By DAVID NEGIN
For the Star Beacon
PAINESVILLE TOWNSHIP —
Riverside senior defensive back Nick Iapaolo knew what was at stake when he intercepted a pass with less than two minutes remaining against Chardon on Friday night.
“Go out of bounds,” Iapoaolo said. “I ain’t trying to mess it up.”
What he did was seal a 21-13 win over the Hilltoppers, the top-ranked team (Divison 2, Region 5), and give coach Dave Bors and his squad a signature win in rebuilding the program.
“This program has a lot of great tradition,” Bors said. “But, in terms of the last four to five years, there is no doubt about it. This is a program win, a signature win. That (Chardon) is a very good football team over there. They are a playoff team. There is no doubt about it. They are going to do some damage in Division II, but our guys came to play tonight. I’m so proud of them and our staff.”
With the game tied, 7-7, at half, the critical moments of the game developed in the third period.
The Beavers were held on downs on the first possession, where Chardon took over on its own 20-yard line. The Hilltoppers drove it 60 yards in 10 plays, but were held on downs when quarterback T.J. Benenati was stopped a yard short.
Riverside’s offense seemed to get a spark from it. Sophomore tailback Marcus Jones (24 carries for 162 yards) ran for runs of 24 and 59 yards respectively to the Chardon 3-yard line. After getting stuffed on three-straight plays, Bors decided to go for the touchdown on fourth down at the 1-yardline.
Bors called for a play to go to 200-pound senior Nate Vernon on a counter play. Vernon muscled his way into the end zone, giving the Beavers a 14-7 lead.
“When we were able to get that stop, that was just one of those momentum swings,” Bors said.
“I mean, I’m proud of our guys. We have faith in our guys. Again, I point to Coach Hewitt and his staff. They have faith in theirs. How many fourth downs did they go for tonight? It was a couple of great teams going back and forth.”
Chardon (6-2 overall, 3-2 in the PAC) immediately came back with a drive of its own, with Benenati finding pay dirt from 37-yards out on the first play of the fourth quarter. The extra point, however, hit off the left upright, allowing Riverside to maintain a lead.
Riverside (6-2 overall, 4-1 in the PAC) increased its lead with 8 minutes remaining after recovering a Chardon fumble. Quarterback Maxx Brubaker faked a handoff and scored on a 28-yard run.
Benenati lead all rushers with 222 yards on 30 carries, netting both Chardon touchdowns. The Hilltoppers, which outgained Riverside (355-231), were hurt by three turnovers.
“You can’t turn the ball over against anyone, let alone a great football team,” Hewitt said. “We found out the hard way.
“You never want to lose,” he added, “but if I’m gonna lose, I going to do it to a staff (Riverside) I know does everything the right way and is first class.”
Iapaolo and his Riverside teammates can see the progress.
“I mean it feels amazing,” he said. “I worked hard all summer. The whole entire team worked hard. It’s a great group of guys. I have never been happier. Three years on my varsity football team and I’ve never felt closer to a group of people. We are truly a family here. We have stuck through everything, even with the levy failing. We went through fundraisers and everything. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. This is one of the greatest teams I have been on and I love everybody.”
Negin is a freelance writer from Madison.
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