HENRIETTA TWP. — Just when you think you’ve figured out Black River football coach Al Young, the 28th-year man throws a wrench into things.
Essentially fighting for its playoff life on Friday, Firelands thought it had the Pirates figured out and then Young threw a haymaker in his team’s 27-25 Patriot Athletic Conference Stars Division thriller.
The Falcons (7-2, 2-2) battled back from a 21-point hole and were down three. Black River (8-1, 3-1) was facing third-and-17 on its own 23-yard line on the second play of the fourth quarter.
Then Young broke out “Liz 28 Stretch.” The play called for wingback Alex Vormelker to take a pitch from Riley Bartolic and roll right with the option to run or pass. Receiver Spencer Constable was to fake a block and sprint downfield.
It’s safe to say everyone in attendance was a little thrown back as the play went for 24 yards and a first down.
“It got her done,” Young said with laugh. “We did things all night. Our crowd was probably as shocked as anybody.”
While 119 plays from scrimmage were run between the teams, the play broke the hearts of the Falcons and lifted Black River to a spot in the Division V, Region 17 playoffs. Seven plays later, Bartolic found Riley Gibbs (4 receptions, 94 yards, 2 TDs) on a 23-yard touchdown pass to push the score to 27-18.
“I was so excited when I caught it, I didn’t even feel the hit,” Constable said. “It felt like it took two minutes to get to me. It got everybody pumped and got everyone going. It had a big impact on the game.”
That might be the understatement of the season.
“It was the key drive,” Vormelker said. “We needed that. It got some energy back. The defense was able to hold out. This is the type of championship game you want to play in. That’s the kind of game it was.”
It also was very un-Young-like. While Jacob Campbell (98 yards, TD), Gibbs (84) and Travis Sexton (59) got yards on the ground, the passing game set up everything. Bartolic was 5-for-7 for 123 and two touchdowns as the air show drove the Pirates.
Gibbs’ other touchdown went for 46 yards and Sexton caught a third-down pass for 29 yards on Black River’s first scoring drive.
If that wasn’t enough, Black River converted a fourth-and-2 on its own 23 at the start of the third quarter despite only being up 11.
That’s the kind of night it was for the Pirates as Young expanded the wing-T playbook and let Bartolic, his junior quarterback, air things out.
“We have a real gunslinger back there,” Gibbs said of Bartolic. “It’s nice not having these nine-minute drives so we can get off the field for a bit. It’s huge when you get a long pass for a touchdown. It sinks the other team. Breaking those long plays is demoralizing to anyone.”
Contact Brad Bournival at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Black River 27, Firelands 25
BLACK RIVER 21 0 0 6 — 27
FIRELANDS 0 10 8 7 — 25
B — Jacob Campbell 1 run (Spencer Constable kick), 9:29.
B — Riley Gibbs 46 pass from Riley Bartolic (kick failed), 5:21.
B — Campbell 9 run (Travis Sexton pass from Bartolic), 1:34.
F — Landon Peterson 1 run (Luke Peterson kick), 9:36.
F — Luke Peterson 30 field goal, 0:53.
F — Nick Denney 16 run (Blake Ruffner run), 0:33.
B — Gibbs 11 pass from Bartolic (run failed), 8:41.
F — Garrett Tester 19 pass from Michael Bansek (Luke Peterson kick), 4:27.