By TIM CLEVELAND
For the Star Beacon
After a 43-point rout Conneaut suffered to Brookfield last season, fans could be forgiven if they thought 2013’s game between the teams would be more of the same.
After all, the Spartans were seemingly out of postseason contention entering Friday’s game while Brookfield was poised to make its third-consecutive playoff appearance.
Conneaut gave the Warriors all they could handle, but two fumbles and four turnovers on fourth down helped Brookfield hang on for a 14-8 victory at Addison Field.
“I was very proud of the way they played. We just didn’t execute when we needed to,” Conneaut coach Rocco Dobran said. “I thought we moved the ball well, but once we got inside the 30, 25, we just didn’t finish drives. That’s something we’ve got to work on and get better at.”
Despite last season’s big win over Conneaut, Brookfield coach Randy Clark said he knew it would not be so easy this time.
“I knew they were a well-coached team,” he said. “I watched them on film; they’ve got a good team. They’ve got some athletes and some good size. I knew how bad they wanted to beat us; they played well enough to do it.”
After Brookfield took a 14-0 third-quarter lead, Conneaut (4-4) went on an 11-play, 75-yard drive that lasted 6:57 to get on the board.
On fourth-and-3 on the Brookfield 29, R.J. Nelson rushed 6 yards for a first down. Four plays later, Troy Colucci connected with C.J. Rice for a 29-yard touchdown to cap the drive. Colucci then hit Sam Diselrath for the 2-point conversion with 1:38 left in the third quarter.
“I thought early on we moved the ball real well,” Dobran said. “I think up front we did a great job; Troy, R.J. (Nelson) and C.J. They were smart defensively. They started stacking the box and we started throwing a little bit; successful at times. We just couldn’t finish the drives.”
The Spartans defense came up huge on the next series, stopping Brookfield (6-2) on fourth down as Joe Clark was dropped for a 15-yard loss. Conneaut proceeded to drive from its 45 to Brookfield’s 26 on the next six plays. Facing fourth-and-2, there was a miscommunication on the shotgun snap to Colucci, who fumbled. Brookfield’s Chris Johnson recovered on the 31.
“We just couldn’t finish drives,” Colucci said. “We drove the ball every single time down the field, we just couldn’t finish drives. I blame that on myself; I blame that on the mistakes made.”
Dobran took the blame for the miscue.
“We got the ball on fourth down, so we tried to hurry up and catch them off guard,” he said. “I think I screwed up our own team with the exchange. They were trying to go too fast and let the ball on the ground.”
Brookfield took over the ball on its 1 after a punt in the second quarter. The Warriors drove 99 yards in seven plays in 3:07. Clark rushed for 25 yards to the Conneaut 39, then two plays later he went the final 30 for the game’s first score.
“I had to get outside and my upback and my fullback got a couple nice blocks for me; my linemen got a couple nice blocks for me and I made some cuts off those blocks,” Clark said.
For its second touchdown, Brookfield went mainly through the air. Augustus Necastro connected with R.J. Leon for a 43-yard touchdown after hitting Leon and Nate Morrison earlier in the drive.
After narrowly avoiding the upset, Brookfield is in good position to make the playoffs for the third consecutive season. The Warriors entered Friday seventh in Division VI, Region 19’s computer rankings. Clark said the Conneaut win is very valuable to his team.
“This game tonight will give us a lot of points,” he said. “They’re Division IV with four victories; we’re VI, so we’re going to get quite a bit of points.”
Cleveland is a freelance writer from Warren.