By Pete Chiodo
Both Sharpsville and Conneaut were presented with opportunities
Sharpsville took advantage of those opportunities. Conneaut did not. And the end result was a 19-7 win for the Blue Devils on Friday night at Conneaut Area Senior High School.
“We had chances to score and we didn’t capitalize,” said Conneaut head coach Pat Gould. “We had plays that were open and we’d make mistakes. ... And then when (Sharpsville) was on offense, and when it’s time for us defensively to make a play, we’re not making them. (Sharpsville) did. And that’s the bottom line.”
The loss was the second in a row for Conneaut, which fell to 1-2 on the season and 0-2 in Region 1.
Sharpsville improved to 2-1 overall and 1-1 in the region.
“I’m telling you, I think Conneaut is a nice team,” said Sharpsville head coach Paul Piccirilli. “They’re going to beat a lot of teams. To come up here and win on the road, that was a big win for our program going forward.”
There was one play that went Conneaut’s way. On Sharpsville’s second down on offense, quarterback Nick Henwood fumbled the snap and Conneaut’s Chris Richardson jumped on it, giving the Eagles the ball at the Blue Devils’ 36.
Five plays later, Conneaut was in the end zone thanks to a three-yard run by Elijah Anderton. The Eagles led 7-0.
By the second quarter, however, Sharpsville began to turn the tide. And they did it through the air.
“Honestly, when we played Mercer, we just pounded the ball like 95 percent of the time,” said Piccirilli. “And after we lost the game, coach (Len) Grandy, our offensive coordinator, said that we’ve got to spread it out and start putting the ball up. So that’s all we did all week. Maybe we caught (Conneaut) off guard.”
The Blue Devils embarked on a six-play, 70-yard scoring drive that featured two big completions by quarterback Nick Henwood, a 15-yarder and a 20-yarder, both to tight end Greg Popatak.
With Conneaut’s defense on its heels, the Blue Devils sprung Ben Bucher 25 yards into the end zone. Sharpsville’s holder muffed the snap on the PAT attempt, leaving Conneaut in the lead at 7-6.
That’s where the score would stay for much of the second quarter.
Conneaut suffered its first major missed opportunity in that frame, however. A botched punt attempt by Sharpsville set the Eagles up on the Blue Devils’ 15 yard line. However, in four plays Conneaut’s offense went back five yards, giving the ball back to Sharpsville with 1:24 left in the half.
Despite starting on their own 20 with very little time remaining, the Blue Devils weren’t going to go into the locker room quietly. The Mercer County squad commenced a remarkably efficient series of plays. And once again it was the passing attack leading the way.
Henwood went 4-for-6 for 78 yards during the nine-play drive. And facing a third down and 17, Henwood lofted a bomb into the end zone that was caught by running back Tyrin Peavy.
“It was just a Hail Mary,” said Piccirilli. “We had two guys down there. We said just heave it up there as far as you can. We tried to get it to the big guy (6-foot-4 receiver Derrek Smith) down there, but Peavy came up with it.”
Sharpsville went into the locker room leading 12-7.
The Blue Devils dominated the third quarter action, running 18 plays to Conneaut’s three plays. But it wasn’t until the start of the fourth that Sharpsville would revisit the end zone.
Once again, Conneaut had the Devils backed up, facing a third down and 22. Yet, once again Henwood sprung his squad. This time he fired a pass deep. And this time the Devils’ big target, Smith, reeled it in for a 33-yard completion, giving Sharpsville a first-and-goal on the 2.
“We threw a long ball to Smith and he’s just so big he can jump over everybody,” said Piccirilli. “And finally it worked. We’ve been trying it all year and finally it paid off.”
On the next play, Peavy dove in for the touchdown, making it 19-7.
Conneaut attempted to answer. On the Eagles next drive, they marched all the way down to Sharpsville’s 1 yard line. But the Blue Devils’ defense pushed them back. And Conneaut ran out of downs on the 2 with a little under five minutes to go. That was the ball game.
“We’re in situations where it’s long distances and we’re letting them have it. We can’t do that,” said Gould. “Their athletes are making plays, our athletes aren’t. And I don’t care who you’re playing, if you’re not making plays you’re not going to win. And that’s what’s happening right now. The plays are there, and we don’t execute them.
“I think we played a tough game,” he added. “We hit. We did a nice job that way. But that just can’t keep happening. We’re in trouble if it does. I mean, we’re in every game. We just can’t make enough plays to win them.”