Not much motivation is needed to get hyped up for a rivalry game, but the Chagrin Falls gridders (4-1) were deflated early in a road test against league foe Orange on Friday night in Pepper Pike.
The host Lions (0-3) caught Chagrin Falls off guard with an onside kick to open the game, as senior Steven Fellinger recovered it to provide Orange a 51-yard field. Six plays later, 190-pound senior running back Greg Beard punched in a 2-yard touchdown for a 7-0 Lion lead.
Later in the opening stanza, Orange 5-foot-11 senior quarterback Zak Basharat dialed up 6-foot senior receiver Devin Culliver on a 19-yard touchdown toss, and the Lions took a 14-0 advantage at the quarter mark in an attempt to defeat the Tigers for the first time since 2017.
“Hats off to the Orange coaching staff,” Chagrin Falls 26th-year head coach Mark Iammarino said. “I thought they had a great plan. They started the game with an onside kick, had some good plays, and they had a good plan of attack.
“I told our guys we’ve got to be ready, because they’re going to come out shooting. And we didn’t handle it very well and got down promptly in the first quarter, 14-0.”
Orange’s aerial attack outgained Chagrin’s entire offense, as Basharat would finish the game 16-of-31 passing for 263 yards, although the Tigers did sack him six times, including two apiece from Chagrin 220-pound senior end Grady Zeigler and 220-pound junior tackle Andrew Bazzone.
While the Lions moved the chains 19 times on 66 plays, Chagrin’s defense bent but did not break after that first quarter.
Chagrin’s offense established its run game in the second quarter on eight straight carries to the red zone, before 6-foot-3 senior quarterback Dawson Pierce dialed up 6-foot-2 senior Josh Norton on a 1-yard touchdown toss to cut the Tigers’ deficit, 14-7, with 7:52 to go in the half.
“Dawson did a really good job on that play,” Iammarino said. “He stood in the pocket, took a hit as he threw. And Josh has been really good for us this year and caught a touchdown. So, that was great to see that.”
But the Tigers still trailed by a touchdown at intermission.
“At halftime I told the guys, ‘Hey, you’ve got to settle down,’” Iammarino said. “You could see a little bit of the frustration in our guys, because they were trying to do too much and we weren’t doing our job. We were trying to do something extra, and we missed some tackles because we were over pursuing, and that happens sometimes when you get punched in the mouth, and you’ve got to respond.”
Chagrin struggled to move the ball at times, as the Tigers finished with 190 yards and 11 first downs on 48 plays. But they didn’t lose any turnovers and only committed two penalties.
The Chagrin boys got the break they needed midway through the fourth quarter, when 6-foot-4 junior Andrew Kirkpatrick punted the pigskin 50 yards and Orange fumbled the return. Tiger 6-foot sophomore Donny Hardy recovered it.
On the next play, Chagrin 140-pound senior running back Cam O’Connor capitalized on a 19-yard touchdown run to tie the game, 14-14, with 3:51 to go in regulation.
Iammarino said Kirkpatrick was probably the player of the game for the Tigers.
“He punted the ball five times for a 44-yard average,” the coach said. “He had three kickoffs into the end zone, made his three extra points, he flipped the field. The biggest play of the game is he had a long punt and we got a fumble on it to turn that into eventually a touchdown to tie the game. So, Andrew, he was fantastic.”
Chagrin got first possession in overtime, and 205-pound senior big rig Owen McClintock punched a 3-yard carry into the end zone for a 21-14 lead.
On Orange’s possession, Chagrin 5-foot-10 junior defensive back Cole Ettinger, who led his team with 13 tackles, broke up a Basharat pass to a Lion tight end.
On Orange’s second play, Chagrin 5-foot-11 senior defensive back Owen Lewis defended a toss into the end zone for his third pass breakup of the night.
Then, after an Orange 4-yard gain on third down, Chagrin 5-foot-8 senior defensive back Miguel Demastus put the game on ice with an interception in the end zone for the Tigers’ 21-14 victory.
“They ran a trick play, and Miguel stayed back, and he intercepted the ball in the end zone to seal it,” Iammarino said. “So, it was a good job in overtime defense. We gave up a lot of yards in between, but, other than their two scores in the first quarter, we did a great job of keeping them out of the end zone for the last three quarters and overtime.”
Up next, Chagrin will conclude its regular season at home against West Geauga (4-1), while Orange will host Ashtabula Lakeside (0-5) at 7 p.m. Friday.