Wadsworth's Christian Szalay breaks away from Brecksville's Wilson Sternad for a touchdown during the second quarter. (RON SCHWANE / GAZETTE)
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WADSWORTH — Becoming champion of the Suburban League National Conference brought plenty of challenges that the Wadsworth football team overcame.
The Grizzlies notched a 41-26 victory over Brecksville on Friday to move to 9-0 and clinch at least a share, but for a team that has seen running clocks as often as it has run for touchdowns, the victory was a hard-fought reminder of what lies ahead next week and in the Division II, Region 6 playoffs.
“We weren’t happy with the (28-20 halftime) score,” junior running back Brock Snowball said. “We knew it was going to be a dogfight.”
Snowball finished with 67 yards and three touchdowns on 11 carries, while quarterback Joey Baughman ran for 178 yards and a score and threw for 172 yards and another touchdown.
But all night, the Bees (4-5, 2-4) made Wadsworth work.
Freshman quarterback Joe Labas completed 24-of-28 passes for 308 yards and two touchdowns, with Sam Wiglusz pulling in 11 catches for 196 yards. Brecksville’s success, along with a first-half injury to Wadsworth junior safety Alec Miller, forced the Grizzlies (9-0, 6-0) to make major changes defensively at halftime.
That put Snowball on defense for the first time in weeks, playing both ways along with wide receivers Christian Szalay and Mitchell Blackburn. Szalay shadowed Wiglusz initially, with Blackburn lining up on the opposite side.
“We talked about the adjustments defensively,” Snowball said. “I’d been working during the week (on defense). I love defense.”
“(Snowball) started the year defensively, but we just haven’t had to use him there,” Wadsworth coach Justin Todd added. “It was good he can come in. Both (Szalay and Blackburn) have played corner in the past, and we had to make some adjustments there to get some more experience.”
The impact also was felt on offense, where Baughman had 10 of his 16 carries and Snowball had seven of his 11 carries after halftime. Baughman attempted just six passes after the break, with half coming on the final drive of the game. Szalay had seven catches for 98 yards, while Blackburn had four for 43.
The plays of the game came on defense late in the third quarter. After Brecksville forced Wadsworth’s first punt with 3:41 left in the third, the Bees drove to the Wadsworth 20 in the final minute down 35-20.
On second-and-7, senior linebacker Nathaniel Davis stormed up the middle for a 6-yard sack. Brecksville let the quarter run out, and on third-and-13 to start the fourth quarter, Davis came on a delayed blitz for a 9-yard sack.
“I was just reading my keys and the defensive ends got the job done,” Davis said. “(The line) opened the gaps for me.”
The Bees had one more push left, going 80 yards in 10 plays, capped by a 9-yard touchdown from Labas to Kenny Ganley. Down nine with 4:58 left, Brecksville lined up in a swinging gate and tried to catch the Grizzlies out of sorts, but the two-point pass in the end zone fell short.
Wadsworth, which plays at second-place Hudson next week, recovered the onside kick and drove 44 yards, with Baughman scoring from a yard with 25 seconds left to cap the scoring and give the Grizzlies a conference title.
“It feels amazing,” Davis said.
“Tonight, we like it,” Snowball added. “But it’s not what we want. We don’t want to share it.”
Contact Chris Freeman at email@example.com.
Wadsworth 41, Brecksville 26
BRECKSVILLE 14 6 0 6 — 26
WADSWORTH 14 14 7 6 — 41
B — Alec Buckley 51 pass from Joe Labas (Zach Bahr kick), 10:07.
W — Brock Snowball 9 run (Ryan Larj kick), 9:04.
B — Labas 1 run (Bahr kick), 4:45.
W — Snowball 15 run (Larj kick), 3:46.
W — Grant Martinez fumble recovery in end zone (Larj kick), 11:26.
W — Christian Szalay 39 pass from Joey Baughman (Larj kick), 7:44.
B — Buckley 1 run (kick blocked), 1:22.
W — Snowball 1 run (Larj kick), 8:11.
B — Kenny Ganley 9 pass from Labas (pass failed), 4:58.
W — Baughman 1 run (kick failed), 0:25.