Hu – Andre Portis 6 fumble return (Wes Shemill kick) 1:00

Hu – Rodney Fritz 15 fumble return (Wes Shemill kick) 0:33

Ca Hu

First Downs 8 4

Rushes-Yards 16-64 6-20

Passing Yards 86 59

Total Offense 150 79

Comp-Att-Int 9-31-3 7-27-5

Sacks-Yards 1-8 6-26

Penalties-Yards 10-57 7-43

Int-Ret 5-56 3-59

Fumbles-lost 5-2 0-0

Individual Leaders

RUSHING — Canton: Brian Kover 8-33, Adrian Burt 8-28, Tim Smith 1-3. Huntington: Fred Ray 3-15, Martevious Young 2-5, Dion Dean 1-0.

PASSING — Canton: Brian Kover, 9-31-3 86. Huntington: Martevious Young 2-9-1 16, Fred Ray, 5-18-4 43.

RECEIVING — Canton: Tim Smith 5-36, Kirby Mayle 2-35, Geoff Hicks 1-9, Harriel Moore 1-6. Huntington: Kenny Davis 3-30, Adrian Adams 3-26, Dray Mason 1-3.