The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

October 5, 2013

Spartans slay Knights

Conneaut cruises to fourth win

By MIKE SHAFFER
For the Star Beacon

CONNEAUT — The Conneaut Spartans have learned how to win football games this year. They have won games, even when not everything went the way it was supposed to.

Such was the case Friday night when the Spartans defeated the Cleveland Knights, 35-14 at Conneaut Stadium.

“We have confidence now,” senior linebacker R.J. Nelson said. “We play as a team now. That was a problem we’ve had here the last three years that I’ve been here. We had a whole bunch of individualism. We had linemen that wanted to be running backs.

“Now, everything is coming together and we have all the pieces of the puzzle together.”

The Spartans won their third-straight game despite having an interception run back for a touchdown, having two kicks blocked and being stopped on fourth and goal from the Knights’ 1 yard line.

“It was good for us to struggle a bit tonight,” Conneaut coach Rocco Dobran said. “At halftime, I felt like if the kids could come out and keep doing what we’d been doing, we’d be OK. (The Knights) only had 17 players, so I figured eventually we’d wear them down. But it was definitely a good lesson for us to learn tonight. It’s not always easy, you have to handle adversity when you don’t get in the end zone or you give up a pick-6.”

The win gives the Spartans a record of 4-2. It is the first time Conneaut has been 4-2 since 2001.

“It feels great,”Dobran said. “You never know where you are going to be at the beginning of the season. You have high expectations, but you never know especially after two tough years. You just hope the kids buy in and at this point they have totally bought in. The most important thing is they are playing as a team.

“They do not care who is getting the touches, they don’t care if the offensive line gets credit or not. They are just playing as a team and I think they are going to just keep building on that concept.”

The Spartans offense opened impressively with an eleven play 72 yard drive capped by a five yard touchdown run by quarterback Troy Colucci. The junior once again led the Spartans offense by rushing for 114 yards including two touchdowns. He also completed 5 of 11 passes for 127 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

His only mistake of the night came in the first quarter when a pass was intercepted by the Levi Bost for the Knights. Bost took the interception back 72 yards for the score. Cleveland then converted a 2-point play for an 8-6 lead. The interception was just the second thrown by Colucci this season.

The Knights later returned the favor though turning the ball over on a fumble at their own five yard line. Nelson fell on the loose football to set the Spartans up first and goal. On the next play Colucci found Alex Gerdes across the middle for a five yard touchdown pass.

 The Spartans were driving for more late in the first half. On third and goal from the 10 yard line, Colucci scrambled for 9 yards setting up fourth and goal from the 1. He called his own number again, but the Knights defense nailed him in the backfield for a loss of 5.

The Knight offense was on the field for only 13 plays in the first half, but the defense was able to keep the Knights close.

“I’m a defensive-minded coach,”  Knights coach Duane Smith said. “I preach defense all the time, so the way our guys stepped up tonight, I was very proud of them.”

The Knights (4-2) tied the game in the third quarter when quarterback Tracy McGee hooked up with Isaih Johnson on a 45-yard touchdown pass on a fourth-and-15 play.

Conneaut responded right back, though, as Colucci found Gerdes once again on a 45-yard pass play of his own to put the Spartans back in front.

“Gerdes has become our leading receiver as far as total yards are concerned,” Dobran said. “He has really helped Troy be able to stretch the field and thus open up a lot of things for us.”

The Knights threatened to tie the game again though in the fourth quarter. Running back Santay McPherson broke loose for a 540yard run to give the Knights a first down at the Conneaut 11.

The Spartan defense, however, was able to dig in and prevent them from advancing any further.

“They can drive the ball all they want,” Nelson said. “It’s the last 10 yards that matter. I’m really proud of our guys tonight for the way they stepped up.”

Upon getting the big stop from the defense, Colucci put the game away on the ensuing drive, when he raced 55 yards for a touchdown to give the Spartans a two-possession advantage.

Isaiah Ngraingas capped the great night for Conneaut with a 50-yard interception return for a touchdown.

Shaffer is a freelance writer from Ashtabula.