By MIKE SHAFFER
For the Star Beacon
HARPERSFIELD TOWNSHIP —
The looks on the faces of the players in the Geneva locker room told the story. They were looks of frustration and dejection minutes after a potential game-tying field goal by Paul Hitchcock was blocked by University School to send the Eagles to a 17-14 loss at Spire Stadium on Friday night.
Geneva had driven from its own 10 yard line in the final three minutes of the game before the blocked kick settled the verdict. For the Eagles, the loss leaves them winless at home for 2013 with a final record of 4-6 and 2-5 in the PAC, while the Preppers go to 2-8, 2-5 in the PAC.
“This one hurts about as much as the all the other ones do,” Geneva coach Tony Hassett said. “We’re right there and we just don’t know how to finish the game. I thought we didn’t play with any intensity in the first half. It took us about halfway through the third quarter to wake up and start playing.
“I thought that wouldn’t be a problem, being the seniors’ last night. We came back, we were right there at the end, but we just made way too many mistakes.”
It was a game in which the Eagles dominated the stat sheet everywhere except where it mattered most — the scoreboard. Geneva ran 27 more plays than the Preppers, it outgained them by 104 yards and had 19 first downs to University’s 10. The Eagles, though, were haunted by mistakes in key situations and missed oppourtunities.
“When you look at it, they had one drive where we blew a coverage and that was about it,” Hassett said. “Other than that, we hurt ourselves mostly, especially on offense.”
The Eagles were penalized 8 times, costing them 75 yards.
Geneva never led in the game. University scored the game’s first touchdown when quarterback John Gannon connected with Hayden Pentecost on a 26-yard pass to give the Preppers a 7-0 lead.
Geneva tied in in the second quarter when Travis Blake had a 23-yard punt return to set the Eagles up at the Preppers’ 25. From there, Aaron Rossi carried the ball eight straight times including a 1 yard plunge off left tackle to pay dirt. Ashtabula County’s leading rusher going into Week 10 had 126 yards in the first half, but was held to just 27 in the second half.
Stopping Rossi was the Preppers’ game plan from the start.
“Believe it or not ,that was our game plan coming in for the whole night,” University coach Jim Stephens said. “We knew what a dangerous runner he was and that we had to find a way to contain him. In the second half, we made some adjustments, we pulled the safeties up inside the linebackers and were able to slow him down.”
University regained the lead for good with a 29-yard field goal from Ryder Bell to go up 10-7 in the third quarter.
The Preppers extended their lead to 17-7 on a 35-yard run by Andrew Dorogi. Dorogi who was quiet in the first half, but had 68 of his 98 yards rushing in the second half to keep the Geneva defense on the field.
“He really came through for us,” Stephens said. “He’s a good, hard runner and he came through when we needed it most.”
Trailing by 10 in the fourth quarter, the Eagles fought back, though. Quarterback Brandon Pakkala found Blake down the right side for a 48-yard pass play to trim the Preppers’ lead to 17-14.
The offense had more oppourtuninities. Zac Sweat intercepted a pass to give the Eagles offense the ball at the Prepper 47, but Geneva could only manage one first down.
A personal-foul penalty would defuse one Geneva drive in the fourth quarter.
Later, the Eagle defense created another turnover, this time recovering a fumble at the University 20, only to see the offense not be able to execute in the red zone.
Geneva got it’s last chance with 3:37 remaining at its own 10. Pakkala completed a fourth-and-3 pass to Blake to move the chains.
He was sacked, however, on the next two plays and faced third and 29. An interference penalty got 15 of the yards, followed by a 9-yard scramble and another fourth-down completion, this time to Austin Clutter to keep the verdict up in the air.
Racing against the clock, the Eagles advanced all the way to the University 13 before calling upon Hitchcock to try and tie it from 30 yards.
The snap was a bit high, though, and the Preppers were all over it.
“We thought we saw a little opening between the center and the guard and we told them to try to get up in there.” Stephens said.
Shaffer is a freelance writer from Ashtabula.