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Tigers are state runners-up again
Tigers are state runners-up again
By TONY LANGE
The odds were not in the Tigers' favor after falling behind 14-0 at the 6:10 mark in the first quarter.
Since 1980, when the divisions were created, only one Division IV football team has bounced back from a 14-point deficit to win a state title game. The Tigers were not an exception.
Chagrin Falls (13-2) finished its second straight year as state runner-up after falling 34-13 to Columbus Bishop Hartley (13-2) last Friday at Massillon's Paul Brown Tiger Stadium before 6,400 spectators.
The effort, attitude and fight remained with the Tigers all game long, head coach Mark Iammarino said.
"It's kind of rough when you prepare all weeklong and you look up and you're down 14-nothing," he said. "I thought we didn't fold the tent and we were able to come back and make it close."
After Chagrin went three-and-out to start the game, the Hawks took over from their own 48. All eyes were on No. 44, Noah Key, Hartley's standout running back. The Hawks, however, handed the ball to Omar Lane who ran 52-yards to the corner and down the right sideline for a touchdown.
One-play, 10 seconds and the Tigers' defense was back on the sideline.
After a 42-yard kickoff return by Spencer Diedrich, the Tigers started their second offensive series from their own 45. An offensive pass interference call forced the Tigers into another three-and-out.
Following the punt, the Hawks had good field possession again from their own 43. After five running plays that included a fourth-down conversion, Chagrin was concentrated on defending the rush. However, Austin Underwood completed a bootleg pass to Jawaun Woodley who had one player to beat down the left sideline.
The Hawks only passed six times the entire game, thus the Tigers' defense had to concentrate on the run, Iammarino said.
"You've got to give them credit to be able to be a power-running team and yet take advantage when a defense commits to the run," he said. "It's tough. It's definitely tough when you're talking about high school kids coming out of the locker room wanting to tackle anybody in a different color jersey. Then, right off the bat, you're down 14."
The fact that senior free safety Nathan Lelonis was out with a fractured jaw suffered in the previous week's semifinal game did not help the Tigers. Lelonis accounted for a team-high four interceptions and more than 60 tackles. Also, senior cornerback Marc Geraci and senior linebacker Alex Garnaut have been out since the regular season.
After another 42-yard kickoff return by Diedrich, the Tigers' offense got moving at the end of the first quarter with two first downs during a 43-yard, seven-play drive before the field-goal unit stepped on the field to attempt a 27-yarder. As the Tigers looked to gain some momentum and put points on the scoreboard, Ricky Vannelli's kick was blocked.
The Tigers' defense then looked to give their offense another crack at it with a three-and-out as the Hawks lined up for their first punt of the game. It was a fake, though, and Hartley converted another fourth-down from its own 25-yard line. Hartley also converted a third-and-one on the drive.
A couple plays later, Key looked to be tackled in the backfield but escaped and ran 61 yards down the left sideline and into the end zone to give the Hawks a 20-0 lead.
Just 12 minutes had elapsed and everything seemed to be falling the Hawks' way, senior center Alex Forbes said. "The difference would be the fact that our defense has been dominant the whole year and today we weren't dominant. The first quarter killed us."
Chagrin's first possession after the blocked field-goal attempt went for four first downs and 61 yards. Sophomore Tommy Iammarino stepped in at quarterback and led the 10-play drive that took 4:21.
During that series, a double-reverse play put the ball in the hands of Diedrich, who flung a shot down field to Munday for an 18-yard pickup, which set up Munday's 11-yard touchdown reception from Iammarino. Munday caught the pass at the line of scrimmage, faked out a defender and then ran the ball to the outside corner to make it 20-6. Vannelli added the extra point.
After forcing the Hawks to punt on their next two possessions, the Tigers got the ball back with 23 seconds left in the half. Trying to make something happen, starting quarterback Timmy Porter launched a pass down field into the red zone.
Intended receiver Mike Hageman got tripped up and fell before he could make a play on the ball and the Hawks intercepted.
Coming out of halftime, the Tigers' adjustments seemed to be working. They forced the Hawks to two three-and-out punts.
Diedrich returned the latter of the two punts 20 yards to the Hawks' 37-yard line. With Porter injured and knocked out of the game on the previous possession, Iammarino stepped back on the field at quarterback.
The Tigers' ran six rushing plays which concluded with Kurt Vidmer's two-yard carry into the end zone. After a failed extra point, the score was 20-13 at the 2:17 mark in the third.
The Tigers had really turned the emotion to their side, coach Iammarino said.
On second-and-21 from their own 24-yard line, the Hawks looked to be losing momentum. Then, they answered with Lane running the ball to the outside as 225-pound Evan Jackson took out two Tigers with one block to open up the field. A face-mask penalty at the end of the play put the Hawks at the Chagrin 14.
A couple plays later, a 10-yard play-action pass into the end zone put the Hawks back up by two touchdowns at the start of the fourth quarter.
Not being able to take the momentum after scoring a touchdown was huge, Iammarino said.
"Obviously, when it's 20-13 and you got the momentum on your side, you got to put your foot on the gas," Iammarino said. "They were able to turn the momentum, so hats off to them."
"It's a different situation if you get the ball back and you're just down by one score. Now you feel like you can run your full offense. When you're down by two, then you get into a situation where you're trying to do a little bit too much."
The Tigers, however, were down by three scores when they finally got the ball back.
After going up 27-13, the Hawks recovered an onside kick, marched 46 yards and scored on Key's 17-yard pitch and run. That made it 34-13 with 8:33 left.
When Hartley is capable of converting fake punts and recovering onside kicks, players have to keep on their toes at all times, Iammarino said.
"Just because they line up to punt doesn't mean they're going to punt, and just like if they line up to kick off, it doesn't mean they're going to kick it deep.," he said. "So, it's part of their game. It's part of what they do. They might be simple offensively, but they're complex in their kicking game."
"You have to remind your kids that every time to watch out for a trick play while you're trying to execute the regular play," Iammarino said. "You're trying to set up a regular well return on the kickoff, but yet that front line guy can't sprint back there because he has got to make sure the ball is kicked. It adds pressure to those guys."
Due to the onside kick, the Tigers had just one possession in the fourth quarter, which only lasted 88 seconds and ended with an interception.
The Hawks then ran 11 plays to tick out the final seven minutes of the game.
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