CANTON TWP. — The cheers, smiles and hugs that junior quarterback Brody Stallings brought to the Cloverleaf sideline when he ripped through the Canton South defense from the 1-yard line and sophomore kicker Logan Tierney hit the extra point with 13 seconds left in the game probably lasted until the team bus got back to Westfield Township.
Those plays gave the Colts a 24-23 season-opening, non-league victory.
“I know we’ve got a fighter’s mentality with this group,” Cloverleaf coach Justin Vorhies said. “We talk about turning the page when bad things happen and sticking together when things aren’t going our way. They did it tonight. They took it to heart.”
Cloverleaf surrendered a 17-7 halftime lead when the Wildcats took control of the game in the third quarter to take a 23-17 lead into the final period. South got back-to-back touchdowns, a pass by Riley James to Tyler Karovic and a short run by Nick Blackmer, and Blackmer twice ran in the two-point conversion.
Things got bleaker when the Colts punted with eight minutes left. It looked like Cloverleaf had stopped South, but James ran around the right side on a fake punt from his own 20-yard line to keep the drive going.
However, on second down, junior defensive end Ethan Sterling sacked James to force third-and-20, which led to an incomplete pass.
“Our captains came out with a motto, ‘Thrive in chaos,’ and tonight we came back and ended up winning,” Sterling said.
Sterling got a piece of the punt and the Colts got the ball near midfield with just under four minutes left. Stallings (33 rushes, 179 yards, 2 TDs; 4-for-9 passing, 58 yards) led Cloverleaf to the 25-yard line with his feet.
After two incomplete passes, Stallings was sacked by senior defensive end Holden Fritz to force third-and-19. Stallings found sophomore wide receiver Kodey Trent over the middle for a 20-yard completion and the first down. The left-handed signal caller ran the ball to the 1-yard line on the next play and followed that with the decisive score.
“It was great to see no one quit,” Stallings said. “Everyone knew we were going to win at the end of this night and they kept pushing.”
The game couldn’t have started much worse for the Colts, as Stallings was stripped on the first play of the game and Blackmer scooped the ball up for a 25-yard touchdown to give South a 7-0 lead.
After a holding penalty derailed the next drive, Stallings and Cloverleaf got things rolling. Pinned back on the 4-yard line, the quarterback and junior running back Eli Haynes marched the Colts 96 yards in eight running plays, capped by a 7-yard scamper by Stallings up the middle to tie the game.
On Cloverleaf’s next drive, Haynes took the ball through the right side of the line and ran for a 32-yard touchdown.
Late in the second quarter, the Wildcats were driving deep into Colts territory when a series of penalties, including a 15-yard helmet-to-helmet infraction and 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct call on the same play, set up first-and-48 from midfield.
James threw a deep ball down the right sideline that was intercepted by sophomore Blake Wilson. The turnover set up a 26-yard field goal by Tierney on the last play of the first half.
Cloverleaf 24, Canton South 23
CLOVELREAF 7 10 0 7 – 24
SOUTH 7 0 16 0 – 23
S — Nick Blackmer 25 fumble (Brady Knoll kick), 11:45.
C — Brody Stallings 7 run (Logan Tierney kick), 4:15.
C — Eli Haynes 32 run (Tierney kick), 6:54.
C — Tierney 26 field goal, 0:00.
S — Tyler Karovic 29 pass from Riley James (Blackmer run), 6:00.
S — Blackmer 4 run (Blackmer run), 1:25.
C — Stallings 1 run (Tierney kick), 0:13.