A 21-6 halftime deficit is manageable.
After a dismal first quarter, the West Geauga gridders (6-2) finally found the end zone during their Division III, Region 9 road battle against perennial power St. Vincent-St. Mary (5-2) on Friday night at Green Street Stadium in Akron.
Seeded No. 11 in the region, West Geauga didn’t draw too many second glances from folks outside of Chester Township in its matchup against the No. 6-seed Fighting Irish, who were ranked as high as 12th in the state AP poll earlier this season.
Facing a 21-0 deficit from the first quarter, West Geauga 5-foot-9 junior quarterback Danny Stewart dialed up his favorite target, 6-foot-1 junior Torry Stazzone, on a 19-yard touchdown toss to make it a manageable 21-6 game with 5:11 remaining in the half. The extra-point attempt was no good.
The host Fighting Irish found the end zone on each of their first three drives to take control in the opening frame, including a 4-yard run by 190-pound senior standout Josh Nickerson, a 43-yard toss from quarterback Evan Pelfrey to fellow senior O’Hadji Jackson and a 3-yard rush by 150-pound sophomore D’Anthony Kelker.
So, when West Geauga’s Stazzone caught that 19-yard touchdown to put his team on the board midway through the second quarter, it could have been the confidence booster the Wolverines needed to get a grasp back on the game.
A 21-6 halftime deficit wouldn’t have been too much to overcome. But the private-school boys down in Akron just had too many weapons for wishful thinking.
In the final minute of the second quarter, St. Vincent added two more scores, first on a 19-yard touchdown catch by 6-foot-1 junior Shaun Lodge with 44 seconds left and then on a 47-yard Hail Mary that 6-foot-5 senior tight end Dalen Burney hauled in as time expired for a 34-6 shot to the gut.
The Irish attempted a two-point pass to grab a 30-point lead and enact a running clock for the start of the third quarter, but they were unsuccessful.
Instead, it took St. Vincent nearly the entire third quarter to do so, as Nickerson punched in a 6-yard carry for a 41-6 upper hand with 13 seconds left in that frame.
Fighting Irish backup running back Antenio Louis concluded the scoring on another 6-yard touchdown carry in the final minute of play for the 48-6 final.
St. Vincent outgained West Geauga, 412 yards to 171 yards, with 26 first downs to the Wolverines’ eight. Specifically, the Irish owned the trenches with 275 yards rushing while holding West G to 29 yards on the ground.
For the Wolverines, Stewart was 13-of-18 passing for 99 yards, while 6-foot-4, 250-pound junior linebacker Luke Sadler came in and completed a 43-yard toss. The Wolverines also inserted 6-foot-3, 215-pound senior linebacker Julian Cicchella into the offense for a couple of carries for 6 yards.
Senior running back Trae Zimmermann had five carries for 19 yards and three catches for 21 yards, while fellow senior playmaker Peter Sanelli had three catches for 43 yards and Stazzone had five catches for 36 yards.
Defensively, 6-foot senior free safety Luke Musser came up with an interception – his sixth of the season.
Although St. Vincent was propelled by its ground game – Nickerson led the way with 23 carries for 166 yards – Pelfrey shined on six-of-11 passing for 137 yards with three touchdowns, not to mention he had four carries for 20 yards. The 6-foot-1, 225-pound quarterback also collected an interception as a linebacker on defense.
With the victory, St. Vincent advanced and will hit the road to take on Division III AP No. 3-ranked Canfield (7-0) – a 28-10 victor over Kenston – at 7 p.m. Friday in Mahoning County.