The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

November 2, 2013

Spatans show their heart

Conneaut caps remarkable bounceback season by holding off Jefferson

For the Star Beacon

CONNEAUT — There are moments in a football game where a team can either throw in the towel or get up off the canvas to go another round.

After giving up three-consecutive scores in a matter of six minutes to give away what was a 14-point advantage, Conneaut was clearly staggered, but came out of the corner fighting for a 28-19 victory over Jefferson at Conneaut Stadium on Friday night.

“The kids had no quit in them,” Conneaut coach Rocco Dobran said. “They felt confident in themselves, which they’ve developed the last couple weeks. They learned from past games that when things start getting hard, they’ve got to come together.

“They came together. I think the coaches were more worried than the players.”

The Spartans (6-4) had not beaten the Falcons (3-6, 2-5 in All-American Conference) since 2008 and had been outscored 133-28 in the four losses and had not won six games in a season since 2000. It’s just the third time Conneaut has equaled that many victories going all the way back to 1993.  

“Jefferson’s a great team,” Dobran said. “It always feels good to get that county team and on our home field. It’s great for the seniors. We beat Edgewood last week and got Jefferson this week. It’s all about the seniors. It’s all about the kids.

“As far as the win goes, we’re over .500. That’s huge for the program and it’s something to build on for next year.”

After falling behind, 19-14, with 1:07 to play in the first half, the Spartans needed to make something happen and they needed it to happen quickly.

That something was a three-play, 51-yard drive that ended with quarterback Troy Colucci hitting Alex Gerdes on a fade pattern in the end zone for a 23-yard touchdown to put Conneaut back in front, 21-19, with 42 seconds to play in the second quarter.

“That all lies with Troy Colucci, our quarterback,” Dobran said. “The kid can do it all. He’s so confident in his abilities. People say he’s a running back at quarterback, but he passed the 1,000-yard mark (throwing) last week.

“We put it in his hands and he makes plays. Troy wanted to slug it to Gerdes there. He actually called that play. He told me he wanted me to call that play and we called it.”

Jefferson had moved the ball to the Spartan 39, but Isaiah Ngiraingas intercepted a pass to put down the threat for Conneaut.

The teams had combined to net 26 points in the final 7:23 of the half — 19 in the final 3:03 — but didn’t tally a single point in the third period.

Jefferson was moving the ball toward taking back the lead early in the fourth quarter, but had the drive stall out after two running plays netted a yard and a pass fell incomplete. On fourth and 11 from the Spartans’ 42, the Falcons elected to go to the air, but the pass was picked off by Ngiraingas.

Conneaut took over at its own 19 and made quick work of putting the ball in the end zone. The Spartans moved 81 yards in five plays, scoring on a 2-yard run by C.J. Rice to go up, 28-19, with 8:19 remaining in the game.

The Falcons turned it over downs on the ensuing possession and the Spartans took more than five minutes off the clock before turning the ball over on downs at the Jefferson 1.

Ngiraingas, who finished with three interceptions, caused a fumble and the Spartans recovered before taking a knee to seal the victory.

A number of times throughout the game, the Falcons were moving the ball and either committed a penalty or turned the ball over, inhibiting their ability to score.  

“Yes, those hurt,” Jefferson coach Jimmy Henson said. “If something goes wrong, you can’t keep driving. We’ve got to overcome those. It’s hard, but we’re getting closer.

“I think my kids played hard. They gave everything they’ve got. We made some mistakes that cost us. We’ve got to get them coached up better. The players have to do their jobs a bit better.

“We’ve just got to get better and that starts with the head coach.”

Conneaut scored the first 14 points on a 3-yard run by Colucci on the game’s opening possession. Rice scored a 14-yard scamper after catching a screen pass from Colucci to make it 14-0 with 11:10 to play in the first half.

The Falcons came roaring back.

Jeremiah Knight scored on a 5-yard run with 7:23 to play in the half and Jefferson’s deficit was cut in half. Cody Campbell got the Falcons to within a point, 14-13, on a 6-yard scoring strike from Lucas Hitchcock with 3:03 left. Less than two minutes later, Hitchcock scored from the 1 to put Jefferson in front, 19-14, with 1:07 remaining.

“We were doing our job at that point,” Henson said. “We got the run game going and that helped the pass game get going. That took some guys back out of the box and opened up the run game.

“(Conneaut) took (the momentum) back. They came out and got on us and we took (momentum) from them. Give their kids credit. They came back and kept fighting. They made a couple plays. I thought their kids came out and played real well defensively and we had a little trouble getting going.”           

Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula.