The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

November 1, 2013

Anatomy of a victory

Last week’s annual grudge match between Conneaut and Edgewood came down to one play, and it was a story, in itself

Star Beacon

— In the course of a typical high school football game, there are in the neighborhood of 100 plays, give or take a few either way, run.

Rare, though, is the game that comes down to one play, literally, that determines an outcome.

Such was the case, however, last week when archrivals Conneaut and Edgewood squared off at Corlew Stadium.

With the Spartans clinging to a 21-14 lead, the Warriors took over at their own 4 with less than three minutes to play.

As Edgewood drove its way downfield, pretty much everyone in the stadium had an inkling the outcome would come down to the conversion if the Warriors scored.

They did.

It did.

After Alex Sturgill hauled in an 18-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Alex Wisnyai with 39 seconds to play to pull Edgewood to within 21-20, first-year Warriors coach Josh Franke called a timeout to ponder his options.

Then, he called another.

“As soon as we got the ball back, I knew in my mind that if we scored, I wanted to go for 2,” he said. “But it’s unfair for me to make that decision. I’ve always believed that it’s the players playing the game who should decided what we do. I guess that’s something I took away from my coach growing up.

“We talked about it during the timeout and it was a consensus to go for it. At the end of the day, we had nothing to lose and everything to gain — we weren’t playing for a playoff berth and we had all the momentum. We had just driven the ball 96 yards in less than 3 minutes, it was Senior Night, our last home game of the year... in the situation, I’m going for it every time.”

Franke’s counterpart, third-year Conneaut coach Rocco Dobran, understood Franke’s decision.

“In the heat of the moment, after the drive they had, getting about 8 to 10 yards a carry on the ground, I probably would of went for it, also,” he said. “If you sit back and think about it, they did have momentum if they did decide to go into overtime.”

When it was decided they would go for the win, the next choice Franke’s bunch was what play to call.

“We talked about what play (the Edgewood players) wanted to run, what they felt most comfortable with,” Franke said. “The group agreed that Conneaut would try and stack the box and therefore, we wanted to run the ball outside.

“So we went with the toss play.”

During the two timeouts, Dobran and his guys were contemplating what Edgewood might try to run.

“We felt they would run the ball,” Dobran said. “Other than that, we didn’t know where they would go with it. When they came out in bunch (formation), they did have a high tendency of running toss.”

Which, of course the Warriors did. The formation had three receivers to the right, with speedster Smith, who had run for 164 yards on 16 carries, including a 63-yard sprint to paydirt, lined up as a single back. Wisnyai took the snap and tossed to Smith, who headed right.

“Unfortunately, a week of rain stopped that play from working,” Franke said. “They did have a player get through, but if I have to choose between Riis Smith and anyone else in the open field, I’m choosing Riis Smith every time.

“It’s the old power toss. The way they played it, we were to push their contain man outside and our pulling linemen were to get inside of him, Riis is to then cut it up inside into the alley, which he tried to do and simply slipped when he made his cut allowing the defender to make an easy tackle.

“On a normal, dry night, Riis walks into the end zone.”

But he didn’t, thanks to all of the above... and Sam Distelrath.

The 6-foot, 180-pound senior linebacker, who also spends time at wide receiver, broke through Edgewood’s pulling guards and made a textbook tackle of Smith, sending everyone who bleeds blue and gold into a state of delirium.

“Sam Distelrath played it perfect and made a great tackle,” Dobran said. “Sam may have made the defensive play of the year for us, tackling Smith for a loss.”

While thrilled with the play — and the win — Dobran felt for the guy on the other sideline.

“Either way, coaches make decisions,” he said. “If they work, you’re the hero. If they don’t, you made the wrong decision... according to the critics.

“If Coach Franke would of kicked and they missed, or lost in overtime, they would have said, ‘he should’ve gone for 2!’”

Franke admits the memory of that single play won’t be going away anytime soon.

“That one play is a tough one to swallow and it’s something that will haunt me for the rest of the offseason, but I do believe it was the right call,” he said. “We were fortunate to even be in position to win the game.”