The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

September 12, 2013

The most ancient of rivals

Geneva, Conneaut will square off for the 110th time Friday night

Star Beacon

— Football has been played at the high school level since the late 19th century.

And during those almost-120 years, no two Ashtabula County squads have matched up more often than Geneva and Conneaut.

The two ancient rivals will meet for the 110th time Friday night at Conneaut Stadium. Geneva broke a tie in the all-time series last fall with a 69-0 walkover at Spire Stadium, giving the Eagles a 52-51 lead, with six games having ended in a deadlock.

Both teams come into this one at 1-1 and coming off losses.

Coach Tony Hassett’s Eagles lost a hard-fought 34-27 verdict to visiting Perry at Spire Stadium, while coach Rocco Dobran’s Spartans took one on the chin at Champion, 36-19.

Geneva did everything but win last week, rushing for more yards (266-204), passing for more yards (139-43) and was even in the turnover ratio against Perry. But Pirate Kyle Beyer set the tone by running the opening kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown.

“We played a heck of a ballgame,” Hassett said. “They made some big plays and that was the difference. The kick return to start the game was huge.  I will take the blame for that because with just four coaches, we have not practiced it enough. We will be better at that special-team phase this week.

“We just made key mistakes that they capitalized on.  I really do not know. We need to sure some things up on our defense and we will be fine.”

When asked if his Eagles let a winnable game get away, Hassett didn’t hesitate.

“Most definitely,” he said. “But in the same breath, we must move on. We cannot dwell on what should have happened.  

“We must get ready for Conneaut.”

Meanwhile, Conneaut was right there at Champion last week, trailing only 14-13 at halftime after Alex Gerdes hauled in a 24-yard touchdown pass from Troy Colucci.

However, the Spartans were outscored in the second half, 22-6, as the Golden Flashes pulled away.

“We did some good things and we saw a lot of areas that we need to improve,” Dobran said. “We threw the ball well when we had protection. Because of that, we were able to stick with the game plan and take what they were giving us.”

Colucci completed 14 of 25 passes for 260 yards, the majority of which went to Gerdes, a sophomore, who had 9 catches for 189 of those yards.

Problem is, Gerdes (concussion)

won’t play this week, nor will R.J. Nelson (knee) or Tyler Cox (knee). Roe Rozalski (shoulder) is probable.

“Our pass protection overall needs work and some of our special teams need work,” Dobran said. “I felt, overall, we played very hard and fought hard until they got a goal-line stand, then blocked a punt for a TD, and we got some key players injured.

“Then, we lost our confidence. We are going to work on handling adversity and working through any situation, regardless of how tough it is.”

Hassett doesn’t expect another rendition of what’s transpired in this matchup the past two seasons, when his Eagles have outscored the Spartans by a combined 130-0.

“Conneaut is a much-improved football team,” he said. “They know their jobs on the field and execute it out on offense. On defense, they really get after it.  They hit well and get to the ball. We must be ready and focus to play them.”

Hassett has a good idea what to expect Friday night.

“Conneaut is a spread offense, no-huddle team,” he said. “They want to stretch the field and then mix in the run. They have some pretty good athletes. They run a 50 defense. They good size up front with linebackers and a secondary that gets to the ball.  

“Troy Colucci is a double threat as a runner and passer. We will need to contain him. Alex Gerdes had a huge game against Champion at the receiver spot.  Steven Gaugh is a tough runner. Their offensive and defensive line has good size and our doing a good job.”

Meanwhile, Dobran has plenty of praise for Geneva.

“They have a lot of depth, they have a lot of team speed, tough players, and are coached well,” he said. “Last year, we came into the game banged up a bit, played some young guys, and they had some very talented players.

“On offense, they run multiple sets. They like to mostly pound the ball with two- and three-back sets, sometimes going unbalanced with their line. Then they will occasionally spread you out and throw a bit.

“On offense, Aaron Rossi is a very special back who I'm sure everyone tries to at least contain, but Brandon Pakkala is also a very good quarterback who can run well and throw the ball down field to his favorite and very talented receiver, in Travis Blake. I also noticed their tight end, Ronnie Varckette, as a very good and aggressive blocker.

“On defense, they keep it fairly simple, but they do what they do well. They play a 4-4, cover 3 defense, occasionally jumping into man coverage when bringing pressure. They don't have a ton of size on their D-line, but they are quick and aggressive. Shane Herter, who also does a nice job at the fullback position, is also a very hard nosed linebacker and good tackler. Then, Pakkala and Blake give their defensive backfield a lot of speed and athleticism.”

The respective coaches have ideas of what needs to be done Friday night to bag the victory and move to 2-1 on the season.

“We need to play hard and go to Conneaut with the right frame of mind,” Hassett said. “We must outhit them and hustle on defense, read our keys and get to the ball. We need to force turnovers.   

“We must win the special teams and not allow the big play. On offense, we must execute our game plan, not have mental errors and play with poise. If we can accomplish those goals, we should be fine.”

“I think we first need to do the obvious — have good special teams and win the turnover battle,” Dobran said. “Offensively, we need to manage the clock and finish drives with touchdowns and put some points on the board.

“Defensively, we need to contain Rossi and prevent the big plays.”