Published in the Chagrin Valley Times
September 17, 2020
By Tony Lange
Chardon’s first three possessions were anything but Chardon-like, as perhaps the young Kenston gridders weren’t going to be the piece of cake the Hilltoppers imagined during week-three football on Friday night in Bainbridge Township.
The Chardon boys had no luck fooling Kenston on a flea-flicker toss by 6-foot-5 senior Brady Toth that was defended by Bomber 5-foot-10 sophomore Lucas Simons during their first series, which ended with a fumbled snap to turn the pigskin over on downs.
On the Hilltoppers’ second possession, another fumbled snap was scooped up by Kenston 180-pound junior linebacker Braden Krupp and returned 41 yards for a touchdown and a 6-0 Bomber lead with 6:27 left in the opening act.
And on Chardon’s ensuing series, the Hilltoppers went for it with a quarterback keeper behind their talented offensive front on fourth-and-one from the Kenston 10-yard, but the Bombers weren’t having any and turned them over on downs.
The score remained 6-0 in Kenston’s favor at the quarter mark.
“It’s the second week in a row our offense has struggled out of the gate,” Chardon 10th-year head coach Mitch Hewitt said. “We need to get that corrected if we want to compete with Riverside this week. So, it’s frustrating. As coaches, we have to evaluate what we’re doing or not doing to get kids out of the gate.
“But, second-half wise, we’ve done really well in all our games, and our defense is really, really hard to score on. So, in three games, we’ve only given up one touchdown.”
Chardon went on to score 37 unanswered points, including three touchdowns in the second quarter, to defeat Kenston, 37-6, and improve to 3-0.
After squeaking past the Bombers, 27-24, in 2018, and then again, 17-16, in 2019, this past week was the Chardon gridders’ sixth victory against their fellow Division III Western Reserve Conference rival since 2014.
“They’re super competitive,” Chardon 195-pound senior linebacker Cade McDevitt said about the rivalry, which now stands 23-22-1 in the Hilltoppers’ favor.
“They’re physical,” he said. “We knew they lost a lot of starters. Their senior class last year was really good. We faced them for two years. So, we knew. And they hate us; we hate them. So, it was going to be physical, but we just played better, I think. And we have a lot more experience.”
Thanks to a trio of third-down conversions on Chardon’s drive to open the second quarter, Hilltopper senior quarterback Drew Fetchik lofted the pigskin up for grabs in the end zone, and 6-foot-4 junior Nathanael Sulka – who had a 6-inch advantage over his defender – came up with it for a 14-yard touchdown and a 7-6 lead with 8:43 to go in the half.
On Kenston’s ensuing possession, the Bombers went for it on fourth-and-13 from the Hilltopper 40, but sophomore quarterback Nikko Georgiou’s pass was tipped by his target and Chardon’s McDevitt came up with the interception and returned it 34 yards into Bomber territory.
“I knew in critical situations he was looking over the middle, and I pulled back as a safety,” McDevitt said. “So, as soon as I saw him looking over the middle, I just started committing there, and then the ball was deflected in the air right to me.
“I mean, them scoring first, especially on defense, we needed a lot of momentum, and I think that did it for us.”
Four plays later, Chardon 170-pound senior running back James Pettyjohn found room on the perimeter and shot upfield for a 31-yard touchdown and a 14-6 lead with 3:04 remaining in the half.
“I think we had a turning point once we put up a couple more points on the scoreboard,” Pettyjohn said. “It’s a motivation thing for us. Once we start rolling, there’s no stopping us.”
Forcing Kenston to a three-and-out punt, Chardon was on a mission to do more damage with a 61-yard field and 1:59 remaining before the break. On third-and-eight, Fetchik scrambled out of the pocket, ripped off a 53-yard gain and then hurried up to the line of scrimmage to spike the pigskin with 21 seconds left.
One play later, Pettyjohn punched in a 6-yard touchdown run for a 21-6 upper hand at intermission, and the Hilltoppers were due to receive the third-quarter kickoff.
While the sweep was closed off for Pettyjohn during the previous week’s 50-0 victory against Willoughby South – when he had nine carries for 42 yards – the edge was open for business against Kenston, as Pettyjohn went on to finish the night with 11 carries for 138 yards and three end-zone finds.
“We knew they were going to have an overhang on their package, and we knew they were going to fly to jet, and so we were practicing all week with our scout defense,” Pettyjohn said. “You know, they were doing a great job of helping us out to prepare for Kenston.”
Chardon opened the second half with a 59-yard kickoff return by 205-ound senior Blake Barker to set up a 33-yard field. Four plays later, Pettyjohn added a 5-yard touchdown for a 27-6 lead with 10:01 remaining in the frame.
Then on the Hilltoppers’ next possession, a 22-yard chunk play by 185-pound senior running back Evan Ash – who finished with five carries for 40 yards – opened the doors for a 1-yard touchdown keeper by Fetchik for a 34-6 lead with 3:19 to go in the quarter.
Overall, Chardon outrushed Kenston, 316 yards to 62 yards, with Hilltopper 190-pound junior fullback Sean Carr adding 31 yards on eight carries and Fetchik gaining 52 yards on 11 carries. But Ash, in particular, got to feast as a key ingredient to the wing-T after getting no carries the previous week.
“He’s a hitter,” Pettyjohn said of his fellow running back. “He can block. He can run the football. You know, having a kid on the team like that, where he can do pretty much anything, that’s phenomenal. We’ll win a lot of games like that. Evan Ash is just a hitter. He’s a good blocker.”
Matters got worse for Kenston when the Bombers fumbled a handoff on the first snap of their ensuing possession, and Chardon 195-pound senior linebacker Vince Ferrante was in position to recover it on a 36-yard field.
Thanks to a sack by Kenston’s Krupp and 170-pound senior linebacker Sean Lennon, the Bombers’ defense forced a fourth down, but Chardon junior Nathan Tager split the uprights on a 37-yard field goal to spread the lead, 37-6, and enact a running clock with eight seconds remaining in the third.
That was all she wrote.
Kenston was the first team to finish with positive rushing yards against Chardon this season, with 205-pound senior back Stanley Sell getting 13 carries for 79 yards, while Georgiou was 11-of-18 passing for 101 yards with 6-foot junior receiver JP Germano collecting six catches for 30 yards.
Up next, Kenston (1-1) will host Eastlake North (2-1) at 7 p.m.. Thursday, while Chardon will travel to take on the Division II Riverside Beavers (3-0) at 7 p.m. Friday in Painesville.
“It’s going to be a really violent, smash-mouth game; two programs that know each other really well, two programs that respect each other,” coach Hewitt said. “But certainly there’s no love lost here between the two schools. So, it’s going to be execution and physicality. And I expect it to be a low-scoring, physical football game.”
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