By STEVE GOLDMAN
For the Star Beacon
HUNTING VALLEY —
University School is a tough place for an opponent to play — in part because of the competition and partly because the Preppers play their home games on Saturday afternoons.
Geneva did stay in Saturday’s contest until the waning moments, but fell short in its season finale, 27-12, on a wet and gloomy Senior Day in Hunting Valley.
“I tried telling the kids all week, ‘It’s a Saturday afternoon; it’s a different setting,’ ” Geneva coach Tony Hassett, who related that his team came out flat, said. “ ‘It’s not like Friday nights.’ And it’s tough to get that point across to the kids.”
US, which finishes the season at 5-5, 4-3 after a 1-4 start, burned the Eagles with long touchdown passes of 43 and 38 yards, to Luke Vadas (9 catches for 143 yards) and Tom Bennett, respectively. Both were thrown by junior John Gannon, who replaced senior Jack Weber in the second quarter after the latter threw two interceptions.
“It’s tough to simulate speed in practice with our scout team,” Hassett said. “Now when you run up against the real thing, you learn the hard way sometimes.
“The nice thing is, all (our) secondary will be back next year. So hopefully they learn.”
Gannon (7-of-12, 169 yards) and Weber combined for 240 yards passing. Geneva (3-7, 2-5 in the Premier Athletic Conference) did pick off a total of three passes and recovered a fumble that set up its first score.
The only scoring of the first half came on the 43-yarder to Vadas just 2:04 before the half, two plays after Gannon entered the game. The score remained at 7-0 until the Eagles cashed in on a Prepper miscue five minutes into the third period.
With US on its own 23, Gannon couldn’t handle a bad shotgun snap, and Geoff Chapman recovered on the five. Aaron Rossi, who had a tough day with 51 yards on 23 carries, ran the ball twice to get in into the end zone, with the scoring play coming from the two.
However, the snap was bobbled on the extra-point attempt, and Santos Robles’ low kick was blocked, preserving the 7-6 Prepper lead.
Robles had hit the right upright with a 25-yard attempt in the first quarter.
After a Hunter Wasser punt buried Geneva at its three, US forced a punt and moved the ball 36 yards in six plays, with Kevin Smith (22 carries for 70 yards) taking it in from the four for his first of two touchdowns.
Wasser missed the PAT to leave the score at 13-6. But Bennett beat the defense and made a fine catch of Gannon’s pass on the Preppers’ next possession.
Bennett’s touchdown came moments after a Geneva fake punt failed on fourth-and-3 on the US 47.
The Eagles stayed alive by responding with a 69-yard scoring march, with Brandon Pakkala hooking up with Austin Clutter for a 33-yard TD midway through the fourth quarter. Geneva faked a kick and went for two points, but failed, although it was still within once score at 20-12.
Clutter, a sophomore, dropped what could have been a 67-yard touchdown pass on the game’s initial play from scrimmage, but rebounded with three catches for 59 yards and a fine interception.
“We came out of the gate, we had a great play on, and we should have scored,” Hassett said. “I guess you might say that’s our season in a nutshell. We’ve had opportunities in games.
“(US) is a good team. They’re not what they were last year (when they went 9-1 in the regular season and reached the Division III playoffs), and I don’t mean that in any disrespect. But they are good. And they’re smart. And when you have opportunities, you take advantage of it.
“Austin came back and made a great interception and caught a touchdown pass for us. He’s going to be an outstanding player.”
An interception by Pakkala gave the Eagles a chance to get even with 4:36 to go. They moved from the US 49 to the 33, but Curtis Black intercepted his second pass two plays after Rossi was dumped for a seven-yard loss on a draw play.
Then on third-and-3 from the US 47, Gannon found Vadas all alone in the left flat. The senior standout turned it into a 38-yard gain, and Smith took it in from the 15 on the next play.
“We’re very proud,” Hassett said. “We didn’t quit. We had our opportunities. Even though we didn’t capitalize on those, it was a one-score game for most of it. If you win, you’ve got to be able to make the play. If you don’t, you usually lose.”
With Rossi, the area leader in rushing (1,424 yards) and scoring (108 points) struggling to find yardage, the Preppers outgained the Eagles, 310 yards to 174.
“Our offensive line didn’t get the job done,” Hassett said in reference to Rossi’s plight. “We started off OK, and then all of a sudden...
“The strength factor there cane into play. We had problems in the middle handling somebody. The nice thing about them, they’re all back too (next year), other than one.”
Geneva committed just one penalty for 10 yards. The Preppers were flagged nine times for 100 yards.
Goldman is a freelance writer from South Euclid.
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