Chardon senior cornerback Kevin Doyle must have been suffering from short-term memory loss.
The state-favorite Hilltoppers (9-0) were on their first defensive series of a Division III, Region 9 semifinal battle against visiting AP No. 9-ranked New Philadelphia (7-2) on Friday night at their home Memorial Field.
The previous play showed that Doyle didn’t suffer any sort of star-spinning hit that would have caused that memory loss, but rather the 6-foot, 180-pound defensive back was flagged for pass interference while in coverage against New Phila 6-foot-1 senior Caden Richmond, which resulted in an automatic first down at the 15-yard line for the visiting Quakers.
New Phila 6-foot senior quarterback Caden O’Neill had already completed three passes for 40 yards on that Quaker drive and didn’t need any extra help getting into the red zone. But Doyle wasn’t going to sweat the small stuff.
“I mean, all year we’ve been good in the red zone,” Doyle said. “So, I just trusted our defense. I trust every one on our defense. As a corner, you have to have a short memory. Our coaches always stress to play the next play, and that’s what I did. So, yeah, the ball came right to me, and I picked it off.”
New Phila’s O’Neill dropped back on that next play and attempted to redial his favorite target, Richmond, but Chardon’s Doyle was in position to make the interception at the 1-yard line to preserve the Hilltoppers’ 7-0 lead with 6:50 remaining in the first quarter.
That would be the Quakers’ lone red-zone opportunity all night, as Chardon put a 31-0 skunking on New Phila to remain unbeaten and secure a return trip to the Region 9 championship game. The Quakers were averaging 34.3 points per game entering the night.
“It’s something that they’ve done all season,” Chardon 10th-year head coach Mitch Hewitt said about his dominating defensive gridders. “Now that’s a pretty tough football team that we just blanked, and our kids were really motivated – they’ve handled the No. 1 seed as well as you could expect them to, and even better, quite frankly. It’s hard to be No. 1, and they’ve held it well.”
While Chardon had some question marks next to its first-quarter offense in the regular season, those puzzles have been solved – the Hilltoppers scored 21 points in the opening stanza of each of their first two postseason affairs, and then they came out and drove down the field against New Phila.
First, Hilltopper senior James Pettyjohn returned the opening kickoff 35 yards. Later in the drive, the 170-pound running back caught a quick pass from senior quarterback Drew Fetchik on the outside and turned it into a 36-yard gain to the 3-yard line.
Two plays later, 190-pound junior fullback Sean Carr punched in a 1-yard touchdown for a 7-0 upper hand with 9:48 remaining in the first stanza. Chardon 185-pound senior running back Evan Ash also had a carry for 7 yards on that drive, and Fetchik had two keepers for 11 yards.
Those four guys were churning the wing-T to perfection behind an offensive line that has been just as dominant as Chardon’s defense this season.
“We came out with a vengeance,” Chardon 290-pound senior tackle Jesse Decipeda said. “It was really important to finish that first drive to get that initial statement out there. We just came out hard, played hard, and the score board shows it.”
On Chardon’s first drive of the second quarter, the Hilltoppers went 80 yards, with Pettyjohn getting five carries for 58 yards, before Fetchik called his own number on an 8-yard, pylon-diving touchdown run for a 14-0 lead with 8:40 left in the frame.
Chardon’s defense forced two punts in the stanza, but New Phila 6-foot, 225-pound senior Logan Ortt flipped the gridiron with 61- and 56-yard boots to make the Hilltoppers work for their points.
With 2:36 to go in the half, Chardon junior Nathan Tager split the uprights on a 37-yard field goal to put his team up, 17-0, at the break. Tager is 51-of-52 on extra points this season, but that was just his second field goal thanks to the Topper offense finishing drives.
Chardon outgained New Phila, 259 yards to 58 yards in the first half, including 166 yards rushing to the Quakers’ 8 yards rushing. While Pettyjohn would finish the night with 20 carries for 179 yards, Carr, seven carries for 22 yards, and Ash, six carries for 46 yards, kept New Phila’s run defense honest.
“Carr and Ash are hammers,” coach Hewitt said. “They don’t get a lot of glory. They are tough kids who are selfless. And we’re not where we are without those two.”
The Quakers, whose only loss entering the night was a 31-24 battle against AP No. 3-ranked Canfield (9-0), needed to get some points on the board on their opening drive of the third quarter to have a chance, but a 43-yard field goal attempt by junior Elliot Warner was short.
Chardon turned around for another 80-yard drive that featured a first-and-24 conversion and concluded with a 7-yard touchdown run by Carr for a 24-0 lead with 4:24 to go in the quarter.
New Phila’s ensuing drive was derailed by a dropped pass and then a pass breakup by Chardon 6-foot-4 junior safety Nathanael Sulka. Doyle and 5-foot-11 sophomore defensive back Trey Liebhardt also had pass breakups for the Toppers, who held O’Neill to nine-of-22 passing for 110 yards, after he started the game with five completions on his first six attempts.
“At halftime we just made a couple adjustments that worked in the second half,” Doyle said. “So, our defensive coordinator, shout out to him. He’s a genius. So, we just made corrections and went on from there.”
Chardon signal-caller Fetchik finished off the scoring on another pylon-diving touchdown, this time from 5 yards out, to enact a running clock with 8:09 to play for the eventual 31-0 final.
Fetchik finished five-of-10 passing for 97 yards, with a pair of drops in the mix, to complement his 13 carries for 70 yards. When the fat lady sang, Chardon had outgained New Phila, 414 yards to 148 yards.
The Hilltoppers advance to host fellow unbeaten Canfield – a 24-6 winner over Streetsboro (8-1) – in the Region 9 championship at 7 p.m. Friday at Memorial Field. The Chardon gridders finished regional runners-up against Aurora, 22-19, last season.
“This week at practice is going to be vital for us,” Chardon’s Decipeda said. “We faced these guys freshman year. We know their team; they know us. It’s going to be a dog fight, a fourth-quarter game – it’s going to be crazy.”