Wadsworth's wide receiver, Jack Simmons knocks the ball away from Nordonia's defender Jaret Maciejowski on a play in the first half. AARON JOESFCZYK / GAZETTE
WADSWORTH — Safety Jake Herbert didn’t mince words Friday when describing the Wadsworth football team’s well-earned 35-25 Suburban League National Conference win over vastly improved Nordonia.
The experienced Knights, who went 2-8 a year ago, certainly earned the Grizzlies’ respect.
“Honestly, (Wadsworth) Coach (Justin) Todd said they’re tired of losing,” Herbert said. “They played like it. They played amazing.”
Nordonia (3-1, 0-1) did all it could against the defending SL National champions. The defense was bend-but-don’t-break, Evan Wiehe boomed four kickoffs for touchbacks and Robby Levak was arguably the best player on the field with 185 yards passing and
58-, 62- and 39-yard punts that rolled dead at the 1-, 2- and 11-yard lines.
But Wadsworth (4-0, 1-0) never panicked and extended its regular-season winning streak to 15 games. The Grizzlies used a four-pronged rushing attack of quarterback Trey Shaffer, tailbacks Brock Snowball and Dom Loparo and wide receiver Carson Risher, scored twice on two Herbert turnovers that proved to be game-changing and manned up in crunch time.
The battle was uphill from nearly start to finish on the muggy 77-degree night, and the Grizzlies exited the postgame locker room satisfied with a quality victory against an undefeated opponent.
“Well, you know, we just refuse to lose,” center Brendan Gordon said. “It’s not about winning. It’s about the fact that we can not lose the game. It’s up to us.”
Wadsworth, which never trailed in the second half, lost the field position battle all game. Eight drives began at or inside the 20, though the Grizzlies managed to score on 14- and eight-play marches.
The Knights, meanwhile, managed only three points over three consecutive second-half drives with a short field, including possessions that began on the Wadsworth 30 and 38. Wiehe made a
47-yard field goal and missed two other tries — one was a nothing-to-lose
50-yard attempt — after a Grizzlies defense led by Herbert, Beau Casey, Jack Grice and Mason McMillen stood firm.
Momentum hung in the balance until Herbert picked off a Levak pass that was tipped at the line. Wadsworth needed only six plays and 1:46 to cover 53 yards, with Snowball (20 carries, 76 yards; 1 catch, 27 yards, TD) scoring from 6 yards to make the score 28-17 with 8:17 left.
Nordonia countered with a 4-yard score from Purdue recruit Nyles Beverly less than two minutes later, putting the outcome on the arms and legs of the Grizzlies offensive line.
The big boys responded, powering a nine-play, 72-yard drive. Shaffer (15 carries, 77 yards; 12-for-16, 105 yards, 2 TDs) fooled everyone for a 12-yard, read-option first down, Risher (3 carries, 44 yards, TD; 7 catches, 66 yards, TD) converted a third down on a reception, Snowball bulldozed past the marker on a fourth-and-1 from the Nordonia 28 and Loparo (12 carries, 109 yards, TD), who missed the first eight plays of the drive with a cramp, darted up the middle for the clinching score with 2:54 to play.
“Those last two drives, it felt great to plow it into the end zone,” Gordon said.
The Knights capitalized on a Shaffer fumble on his own 21 on the opening drive of the game, as Beverly recovered his own fumble in the end zone.
Shaffer responded with 9- and 27-yard TD strikes to Risher and Snowball — the latter came on the first play after Herbert recovered a fumble — but Nordonia tied the game when Jordan Jones (9 catches, 127 yards) made a crazy catch against near-perfect coverage, back-pedaled at least 5 yards and scored from 48 yards with 13 seconds remaining before halftime.
Wadsworth went up 21-14 on a 33-yard Risher jet sweep on fourth-and-2 before Nordonia’s ill-fated sequence of three drives with favorable field position resulted in three points. That kept the score 21-17, allowing the Grizzlies to later get some wiggle room at 28-17.
All they had to do after that was hold on.
“We came into this game knowing it was going to be tough,” Herbert said. “My team did what it needed to do. It’s great. It’s awesome.”
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or email@example.com.
Wadsworth 35, Nordonia 25
NORDONIA 7 7 3 8 — 25
WADSWORTH 6 8 7 14 — 35
N — Nyles Beverly offensive fumble recovery (Evan Wiehe kick), 9:30.
W — Carson Risher 9 pass from Trey Shaffer (kick failed), 3:37.
W — Brock Snowball 27 pass from Shaffer (Risher run), 2:46.
N — Jordan Jones 48 pass from Robby Levak (Wiehe kick), 0:13.
W — Risher 33 run (Blake Turano kick), 6:35.
N — Wiehe 47 field goal, 0:29.
W — Snowball 6 run (Turano kick), 8:17.
N — Beverly 4 run (Beverly pass from Levak), 6:24.
W — Dom Loparo 12 run (Turano kick), 2:54.