By Pete Chiodo
The Meadville Tribune
November 3, 2012 7:00 a.m. LINESVILLE —
Conneaut played like a team that had something to prove. And in fact, they had a lot to prove.
The Eagles didn’t seem to belong anywhere. They’re a first-year program. They’re classified as triple-A, although they were constructed from parts of three former Class A programs. And yet they still play the bulk of their season in a Class A region.
Going into the 10th week of the 2012 campaign, a lot of questions still remained about the Conneaut Eagles. Even the Eagles themselves wanted answers.
Well here’s an answer: On Friday night, Conneaut took on its first-ever Class AAA opponent, Meadville. And Conneaut got its first-ever triple-A victory, beating the Bulldogs 26-20 at Conneaut High School Stadium.
The first thing Eagles head coach Pat Gould said to his team in the post-game huddle was to ask: “Are we triple-A?”
The players emphatically responded in the positive.
“Our kids wanted it,” said Gould. “There was a totally different atmosphere all day (Friday). Meadville did us a favor and came out and put some streamers on our field, painted it red and black for us (Thursday) night. We appreciate it. I want to thank all the people that did that, because that really irritated our kids. And you could tell a difference. All day long at school, you could see it in them. And you could see it in the locker room. ... They were wound. They were wound tight.
“And they did what they had to do. They came out and played a hard-nosed game.”
Conneaut will now have the opportunity to get its second-ever win against a triple-A opponent as the Eagles (6-4) advance to this coming Friday’s District 10 quarterfinal round as an at-large bid. The Eagles’ opponent, along with a location and time for the game, will probably be announced this weekend.
“It’s great, it’s a good feeling,” said Conneaut junior Jace Pardee. “This showed that we can compete with triple-A schools, as well as our (single-A) rivals. It’s just a good feeling.”
Meanwhile, Meadville (4-6) was likely knocked out of the playoff picture. Oil City beat Franklin 26-13 last night, meaning Meadville and Oil City both finish the season with 2-4 records in Region 5 and 4-6 records overall. And Oil City beat Meadville 35-21 earlier in the year, giving the Oilers the edge for a playoff spot.
“Conneaut is a very good football team,” said Meadville head coach Mike Feleppa. “They’re every bit a triple-A caliber football team. They’re a physical team. They’re big up front. And I can see them having a lot of success coming up in this District 10 playoffs.”
Last night, Conneaut had two ball-carriers break 100 yards. Quarterback Jon Onderko wasn’t one of them. He did however get the Eagles rolling in the first quarter.
Conneaut fumbled away the opening kickoff. But Meadville couldn’t get a first down on four plays. Conneaut’s offense finally got possession of the ball. And Onderko brought it into the end zone on two big keepers.
Starting at the Eagles’ own 33, Onderko faked the hand-off to running back Elijah Anderton and went around the right side of the line 27 yards to Meadville’s 40. Then on the next play he faked to Anderton and this time went around the left side all the way, 40 yards, for the touchdown.
Meadville tied it up early in the second quarter, finishing off a nine-play, 40-yard drive with a four-yard blast through the right side of the line by Trevor Martin.
But Conneaut retook the lead on the next drive, taking it 60 yards on seven plays and capping it off with a three-yard run by Onderko. He would end the night with four carries for 67 yards.
Meadville answered right back with a 13-play, 68-yard series that ended with Artrel Foster bouncing around the left side for a three-yard TD rush.
However, the hold on the extra point was bobbled. And Conneaut went into the locker room with a 14-13 lead.
Conneaut would extend that lead, but not until the fourth quarter. Neither team would find the end zone in the third. But one minute into the final frame, freshman QB Hunter Merritt cut short a six-play drive with a 29-yard option keeper into the end zone.
Then on the Eagles’ next series, Merritt again faked the hand-off to Anderton and went around the right side 57 yards for another touchdown.
Merritt ended up leading Conneaut with 117 yards on 15 carries. And Anderton did actually get his share of hand-offs, taking 13 of them 109 yards.
“All three running backs did a nice job for us,” said Gould. “Up front we blocked well. Our tight ends did a nice job for us sealing the edges. They did what we asked them to do. It was a well-played ball game.”
Conneaut missed the extra points on the last two touchdowns, leaving it a 26-13 game.
And Meadville would make that interesting later in the fourth. On what would be the Bulldogs’ final drive, quarterback Tyler Minnis completed three of four pass attempts, including a 13-yard bullet to Caleb Schweter in the end zone. And Patrick Adams tacked on the extra point, making it 26-20.
However, the ensuing onside kick didn’t travel the required 10 yards, and Conneaut got the ball back, needing only to kneel on it a couple times to hold on to the victory.
Minnis ended up having a good game for the Bulldogs, going 7-for-15 for 129 yards through the air. The Bulldogs ground attack was led by Ryan Harkness who had 22 carries for 67 yards. Martin finished with 48 yards on 13 carries. And Foster had 16 carries for 42 yards.
“I’m excited,” said Gould. “It’s our first triple-A game. But like we’ve always said, our region (Region 1) is extremely tough.
“Obviously we’re not going to beat every team in triple-A, and we know that. And we have a lot of things to do for the future. But this was a measuring stick for us. And our kids aren’t doing too bad.”