By STEVE GOLDMAN
For the Star Beacon
Friday night served as a homecoming of sorts for Lakeside coach Frank Hall. The Dragons’ 49-21 season-closing loss at Chardon exemplified how the program improved in Hall’s first year, although in the Hilltoppers, one could see aspects of the team Hall would like the Dragons to become in the future.
The Dragons (3-7, 1-6 in the Premier Athletic Conference) stayed alive well into the second half. However, Chardon (6-4, 5-2), where Hall assisted before taking over the reins at Lakeside, was able to score the final two touchdowns to put the game away.
After the two teams met in their respective groups following the game, the coaches and players from both sides met in a brief joint session. Also, at the close of the first half, Hall went to the student section in the north bleachers, where the students had a banner for him.
“I’d never been over there (the visitor’s bench),” Hall said. “I’ve never been in that locker room before. It was kind of weird at first, but it’s a Friday night football game in Northeast Ohio, and it doesn’t get any better than that. Great atmosphere, the fans, the student body. To be able to play here is a great honor. Our kids enjoyed it. They went out like they should have — great effort.”
“It’s hard (going up against Hall),” Chardon coach Mitch Hewitt, under whom Hall formerly coached, said. “It’s very similar going up against (former Chardon assistant and current Riverside head coach Dave) Bors. In this coaching neighborhood, you know each other so well. Here’s what I tell everyone: ‘We’ll coach against each other for a few years, but we’ll be friends for a lifetime.’ You’ve got to keep that in mind.”
“I was proud of all our kids. Anyone who’s watched Lakeside on film knows that they’re a tough team. They’ve got talent; they’ve got weapons. And Frank’s the perfect man for that job.”
The Dragons often went with an empty backfield. Tyler Loftus closed out his high school career with 342 yards passing, including touchdown strikes of 85 and 20 yards to Kyle Downs and 56 yards to Jared Patton. However, the vaunted Chardon ground attack outdid that, with 381 yards and six touchdowns.
“You can’t say enough about a kid like (Loftus),” Hewitt said. “Talking to Coach Hall this week, I knew we were going to have some difficulties. Not only is he a good player, he’s got character.”
Patrick Sullivan led the Hilltoppers with 161 yards on 17 attempts, including scoring runs of 4 and 14 yards, and also completing 5-6 passes for 94 yards. Ben Cyvas added 142 yards on 11 carries, with touchdowns of 69 and 2 yards.
“What they do, they do very well,” Hall said. “We gave it our best effort, but they have a great group of seniors over there that went off like they wanted to.
“It wasn’t so much the X’s and O’s that we tried to match; it was their effort. Chardon’s always been known for great effort, and that’s something that we’re working to build upon, and hopefully we’re going to get there sooner than later.”
“We had a bunch of seniors who came out tonight and obviously knew it was their last night under these lights in front of their community, and they played their rear ends off,” Hewitt said.
The Hilltoppers got their other score when Joey Fodor blocked a punt and Anthony Cantanzriti returned it 53 yards to make it 21-7, not long after Loftus’ longest pass had cut it to 14-7. Sullivan capped drives of 67 and 82 yards with his two touchdowns to extend it to 35-7 with 35 seconds left in the half, but Loftus quickly moved the Dragons 80 yards for a touchdown, and then moved them the same distance after the sides exchanged punts following the break.
“We made a commitment this week to get better at (moving the ball via the air),” Hall said. “We lost some key personnel (and) that kind of forced us to go that way. And Tyler Loftus — what a warrior. I mean, an absolute warrior. He stepped up and gave us everything he had, along with all the other seniors (including) Kyle Downs (and) Reggie McHenry. They all fought tooth-and-nail. I’m so proud of them. I couldn’t be happier with their effort.”
Chardon’s Jordan Barrett provided the opening score with a 10-yard run, and backup quarterback Drew Gittins finished things off with a four-yard scoring run.
Lakeside’s Nick Meola injured his shoulder and was carried off the field on a stretcher in the second quarter.
Goldman is a freelance writer from South Euclid.