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Last-minute heroics lead Stow football past Solon

by Frank aceto Associate Sports Editor Published: September 18, 2016 12:00 AM
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Solon -- After scoring 112 points in its first two games, the Stow-Munroe Falls football team scored just twice against a former division rival.

The Bulldogs reached the end zone on their first drive and then scored on their last possession.

While their scoring average took a significant drop, there is only one thing that matters in the 44224 zip code.

Stow is 3-0.

The Bulldogs earned a hard-fought 13-10 victory over Solon Sept. 9 at Solon High School's Stewart Field.

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Trailing the entire second half, Stow put together a scoring drive late in the game and saw its defense come up big on the final possession.

"Obviously, we feel good about the win," Bulldogs head coach Mark Nori said. "The kids' resiliency and their experience playing with one another really showed."

Stow prevailed despite having several offensive drives stall. The Bulldogs also had a field-goal attempt blocked and a couple of turnovers.

"We made some mistakes on special teams, but the fact that we got the win tells you how well the kids handled adversity," Nori said.

In the end, Stow, which defeated the Comets 24-15 in a 2015 Division I, Region 1 second-round contest, took the lead for good with an impressive 11-play, 75-yard scoring drive that ate up a little more than four minutes off the clock.

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It started with 5 minutes, 32 seconds remaining in the game with Solon up 10-7. The Bulldogs converted two third downs and a fourth down.

On one of those third downs, Stow senior quarterback Kyle Vantrease completed a 26-yard pass to senior wide receiver Joe Andrassy on a wheel route down the sideline.

The fourth-down conversion was particularly demoralizing for the Comets.

On fourth and 10 from Solon's 34-yard line, Vantrease's pass fell incomplete.

But the Bulldogs were resurrected from the dead when the Comets were called for defensive holding.

As a result, Stow not only had new life, but it gained all the momentum with an automatic first down at Solon's 24.

The Bulldogs offense didn't waste their golden opportunity.

Andrassy ran for 19 yards to the Comets' 5 and then senior running back Joe Gobble capped the drive with a 5-yard touchdown run.

Gobble's clutch TD run gave Stow a 13-10 lead with 1:26 left.

Unfortunately, the Bulldogs settled for six points on the drive. That's because a bad snap led to a missed point after try for Stow.

And that meant some new life for the Comets (2-1), who needed just a field goal to continue the game.

But it was not to be for Solon, which was a former rival of the Bulldogs in the now defunct Northeast Ohio Conference River Division.

Although the Comets picked up a couple of first downs, their possession came to a screeching halt after a pass play.

Solon senior quarterback Joe Bubonics completed a 19-yard pass to junior wide receiver Taj Ward to the Bulldogs' 29.

But there was one major problem for the Comets: Ward didn't have the ball in his hands as he was tackled.

Sophomore cornerback Bryce Sheppert recovered the loose pigskin with around 30 seconds remaining and Stow ran out the clock.

"The defense came to play," Nori said. "The defensive coaching staff did some great game-planning. We really coached the kids to do their jobs and make plays to be in this position."

The Bulldogs' high-powered offense was neutralized for much of the game.

Such a fact seemed hard to believe after the opening kickoff.

Stow took a 7-0 lead on the first possession of the evening.

The Bulldogs put together an 11-play, 54-yard scoring drive that took 4:41 to complete.

Stow converted two third downs and a fourth down during the possession.

The touchdown took place on third and 6 in the red zone. Gobble took the handoff and found the end zone from 14 yards away with 7:12 remaining in the first quarter.

Vantrease, who handled all the kicking duties, drilled the extra point to make it 7-0 in favor of the Bulldogs.

Solon responded immediately.

The Comets tied the game on the next possession with an eight-play, 52-yard scoring drive that ate up nearly four minutes off the clock.

Solon picked up a crucial fourth down during the drive and got to the Bulldogs' 12.

But the Comets fell short of the end zone.

Solon had to settle for three points and senior kicker Andy Baek delivered with a 24-yard field goal to make it 7-3 Stow with 3:38 left in the first.

The Bulldogs' offense hit a wall after that.

And thanks to their stingy defense, the Comets took the lead late in the first half.

That became a reality when Solon produced a 14-play, 73-yard scoring drive that chewed up more than six minutes off the clock.

Once again, the Comets were deadly on third down with three conversions.

Junior running back Thomas Wilks capped the possession with a 2-yard run with 1:56 remaining in the half. Baek's successful point after try gave Solon a 10-7 advantage.

It didn't look good for Stow after Solon's score.

The Bulldogs' next three possessions went something like this: fumble, interception and a blocked field goal.

Ward blocked Vantrease's 24-yard field-goal attempt with 2:54 remaining in the third quarter.

Fortunately for Vantrease and the offense, the Stow defense stymied the Comets' offense the entire second half.

The Bulldogs forced Solon to punt three times and also forced a loss of downs on another possession. The fumble recovery in the final minute was the icing on the cake of a dominant performance by Stow's defense.

Vantrease completed 11-of-16 passes for 161 yards and Andrassy had three receptions for 83 yards. Gobble led the Bulldogs' ground game with 69 yards on 16 carries.

Bubonics connected on 19-of-25 passes for 135 yards. Wilks finished with 54 yards in 16 attempts.

Stow had a 280-230 edge in total yards and a 15-14 advantage in first downs.

The Bulldogs were scheduled to make their 2016 Suburban League National Conference debut against Wadsworth Sept. 16 at Bulldog Stadium. Results were not available at press time.

Stow is set to host National Conference rival Nordonia Sept. 23 at 7 p.m.

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