Just call the Harvey Red Raiders resilient. After enduring a horrendous start that has pretty much eliminated its chances for a postseason berth, Harvey (4-4, 3-0 Northeastern Conference) has rallied in the second half of the season to claim at least a share of a second straight NEC championship after Friday’s 39-21 win over red-hot Geneva.

Coach Devlin Culliver’s team, which at one point this fall stood 1-4 and looked to be going nowhere fast, has won its last three games to even its record and now stand a Week 10 victory over Edgewood away from a second straight outright NEC title.

Everyone knew Harvey would have one of the best offenses in the area this season, and it has showed that by averaging over 30 points and 350 total yards a game. Led by senior quarterback Mick Mohner, senior tailback Chris Bowler and a trio of talented receivers in juniors Chris Fields and Jamil Javey and senior Rayshaun Journigan, the Red Raiders have had little trouble scoring on anyone this season.

But what’s been giving Harvey fits is an extremely young defense that has had to learn by the seat of its pants this season. Culliver starts eight and sometimes nine sophomores on defense this fall and it has showed as the Red Raiders have allowed an average of 27 points and 334 yards of total offense every night out.

But Culliver’s defense has made a big statement over the last two games. It pitched its first shutout against Conneaut last week then held Geneva scoreless through three quarters this past week. Led by sophomores Travis Sandstrom, Devonte Rouse, Josh Colo, Nate Starkey, Ian Jones, Tahmar Dukes, Richard Barnes, Bobby Sandborn and juniors Alston Sealey, James Bowling, Lionel Jordan and William Nash, Harvey’s defense did just enough to make it impossible for the Eagles to play catch up, which is all a coach can ask of his D.

“They grew up tonight,” Culliver said. “We start eight sophomores on defense. We’ve been asking them to grow up quick and grow up faster than they’re probably prepared for, but they’ve responded. They’ve played well the last two weeks.”

Harvey can lock down a second-straight winning season with wins over Gilmour next week and Edgewood on Oct. 26. The Red Raiders have not strung together consecutive winning seasons since finishing above .500 in 1987, 1988, 1989 and 1990.

“We still have Edgewood left,” Culliver said. “There’s still one more NEC game. We still have Gilmour. We can’t get overconfident.”

Big plays

Of Harvey’s six touchdowns in the win over Geneva, half went for more than 50 yards. Bowler (184 yards rushing) scored on TD runs of 53 and 65 yards, respectively, while Fields returned a kickoff 99 yards for a third score. Fields’ return proved to be key because Geneva had pulled within two touchdowns at 20-7 just moments before. Once more, of Harvey’s 57 plays from scrimmage, 15 went for at least 10 yards, all but two of those plays were running plays.

Murray hobbled

A week after hurting one ankle, Geneva junior tailback James Murray hurt is other one in the loss to Harvey. Murray, who led the area with 954 yards rushing going into the game, hurt his ankle after a seven-yard run with 6:11 left in the second quarter and did not return.

“He hurt his other ankle,” Geneva coach Tony Hassett said. “He wanted to keep going on it, but he said the pain started coming back so I said no. I won’t put a player on the field if they’re hurt that bad and risk them getting hurt even worse. I won’t do that to them.”

The Eagle ground attack didn’t miss a beat, with sophomore Jimmy Haines running for a career-high 84 yards in Murray’s stead. Junior Mike Lemponen also added 27 yards to help pick up the slack.

“Yeah, we lost James and we held them to 14 points in the first half,” Hassett said. “We had our opportunities. We drove the ball only to make mistakes and fumble the ball down inside their 20. Those turnovers really hurt us.”

Oh, so close

Geneva could have clinched at least a share of its first NEC championship since the 1999 season with a win over Harvey. But the Red Raiders rained on that parade with a 39-21 win. Mathematically, the Eagles are still alive in the title hunt. If Edgewood knocks off Harvey in Week 10 and the Eagles beat Conneaut next week, the Red Raiders and Eagles would share the title. But, judging by the way Harvey played in piling up 438 yards of total offense against the Eagles, that possibility may be highly unlikely.

Hassett just hopes his team learned its lesson. After all, Geneva could very well find itself in the same position next year.

“Our kids have come a really long way this year,” Hassett said. “They have got to learn how to play in these big games. When you’ve got the momentum and the chance to make big plays, you’ve got to make the big plays. We had our opportunities.”

Football weather

It took eight weeks, but it’s finally starting to feel like football season after the rains and cold finally hit Ashtabula County this weekend. A prolonged “Indian Summer” saw game-time temperatures in the 70s and 80s as recently as last week. But heavy rains and a sub-50 degree night at Lakeside Stadium on Thursday night, put an end to the warm fall. Raindrops were so big at Lakeside that they resembled snowflakes. Temperatures for Friday’s games weren’t much higher and periods of scattered rainfall and muddy fields were prominent in the area. Who knows? It might snow next weekend.

