LINESVILLE — It never seems to amaze how much one play can change the entire outlook of a game.
The play was a somewhat minor 11-yard run by Sharon’s Brady Ortiz. Yes, it gave the Tigers a first down. But more importantly, it knocked Conneaut Area’s Tanner Niemann out of the game, as the star QB was taken off the field with an undisclosed injury to his throwing shoulder.
From that point on, Sharon scored 37 straight points and went on to beat the Eagles 43-24 in a key Region 5 contest at CASH field on Friday night.
“Tanner getting hurt early there,” said Conneaut Area head coach Pat Gould. “I thought we were playing pretty well before that happened. It’s just a shame. To see any boy get hurt in any sport, it’s a shame.
“We don’t really know how bad it is right now. We are going to have to reload it up and get a little crafty here (against Slippery Rock and Grove City the next two weeks).”
Before the injury, it appeared a shootout was in the making.
Conneaut scored on its first two possessions. The first touchdown came off a 13-play, 52 yard drive that saw Niemann run it in from 10 yards out. Niemann then found Noah Richardson to complete the 2-point conversion.
After Sharon scored and missed the extra point, CASH went right back to work. This time it was a seven-play, 65-yard drive that led to the end zone. Noah Richardson took a handoff and bulldozed in from two yards. Then Noah Richardson took a direct-snap and rumbled in for the 2-pointer to make it 16-6.
At that point in the game, the Eagles ran 20 plays and racked up 117 yards. Two plays later, Niemann left the field and CASH ran 24 plays for 90 yards over the next 38 minutes. Sharon head coach Jason McElhaney knew immediately after Niemann left that the game had changed in his favor.
“Obviously Niemann is special,” said McElhaney. “You know the things he can do and you saw the way the game was going. And I know (Tanner) too. I coached with (Niemann’s step-father and Meadville head coach Ray Collins) at West Middlesex. He was just a little kid back then but has become a great athlete.
“And he changes everything. I have to be honest. Their are quarterbacks that are good runners and quarterbacks that are good throwers. But I have never seen a quarterback who makes the improvisational plays the way he does. So I hope he is OK and gets back quickly.”
Not that Sharon didn’t bring its own unstoppable weapons.
Leading the way for the Tigers was quarterback Lane Voytik. Just now getting back to full strength after rolling his ankle in the season opener, Voytik was cool and in charge all night. And given the time, he made big plays at big opportunities. On the team’s first drive and facing a third-and-three, Voytik stepped back and lofted a beautiful pass down the middle. C.J. Parchman hauled it in and took it to the house — a 68-yard beauty for six.
On the drive in which Niemann was hurt, Voytik picked up a key fourth-and-five to keep the play alive. On the very next play, Tyvell Richardson ran it in from 26 yards out. The QB scored the next TD on a one yard plunge as the Tigers took the lead for the first time, 19-16.
“Confidence is a huge deal,” said McElhaney. “Sometimes it can make you play better than you really are. We needed some confidence after starting 0-2. And now, with Lane getting back to where he was (before the season started), we are now playing with confidence and hopefully can keep it rolling.”
Then Voytik put the game away in the second half.
Conneaut got the ball first but went four and out. On the very next play, Voytik found Parchman again, this time for a 57-yard catch and run. The extra point made it a 26-16 game. After another CASH four-and-out, Sharon started from its own 3-yard line. Voytik started the drive with four straight runs to get his team to its own 46. The next play he dropped back, spotted Ty Eilam cutting back to the center of the field and hit him with a bullet. Eilam broke a couple of tackles and, when it was all said and done, stood in the end zone with a 54-yard TD to his credit.
Sharon would add another Tyvell Richardson TD in the fourth and a field goal.
“I think we could have kept up with them before (Tanner got hurt),” said Gould. “But then they hit some deep balls and they could come and get us.”
The Eagles showed their heart, even though down 43-16.
Replacement quarterback Nathan Bortnick had a tough go of it for most of his time under center. But after Sharon’s field goal, he the junior finally got something going. A pair of runs by Devin Neal gave CASH a first-and-10 at its own 49 yard line. Bortnick, who had thrown eight straight incompletions at that point, looked like a veteran. He took the snap, looked off the safety and then hit Zach Walker over the middle about 25 yards down field. Walker brushed off a defender at took it the rest of the way for a 51-yard TD. It was Bortnick’s last play of the night and the perfect way for him to end it.
“Nathan is going to get more reps now (in practice), so hopefully he gets it going,” said Gould. “He needed a little pick up as he might have been down on himself a little. (That pass) hopefully will be a confidence builder for him.”
Voytik completed 7-of-12 passes for 207 yards and three touchdowns as well as running for a fourth score. Brady Ortiz carried the pigskin 11 times for 112 yards. Tyvell Richardson had eight carries for 93 yards and two scores. Parchman finished with three catches for 129 yards and two TDs.
Niemann was 4-of-7 for 53 yards and a rushing TD before he left. Neal ran 24 times for 96 yards.