The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

October 12, 2013

Eagles special, just not enough

Geneva jumps to big, early lead, but Chardon storms back for victory

Staff Writer

HARPERSFIELD TOWNSHIP — Former Ohio State coach Jim Tressell used to preach the importance of special teams and how it is one-third of the game.

Often times, that fact gets ignored.

On Friday night’s contest Premier Athletic Conference between Chardon and Geneva at Spire Stadium, special teams seemed like it more than just a third of the game.

Geneva (3-4, 1-3) built a 27-10 lead on the back of two kickoff returns for touchdowns and a blocked punt returned for a score, but from that point on it was all Chardon as they scored 34-unasnwered points to win, 44-27.

The Hilltoppers (4-3, 3-1) had plenty of help on special teams in the comeback as well, as Chardon kicker Bobby Bukovec totaled 14 points on the night (the point differential in the game), including three field goals (23, 30 and 33 yards).

“I could coach for 30 more years and I don’t know if I’ll ever see anything like that,” Chardon coach Mitch Hewitt said. “They had 27 points and had run one play. Just talking with the refs, talking with people at halftime, no one had ever seen anything like that. I think a lot of credit needs to be given to Geneva because beating South last week like we did, the general public thought, ‘oh, this wasn’t going to be a good game.’

“But our kids all week long were like, ‘they’re 3-3, we’re 3-3.’ They’re got talent all over the field. Our kids responded... 34 unanswered.”

Austin Clutter returned the opening kick of the game 95 yards for a score before a Chardon drive stalled and Bukovec nailed his first field of the night from 23 yards out.

Clutter didn’t let them celebrate for long, though, returning the ensuing kick 90 yards for a score.

On a Hilltopper punt, Shane Herter burst through the line and blocked the punt, returning it 20 yards for a score.

At the end of the first, the Eagles led 20-3 without their offense having taken the field.

“We had gotten off to a great start,” Geneva coach Tony Hassett. “The only bad thing was the defense was on the field the whole first quarter. The offense never took place until the second quarter. Austin had two great returns, Shane blocked a punt and before you know it we’re scoring points every way you want to.”

When the Geneva offense finally got on the field, following a 1-yard touchdown run by Chardon’s Joe Connick, it didn’t stay there long.

On the first play from scrimmage, Brandon Pakkala connected with Austin Clutter for a 10-yard pass, Clutter turned and pitched it to Aaron Rossi (18 rushes, 142 yards) and the junior raced 70 yards untouched for a touchdown, giving the Eagles a 27-10 lead.

Unfortunately for Geneva, that would be the final time it crossed the goalline.

“We just couldn’t really finish in the second half,” Hassett said. “We’re driving the ball, even before the half, we’re driving the ball and we just didn’t finish. I still feel like we moved the ball, we just fumbled, threw the interception. You can’t do that. They’re a good football team.”

Chardon closed the second quarter with a 29-yard touchdown pass to Connick from Patrick Sullivan then Bukovec connected on another field goal to cut the deficit to 27-20 at the half.

“I addressed them before we even left the field (for haltime),” Hewitt said. “I told them we were down a touchdown but believe it or not, the momentum has shifted a little bit. We just had to keep it close. We always believe if we’re close in the fourth quarter, we have a shot. Our kids are tough.

“But give Geneva credit. I was impressed with them. They came out and punched us in the mouth.”

Connick (8 rushes, 76 yards, 4 touchdowns) found the end zone on runs of 15 and 12 yards in the third quarter to give Chardon a 34-27 lead going into the final 12 minutes.

Then, Bukovec hit his final field goal on the night before Sullivan scored from 7 yards out to cap the scoring.

Hewitt said Bukovec’s field goals, and extra points, were important in the victory.

“I’ll tell you, and I don’t know if any coach in Chardon history can ever say this, but our kicker really stepped up,” he said. “Points matter. It’s a situation where a lot of times in high school you think a field goal isn’t going to decide the difference or an outcome but in a situation like this where you’re down by so many you have to slowly chip away at momentum. High school football, or really at any level, athletics in general, is about momentum and taking a punch.”

While Chardon dominated the scoring after Geneva’s 17-point lead, it wasn’t as if the Eagles didn’t have their opportunities.

They turned the ball over on downs with 36.9 seconds remaining in the second quarter at the Chardon 20.

Then a Geneva fumble inside the Chardon red zone that was returned to the Eagles 15, set up a Hilltoppers score.

The final straw came with 27.2 seconds left in the third when a Pakkala pass was tipped at the line and intercepted with the Eagles driving at Chardon’s 19.

“We’re right there, we just gotta learn how to finish,” Hassett said. “We’re the smallest school probably in the PAC size wise. (We have) the fewest numbers of coaches, four, counting myself. That’s it. It’s tough. You have guys that are able to specialize and it makes a huge difference on how you’re coached.

“We’re a young team and the fact that a lot of our guys are freshmen, the backups, you’re not gonna win too many games with them backing up your varsity players.”