Dragon court

Lakeside’s 2007 homecoming court was announced before Thursday’s game with Madison. Isaiah Salters was named homecoming king by the students and Eva Gonzales won homecoming queen. Matt Izzi was selected homecoming prince, while senior tennis player Chyni Coleman was tabbed homecoming princess. Notable students were also in the running for homecoming honors included Greg Juhola, Jack Meaney and Devon Crockett from the football team, Miranda Newsome from the volleyball squad, senior cheerleader Candice Pollard and senior golfer T.J. Bowler. Gonzales is also the Lakeside band’s field commander. Salters was also the best-dressed of the group.

Nic of time

Madison senior tight end Nic DiLillo caught almost all of senior quarterback J.D. Ingalls’ completed passes Thursday night in a 35-14 win over Lakeside. DiLillo caught eight passes for 95 yards and his first two touchdowns of 2007 in the win. Ingalls completed 9 of 14 passes on the night. Ty Law caught the other pass for a 12-yard gain in the second half.

Tribe news

The PA announcer at Gerald M. Corlew Stadium for the Edgewood-Conneaut game announced the score of the Indians-Red Sox American League Championship Series game after the first inning of play. There was no reaction from the crowd. It was the last time the score was announced to the crowd.

At the start of the Indians’ 10-3 loss, the Cuyahoga Heights public-address announcer communicated the score of the game to the Redksins-Grand Valley crowd periodically. But for some reason, he stopped doing so as the Red Sox broke the game open.

Special teams

On paper, Conneaut looked as if it should have beaten Edgewood. After all, the Spartans outgained the Warriors 321-273 in total yardage and rushed for 144 yards in the first half against the Edgewood defense.

However, two big specia-teams plays led to Edgewood’s 12 first-half points and its eventual 25-12 win over the Spartans. The first was sophomore Devon Anderson’s 80-yard return of the opening kickoff for a touchdown. The second was the recovery of a muffed Conneaut punt by Edgewood’s Josh Bilbie. Six plays after the fumble recovery, Grant Ott plunged into the end zone to put the Warriors up 12-6 at the time. The 12 points proved to be instrumental in leading Edgewood to the victory.

Tick, tick, tick

Conneaut nearly took a lead into the locker room at halftime against the Warriors, but time proved to be an enemy. After engineering an 81-yard drive right before half, Spartans quarterback Nick Distelrath hit Jarred Moisio for a 23-yard completion down to the Edgewood 2-yard line with seconds left in the half. The Spartans couldn’t call a timeout quickk enough and the clock expired on the half.

Herald highlights

Despite a 55-10 loss to East Suburban Conference co-leader Mathews, the SS. John and Paul Heralds still had plenty to cheer about. Junior quarterback Jake Phelps has proven he is the leader of the team and sophomore tailback Adam Liuzzo has provided the necessary toughness of a strong runner that all contending teams depend upon. Junior lineman Steve Robison has anchored a hard-working defensive unit and senior Mike Acord has led the same way on the offensive front.

Liuzzo’s 93-yard kickoff return for a score marked the third time this year the Heralds have scored on a kick return

“Being the fact that we are so small, we have more time to give individual attention to the special-teams play,” SJP coach Jim Timonere said. “We do work especially hard on this facet of our game and it’s paid off for us.”

Capital blunders

Generosity is a good thing to teach young student-athletes, but being generous on the football field, most notably with penalties and turnovers, isn’t what coaches are looking for. Friday night in Chardon, the Riverside Beavers and host Hilltoppers were generous to a fault with mistakes, blunders, miscues and errors.

Chardon was flagged for eight penalties in the game, with a key holding call bringing back a 49-yard Chad Davis touchdown run early in the second period. The Hilltoppers also fumbled the ball away three times in the second half, effectively halting several key offensive thrusts at a Riverside defense that was tough all night.

Davis leads way

Davis has continued in the mold of past running quarterbacks at Chardon such as John Ross, Bobby Doyle and Jon Bell in coach Jim DiPofi’s wing-T offense. He ran for 189 yards on 19 carries against Riverside, including a 61-yard run for a score which gave the Hilltoppers a 21-14 lead at halftime.

Airing it out

Riverside had a lot of success passing against the Chardon defense as quarterbacks Andrew Foit and Kyle Shaffer combined to hit 13 of 23 passes for 164 yards. Shaffer hit 10 of 17 for 135 yards and a leaping 5-yard touchdown strike to wide receiver Lane Robilotto with four minutes left in the game that tied the game at 14-14. Foit added 3-6 passing for another 29 yards.

Secondary stars

Each Riverside quarterback was picked off twice by a ball-hawking Chardon secondary unit. Defensive backs Isaiah Charlton, A.J. Teresi, Kyle Petersen and Jonathan Hanobik each picked off Riverside passes at key times for the Hilltoppers. After Chardon took a 21-14 lead late on Davis’ one-yard touchdown run, Hanobik picked off Shaffer on a last-ditch drive by the Beavers to ice the Chardon victory in the final seconds.

