“I haven’t talked to him yet,” said Conneaut Area quarterback Tanner Niemann, referring to his stepfather, Ray Collins, head coach of the Meadville football team, which Niemann and the Eagles had just beaten.
“I need to go over there and mess with him,” Niemann said.
So, he did. And Collins greeted him with one phrase that we can’t print here. And then one that we can:
“Excellent job,” Collins said. “Proud of you.”
“See you at home,” said the kid in the CASH uniform to the man in the MASH windbreaker.
“No way,” answered Collins. “I’m moving out.”
Niemann had a day, passing for 173 yards and two touchdowns, while rushing for 146 yards and three TDs, as the Eagles rolled up the Bulldogs 40-7 Friday night at Bender Field.
“Tanner’s reads were a lot of the difference in the game,” said Conneaut head coach Pat Gould. “What he did for us offensively was huge. He was adjusting things ... throughout the game. And for the most part his adjustments were right on.”
Here’s an example of how effective CASH’s offense was at adjusting: The Eagles failed to convert their first two third downs of the game. After that, they converted 11 straight. All six of the team’s touchdowns came on a third down.
“We just couldn’t stop them,” said Collins. “We just could not stop them. (Niemann) beat us with his arm, and he beat us with his legs.”
Other than Niemann, one of CASH’s top release valves was Noah Richardson. He caught 10 passes for 128 yards, as well as two receptions for 2-point conversions.
Several of Richardson’s catches were of the third-and-seven or second-and-nine variety, where Richardson would sneak out of the backfield and get open in the hole, allowing Niemann to deliver for the first down.
“(Richardson) had huge catches on third down,” said Gould.
“That was one of our goals this week,” said Richardson, “convert third downs, make plays when we needed to. And we came up big tonight.”
Setting up those plays was running back Devin Neal. He grinded out 19 carries for 69 yards and two touchdowns.
“He got a lot of rough yards,” Gould said. “He had a lot of inside plays, so he was getting beaten up pretty good. He did a nice job carrying the load. A lot of the stuff he was doing was setting up plays for the other guys.”
It would be a couple short runs by Neal, followed by a first-down pop from Niemannn or Richardson.
That was more or less the script for CASH’s first scoring drive — 12 plays, 75 yards, 5:36 — that ended with Neal scoring from nine yards out.
The Eagles’ next possession was much quicker, as Niemann took a keeper 55 yards down the left sideline, getting a key downfield block from Nathan Bortnick.
Later, after Meadville fumbled the ball away in the red zone, CASH went on a 12-play, 88-yard drive that ended with a one-yard touchdown run by Niemann and would put the Eagles up 22-0 at the half.
Meadville eventually got on the scoreboard to start the second half. CASH’s opening kickoff was short, allowing the Bulldogs to set up in Eagles territory. Hayden Parks broke a 27-yard run on the first play, getting MASH into the red zone. The Bulldogs would finally cross the plane on fourth down on a one-yard QB dive by Landon Beck.
Then Conneaut fumbled away the kickoff, and Meadville got the ball back on the Eagles’ 19.
However, the CASH defense stood tall, and halted the Bulldogs on the 4.
“That was huge,” Niemann said about the goal line stand.
“We recovered a fumbled kickoff and don’t finish that drive,” said Collins. “Maybe we grab some momentum and get the kids fired up.”
The Eagles’ offense then responded with a 12-play, 96-yard drive that lasted 5:40 and ended with Niemann hitting Bortnick in the corner on a six-yard TD pass. It was now 28-7 Conneaut.
Conneaut then recovered the onside kick and got the ball back on the MASH 41. The Eagles took 11 plays to cover those yards, getting back into the end zone on a four-yard pass from Niemann to Neal.
Niemann then put the final points on the board with a 21-yard keeper for a touchdown.
“It’s just a big rivalry,” said Richardson. “No one likes MASH from CASH. No one likes CASH from MASH. It was great to come out here and see the atmosphere, play the game with all these people yelling at you. You gotta love it.”
For Meadville, Hayden Parks and Aryan Cotterman led the groud game. Parks had 83 yards on 11 carries, Cotterman 81 yards on 12 takes. Chandler Edwards added seven carries for 59 yards.
“We had yards. We moved the ball. We just didn’t finish drives,” said Collins.
“I still think there is some soul searching for this team. We still have to understand how to be ready when it’s game time. I don’t feel like we were ready to go mentally when that game started. It felt like maybe the kids were overconfident. They had watched the CASH film of them losing to Oil City. And I think we had a false sense that we were better than what we really are. But I told the kids all week that this was going to be a brawl. But I don’t think that they listened to my message. And CASH played really well tonight. They executed. I don’t think they made any mistakes other than the kickoff return.”