Wadsworth's Christian Szalay catches a touchdown pass against Stow's Brian Cartwright during the second quarter. (RON SCHWANE / GAZETTE)
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WADSWORTH — No smack talk, showboating or bold proclamations. Just smiles, hugs and body language that screamed pride.
This was the moment for Wadsworth’s football team to show the world what it was capable of. The Grizzlies knew, Stow knew and everyone at a rockin’ Art Wright Memorial Stadium knew.
Cue the jaw drops, as coach Justin Todd’s undersized, aggressive and confident crew smacked around the defending Suburban League National Conference champion and No. 3 team in The Associated Press Division I state poll by a not-that-close 41-28 count.
The Grizzlies are 5-0, 2-0 for the first time since 2011, when Jack Snowball and the boys went to the D-I regional finals. If Friday is any indication, this year’s squad is the real deal.
“I don’t even know, man, it was just crazy,” All-Ohio quarterback Joey Baughman said. “It was back and forth — they score, we score — but it was electric. It was awesome.”
Scoring 21 unanswered points over a 7:06 stretch of the second and third quarters to take control at 35-14, Wadsworth used all three phases to pull off its biggest regular-season win in years.
Baughman had another virtuoso performance with 26 carries for 206 yards and three touchdowns while completing 13-of-17 passes for 158 yards and another score. He threw just once in the second half but ran 17 times for 143 yards as the Grizzlies scored on the opening possession and relied on linemen Dylan Miller, Logan Egleston, Jake Daulbaugh, Brendan Gordon and Clay McComas to burn clock.
Running back Brock Snowball (10 carries, 78 yards, 2 TDs) — Jack’s brother — and wideout Christian Szalay (6 catches, 71 yards, TD) also scored as Wadsworth churned out 463 yards despite the efforts of Stow end Anthony Woliver, who had multiple tackles for loss despite a broken wrist.
The Grizzlies answered the Bulldogs’ first three TDs in a mere 2:18, 1:04 and 1:25 to ensure there were no momentum shifts.
“(The offensive line) had a great game in the first half,” Baughman said. “Second half, we ran the ball pretty much every play. They were men up front. Congrats to them.”
The Wadsworth defense got off to a textbook start with two tackles for loss and a dropped pass on the first three plays, but Stow (4-1, 1-1), winner of 24 of its previous 25 regular-season games, responded when running back Terrian Wray (19 carries, 173 yards, 3 TDs; 3 catches, 79 yards) went 67 yards to the house and quarterback Coryon Rice (18 carries, 48 yards, TD; 12-for-24, 176 yards, INT) capped a 14-play, 81-yard drive to tie the score at 14.
Wadsworth took the lead for good when Baughman rolled right and fired a dart to Szalay for a 42-yard TD. Momentum flipped permanently on the next possession, as Stow faced third-and-inches from its 46-yard line late in the half, only to have nose tackle Teon Pickett blow up a counter to Jerrid Atkinson Jr. and force a punt.
Baughman needed just four plays to drive the Grizzlies 56 yards, highlighted by hurdling a defender at the 10 en route to a 30-yard TD that put Wadsworth up 28-14 at halftime.
“That changed the game big-time,” Baughman said.
The defense added a dazzling four-play stop of Rice from the 1-yard line in the fourth. The final play broke down and Rice scrambled right, but newly minted safety Brett Randolph flew up in support and stopped Rice cold at the 2. Randolph later sealed the game with an interception in the end zone.
Of Rice’s 174 yards passing, 104 came on the final two drives. Linemen Joey Fernholz, Chris Suarez and Pickett teamed with a variety of blitzes led by outside linebacker Clay Wagner (2½ tackles for loss) to make sure the elusive first-year starter never felt comfortable in the pocket.
“Coach Todd said all week that you’ve just got to keep fighting,” Wagner said. “Adversity is going to hit, but, as you can hear from my teammates, we knew this was a big game. We knew Stow was good. We came out and never lost faith.”
A few dumb penalties, a missed extra point and prevent defense by Wadsworth allowed Stow a glimmer of hope down 41-28 with 3 minutes to go. That’s when Kyle Arrowsmith came up with the punt of his three-year career, unleashing a booming 53-yarder into the lights that rolled dead at the 5-yard line with 2:38 to go.
Stow’s chances went from slim to miracle on one swing of Arrowsmith’s leg.
“I’m just really proud,” Todd said. “That’s the No. 1 word. I’m really proud of our players. All three phases contributed to that game.”
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or email@example.com.
Wadsworth 41, Stow 28
STOW 7 7 0 14 — 28
WADSWORTH 14 14 7 6 — 41
W — Brock Snowball 1 run (Ryan Larj kick), 8:07.
S — Terrian Wray 67 run (Gavin Costello kick), 7:47.
W — Snowball 1 run (Larj kick), 5:29.
S — Coryon Rice 1 run (Costello kick), 6:19.
W — Christian Szalay 42 pass from Joey Baughman (Larj kick), 5:15.
W — Baughman 30 run (Larj kick), 0:56.
W — Baughman 19 run (Larj kick), 10:09.
S — Wray 13 run (Costello kick), 6:48.
W — Baughman 5 run (kick failed), 5:23.
S — Wray 7 run (Costello kick), 4:17.