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DOGS' COMEBACK FALLS SHORT

Stow rallies late, but loses Division I playoff game to defending champ

By MICHAEL LEONARD Sports Editor Published: November 20, 2016 12:00 AM
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Twinsburg -- After getting slow start Nov. 11 in its regional semifinal game, it didn't look like Stow-Munroe Falls football would have a chance to win.

However, after falling behind 34-14 at halftime, the Bulldogs rallied in the second half and put themselves in position to beat Lakewood St. Edward.

"We just needed one more score, one more catch, one more play," said Stow coach Mark Nori.

In the end, however, the Bulldogs came up one score short.

St. Edward jumped on Stow early and hung on late, as the Eagles scored a 41-35 win over the Bulldogs in a Division I, Region 1 semifinal game at Tiger Stadium in Twinsburg.

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Stow finished the season at 10-2.

The Eagles improved to 9-2 and advanced to the Division I, Region 1 final Nov. 18, where it was set to face rival Cleveland St Ignatius. St. Ignatius defeated Solon 31-17 in the other Region 1 semifinal Nov. 11 in Mentor. Results from the regional final were not available at press time.

Nori paid tribute to his team, while noting the Bulldogs made too many mistakes to win the game.

"The kids showed a lot of resiliency tonight," Nori said. "We gave them six points. We had way too many penalties. When you make mistakes like that, it's tough to win, especially against a good team like St. Edward."

"Give Stow tons of credit," Eagles coach Tom Lombardo said. "They've had a great two years with the same kids. This was just two teams that don't want to give up. They're going to find their strength and come at us."

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Nori noted the game was a real tale of two halves, as the Bulldogs outgained the Eagles 394-303 -- including 208-80 in the second half. Stow's offense sputtered early.

After earning one first down, a short Bulldogs' punt set the Eagles up on the Stow 43. Working with the short field, St. Edward scored on an eight-yard touchdown run from Curtis Szelesta with 7:34 left in the first quarter.

The Eagles then got a quick defensive touchdown.

A pass from Stow quarterback Kyle Vantrease was ruled a lateral, as Eagles defensive lineman Jacob Davis batted it down. Davis reacted to the loose ball and pounced on it in the end zone, giving the Eagles a 14-0 lead with 7:23 left in the first quarter.

"That turnover was huge," Nori said. "It ended up being the difference in the ballgame."

Needing a response, the Bulldogs were able to find it on the next drive.

Vantrease led an eight-play, 80-yard touchdown, which culminated with the senior quarterback finding Jared Wright in the back of the end zone for a 36-yard TD. Kicker Austin Burnham went 5-of-5 on extra points on the night.

Down 14-7, Stow looked like it might have a chance to tie the game early in the second quarter, but the drive stalled due to penalties.

The Eagles then had their biggest play of the night, as Szelesta broke loose for a 79-yard run, but was tackled on the Stow 1. Szelesta finished the drive on the next play with a one-yard touchdown plunge, making it 9:26 left in the first half.

Szelesta led all rushers with 20 rushes for 185 yards and three touchdowns.

After another short punt, the Eagles extended the lead to 28-7, as quarterback Kevin Kramer found Kordell Hoover in the end zone for a 17-yard touchdown.

Kramer was efficient on the night, going 6-of-9 for 96 yards and one touchdown through the air. He also ran nine times for nine yards and a touchdown.

Stow's offense got back into the game with a 13-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. Vantrease capped the drive with a one-yard sweep into the end zone with 59 seconds left in the half.

Vantrease's final game as a Bulldog was one of his finest. He went 15-of-29 for 229 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran 21 times for 44 yards and two scores.

After a nice kickoff return set the Eagles up at their own 43, St. Edward executed a perfect two-minute drill to end the first half.

Kramer capped the drive with a three-yard touchdown with six seconds left in the half. Kicker Blaine Stencil missed the extra point, which nearly came back to haunt the Eagles, but St. Edward took at 34-14 lead to the half.

Vantrease said there was nothing but determination in the Stow locker room at half.

"This is it," Vantrease said. "I'm going to put my life on the line for these guys this half."

Stow was able to stop the Eagles' first two drives in the second half and then found the end zone themselves.

Wright caught his second touchdown of the night from Vantrease -- this time from 28 yards out -- to cut it to 34-21 with 5:20 left in the third quarter.

Once again, the Eagles had a response. A five-play, 54-yard drive was capped by a 42-yard burst up the middle by Szelesta for a touchdown. It would turn out to be St. Edward's lone score of the second half.

Stow came back with its longest drive of the night: A 16-play, 71-play meat grinder which chewed up more than six minutes. It was capped by a two-yard touchdown plunge from running back Joe Gobble.

Gobble finished with 45 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. Terrian Wray led the Bulldogs with 16 carries for 76 yards.

Stow then recovered an onside kick, as Nick Kopczak hopped on the loose ball after it was touched by an Eagle.

That led to a 10-play, 53-yard drive than ended when Vantrease dove into the end zone from three yards out.

The Stow fans were going crazy, as the Bulldogs cut the deficit to 41-35 with 4:22 left in the game.

However, Nori noted his team lost its composure on the Eagles' ensuing drive. Four Stow penalties helped St. Edward get back into the Stow red zone.

"I think the excitement of the game got to us," Nori said. "We made some stupid penalties which hurt us."

The Eagles, however, were unable to capitalize. With 1:49 left, Stencil had a 30-yard field goal attempt, which would have made it a two-score game. Under a heavy rush, the kick fell well short of the goalposts.

That gave Stow a chance for a two-minute drill of its own to win the game.

The final drive featured Vantrease hitting a 30-yard strike to Logan Lindsay down the sideline.

With time expiring, however, Vantrease was sacked on fourth down, ending he drive and the season for Stow.

Email: mleonard@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9442

Facebook: MLeonardRPC

Twitter:@MLeonard_RPC


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