By MIKE SHAFFER
For the Star Beacon
HARPERSFIELD TOWNSHIP —
Perry coach Matt Rosati knew that success against the Geneva Eagles meant stopping junior running back Aaron Rossi.
Rossi, the marquee playmaker in Geneva’s backfield followed up his 200-yard performance against Edgewood last week by gaining 148 yards on 35 carries. His last three carries netted a loss of two yards however, as the Pirates behind an offense that made some big plays and a defense that got key stops when they mattered most defeated the Eagles 34-27 at Spire on Friday.
“Aaron Rossi is a tremendous back and Geneva is an outstanding football team,” Rosati said. “It was a war of attrition tonight. We hung in there and hung in there and were able to get stops when we needed them. We beat a very good football team tonight.”
And while the defense was putting the clamps on Rossi, the Pirate offense play its part as well. Quarterback Ryan Kalhoun rushed for 66 yards on 10 carries. Even more hurtful to the Eagles was Zakary Hurd, who toted the ball nine times for 96 yards including several big runs late to preserve the win.
“We fell short on defense tonight,” Geneva (1-1) coach Tony Hassett said. “Our offensive line did a great job for us tonight, we knew Rossi could run the ball and he did very effectively. In the end though you have to give them credit. They made the plays when they mattered most and we did not.”
The game started with a bang as Perry’s Kyle Beyer took the opening kickoff 90 yards back for an opening touchdown.
“That was unacceptable on our part,” Hassett said. “They are way too good of a team for us to give up big plays like that.”
The Eagles answered in a more methodical convention by marching 69 yards on 14 plays in just under five minutes. Rossi carried the ball for 34 yards including the last two for the score.
“That kick return was huge, but they took the football and scored to offset that,” Rosati said.
But, Perry answered right back going 52 yards on a seven-play drive. Kalhoun connected with Luke Farrell on a 22-yard pass putting the Pirates back in front.
The Eagles offense answered back once again with another long drive. This time though quarterback Brandon Pakkala made the big play as he hit Travis Blake on a 46-yard pass to give the Eagles a first and goal. Rossi punched it in two plays later to tie the game.
The Eagles then capitalized on a Perry mistake by recovering a fumble to set the offense up at the Pirate 43. Six plays later, Rossi scored his third touchdown of the night on a seven-yard run putting the Eagles up, 21-14.
After the teams exchanged possessions, it was the Pirates that took advantage of a mistake. Geneva was called for interfering with a fair catch on a punt, costing them 15 yards. Hassett, protesting the play was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct giving Perry another 15.
It took the Pirate offense only three plays to go the 39 yards as Kalhoun scored on a 26-yard run to make it a 21-20 game. Rosati elected to go for two, but the attempt failed.
“We were playing catch-up for most of the first half it seemed,” he said. “That score at the end was big for us, I decided to go for two and try to take the lead at halftime. It didn’t work but we felt like we could do some things against them in the second half.”
The second half opened with the teams exchanging touchdown drives. Geneva chewed up over five minutes on a 14-play, 67-yard drive ending in Rossi’s fourth touchdown of the night.
Perry answered right back with a 64-yard drive of their own. Hurd had a run of 31 yards to ignite the drive. Kyle Kremiller finished it with a seven yard touchdown scamper.
Trailing by a point, Geneva again began to march down the field. The Perry defense came up big, however. With the Eagles at the Pirate 37, the Perry defense stopped Rossi on a third and two then following a time-out, on fourth and two to get the ball back.
“We were just trying to tackle Aaron Rossi,” Rosati said. “We have experienced kids and we just kept telling them to keep playing and eventually we’d get a break.”
Back on the field, the Perry offense took the momentum created from its defense and marched 63 yards. Hurd took an end-around 29 yards into the end-zone to give Perry some breathing room.”
“Zak had a tremendous game, he’s one of the fastest guys in the area and we were able to get him loose,” Rosati said. “They had a very difficult time stopping that play (the end-around) and we kept giving him the ball and he kept producing for us.”
Trailing by seven Pakkala did lead Geneva on a final thrilling drive. Starting at their own 35 he led his offense down the field completing three-consecutive passes to Austin Clutter. The third required a circus catch on a fourth and five play to keep the game moving.
“Brandon really stepped up on that drive,” Hassett said. That catch by Clutter was one of the best you’ll ever see in a high school game.”
Geneva advanced the ball to the Pirates 22 before Pakkala’s final pass fell short.
Shaffer is a freelance writer from Ashtabula.