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Chardon 6-foot-4 junior safety Nathanael Sulka cuts up field on an interception during the Hilltoppers’ 49-14 home playoff victory against Warren Howland on Friday night at Memorial Field.

The Division III AP No. 1-ranked Chardon gridders (7-0) held off on getting T-shirts for the playoffs.

While the Hilltoppers already had a bye and then a 49-14 drubbing of region No. 17-seed Warren Howland (4-4) last week, they just didn’t think it was right to flash around some custom attire and promote something that was given to them – 2020 featured an all-inclusive postseason format for football.

“Quite frankly, I thought it was harder to make the beginning of the season than it was to make the playoffs,” said Chardon 10th-year head coach Mitch Hewitt, who owns a 77-31 record at the helm. “I almost said to someone we should do kickoff shirts because of the uncertainty of playing week one versus playing your playoff game.”

But the Chardon gridders are now in the Region 9 quarterfinals and will host No. 8-seed Geneva (7-1) in a typical one-versus-eight opening round matchup at 7 p.m. Friday at Memorial Field. They earned that.

The Hilltoppers are making their 18th postseason appearance, including seventh in the past decade, with an overall record of 28-16 since their first appearance in 1987.

“We’ve reached eight teams left in our region, so, for us, that quantifies us in the playoffs,” Hewitt said. “And it’s not to be disrespectful for teams that have never made the playoffs. But, for us, we don’t want to be given something. We want it to be earned, therefore it means more.”

During Chardon’s thumping of Howland last week, the Hilltoppers built a 42-0 lead in the first half to enact their sixth running clock this season.

Offensively, Chardon just had too many weapons with seven different gridders finding the end zone and with 6-foot-1 senior quarterback Drew Fetchik proving his team is more than just the wing-T. He had four completions for 101 yards.

Defensively, the Hilltoppers surrendered 179 yards rushing to Howland 185-pound senior Eric Babinchak, one of the most talented players they’ve faced this season. But a big chunk of those came on one play – a 70-yard jaunt by Babinchak down to the 3-yard line.

After 6-foot-2, 205-pound senior linebacker Blake Barker chased down Babinchak to save the touchdown, the Hilltoppers put up a goal-line stand on four straight plays to turn the Tigers over on downs. It was an opportunity the Chardon boys haven’t had the chance to execute through all their success this campaign.

While Babinchak and Howland might be one thing, Chardon will be facing an entirely different beast in Geneva this week.

The visiting Eagles are under sixth-year head coach Chip Sorber, who owns a 27-30 record at the helm. Sorber is a former Chardon assistant coach who was actually on the Hilltoppers’ staff when Hewett was a player in the 1990s.

“Coach Sorber was with us before he took the head job at Geneva,” Hewitt said. “So, he was calling plays for Chardon, and he’s taken that offense to Geneva. So, he knows how to defend it. He knows what to expect. His kids will be well-prepared, and it’ll be a smash-mouth game, for sure.”

Geneva’s only other postseason appearance came in 1989, when the Eagles lost a first-round matchup against Solon.

Most recently, Geneva is coming off a 22-19 victory against No. 9-seed Hubbard (5-3) in a game the Eagles trailed, 19-7, at halftime. But Geneva came back and scored the winning touchdown on a 5-yard rush by 6-foot-3, 250-pound fullback Charlie Taylor with 2:19 remaining. Taylor finished with 19 carries for 90 yards in the Eagles’ wing-T.

“Oh, he’s huge. It’s like tackling a lineman,” Hewitt said of Taylor. “We’ve got to keep him from getting his feet moving, because, once he gets moving, I don’t think anyone in the secondary wants to try to tackle him. So, we’ve got to gang tackle him at the line of scrimmage.”

Earlier in that game-winning drive by Geneva, Eagle 6-foot-5 senior quarterback Ben Scibona completed a third-and-14 pass to 6-foot senior Cole Smith on a wheel route. That was Scibona’s first completion on seven attempts for the game, with two interceptions.

But it was Geneva’s Smith who put the game to bed by picking off a Hubbard pass inside his own 10-yard with under a minute to play.

While Chardon and Geneva run the same offense with run-oriented attacks, the Hilltoppers pose the upper hand behind Fetchik’s ability to throw the pigskin. But Hewitt said his guys will simply be focused on being great at what they do.

“We have to be violent and physical up front,” he said. “I don’t know that the game plan is different than it is any other week – control the line of scrimmage, and good things will happen.”

Chardon and Geneva were regular foes from 2003 to 2006 and from 2011 to 2016, with the Hilltoppers winning all 10 meetings, including a 49-7 stomping in 2016.

TONY’S TAKE: Chardon wins, 35-14.

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