PAC race heats up

Both Riverside and Chardon are now tied at 5-3 overall and 2-1 in the PAC, and the dash to the finish of the PAC championship race with league frontrunner Madison (6-2, 3-0) will be intriguing. Everything will likely come down to Madison’s game at Riverside in the final week of the season. The Blue Streaks win out and they clinch their first PAC title since 2002. But if Riverside beats Madison in that Week 10 game and Chardon wins out, there could be a three-way tie for the title between the Blue Streaks, Hilltoppers, Beavers. South (3-4, 2-1 PAC) could also have a say-so in the league race, as it has only one league loss going into the final two weeks. The Rebels still have games at Chardon and a home contest against Riverside remaining.

PV rebounds

It was a tale of two halves for the Pymatuning Valley Lakers in their 34-19 win over Southington. The Lakers had a miserable first half, fumbling the ball away four times and once more in the second. But Southington’s one fumble led to a key touchdown for the Lakers that helped PV pull away. The Lakers recovered that fumble at the Southington 22-yard line to start the third quarter and Josh Pilson made the Wildcats pay by scoring on a 15-yard run to give PV a 34-19 lead. Because of the fumbles, the Wildcats had the upper hand in stats at halftime, outgaining the Lakers 142-114 in total offensive yardage for the first two quarters.

Pilson returns

Pilson, a senior tailback for the Lakers, was injured with an apparent rib injury and did not get a single carry in the backfield in the first half of action against Southington. However, he made his presence felt when he did return with 101 yards in the second half to lead the Laker victory. Teammate Clayton Kirby also helped in Pilson’s absence with 90 yards and a touchdown.

“Things were won up front and I give PV a lot of credit as their offensive line did a nice job,” Southington Jim Wolke said. “They put a lot of kids in the box and you can only block so many.”

More special teams

PV coach Jason Root credited the play of his special-teams units in the first quarter that seemed to wake up the Lakers after a sluggish start.

“What set the tone was the last first half kick-off when we laid one out,” Root said. “Mike Hickman, Nick Marshall, Ben Beckwith and Jimmy Hunt made the hit. They covered and that got us pumped up because we were kind of down going into the locker room.

“He (Hickman) has had a couple of nice defensive games. He put alot of pressure on Lutheran East’s quarterback and helped us quite a bit tonight in that aspect.”

Ground to a halt

Grand Valley’s Rich Sacerich has 680 rushing yards in the 2007 season, but was held to nine yards on eight attempts the 38-6 loss at Cuyahoga Heights.

The Mustangs had just 52 rushing yards in 25 attempts against the Redskins. Warren Hooper, who had led the Mustangs at Newbury in Week 7, was the team leader with 20 yards on seven carries.

Hopes shattered

It hasn’t been the year that Tom Henson and the Grand Valley Mustangs had hoped for. The Mustangs have lost all eight games played, with an average score of about 35-10.

Grand Valley’s best chance to date came in Week 3, when it dropped a 21-15 decision to Pymatuning Valley. It was the Lakers’ second consecutive triumph in what is now a seven-game winning streak. After that, the Mustangs lost to Fairport, 39-27. Since then, all four defeats have been by at least 19 points.

Happy birthday

Birthday greetings were broadcast over the PA system to Kim Triskett, who was on hand to keep statistics for the Mustangs. The message was communicated to the PA announcer from Triskett’s sister-in-law. Her age was not available.

Triskett, of course, is Grand Valley’s girls basketball coach and Henson’s daughter... not to mention a former three-sport star for the Mustangs and college softball player for Youngstown State University.

Happy Gilmour

Gilmour Academy isn’t in the NEC, but it closes its season by playing all five members of that league.

So far, the Lancers have won all three games against NEC squads, defeating Conneaut, 35-13, and Edgewood, 32-12, before Saturday afternoon’s 47-7 whipping of Jefferson.

Passing fancy

Led by Billy Urban, who completed 15 of 19 passes for 327 yards and four touchdowns, the Lancers racked up 343 yards via the air. Two players (Lou Cangelosi, 5 receptions 149 yards and Ryan Teknipp 4 for 119 yards) topped 100 yards receiving. Five other players, including Urban, caught at least one pass for Gilmour.

Jefferson, which suffered its seventh straight defeat, threw the ball just seven times, completing two. Both completions were from Johnathan Wilson to Jonathan Landis.

Missing in action

Perry quarterback Vinny Hokavar missed Saturday’s 45-13 win over Beachwood with a torn muscle in his right (throwing) shoulder. His status is unknown for Weeks 9 and 10.

Kevin Siegel filled in admirably in Hokavar’s abesence with two touchdown passes and 100 yards on 7-of-9 passing.

Josh Mullins was also missing from the game with Beachwood. Mike Hanhauser filled in with 106 yards and two touchdowns on 16 attempts.

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