By Gary R. Rasberry
CANTON -- Finally.
After years of success with the state championship just out of reach, the Coldwater Cavalier football team can claim themselves state champs.
Coldwater stiffled Cardinal Mooney and defeated the defending Division IV state champions with a 33-9 win at Fawcett Stadium in Canton, giving the Cavaliers their first state football title and ninth state title overall. The Cavaliers ran the table this season at 15-0 while Mooney ended its season at 12-3.
The Cavalier defense rose to the challenge with an attack on the running game of the Cardinals, which was playing short-handed on Saturday
The Cardinals were forced to play without the services of All-Ohio quarterback Derrell Johnson. Johnson, who missed games in the regular season with a leg injury and suffered what was reported as a shin injury in the win over Bellaire in week 14, was not in uniform and was wearing a walking cast on the Mooney sidelines. Reports of torn ligaments were the cause of Johnson's absence. Coldwater prepared all week for Johnson, even calling on former Cav and University of Dayton quarterback Kevin Hoyng to play Johnson in practice.
"As more tests were done during the week, the damage was worse than we thought," said Mooney coach P.J. Fecko. "It was confirmed Tuesday night or Wednesday morning (after the Monday teleconference).
"We thought he was playing," said Coldwater coach John Reed. "Kevin gave us a great look this week. Even at kickoff, we thought they might still play him. I'm disapointed that he didn't get to play."
Junior Tony Brunetti, who took over in the Bellaire game, got the call as the starting quarterback in the state final. After completing his first two passes, though, Brunetti was a non-factor the rest of the game, completing just 4-of-8 for 29 yards. The Cavaliers rushed Brunetti endlessly, sacking him three times and finishing his day with a -44 yards.
"Our defense relies on speed," said senior linebacker Ross Homan. "We make the big plays and try to shut down what they do.
"(The gameplan) was easier. With Johnson, they had two running backs back there. With Johnson out, we focused on Burney. It was easier for us," added Homan.
Coldwater got the ball first and gave the game a jump start, moving 60 yards on six plays, the last 35 yards coming when Steve Borger found Justin Kahlig behind the coverage for a touchdown with just 90 seconds off the clock.
Mooney came back to get three points on Will Kandray's 32-yard field on its first possesion of the game,
Miscues then made for a wild finish to the first quarter. First, Borger was scrambling out and tried to throw the ball while getting tackled. Jack Zizzo made the interception -- just Borger's third INT all season -- and took it to the Cavalier 31.
The Cardinals got as close as the Coldwater 7 when the Cavalier blitz came in. Ryan Geier got the sack back at the 23 and forced the ball to pop loose before Gaston Pleiman scooped the ball at the 30 and dashed down the sidelines for the touchdown as Mooney players were dazed, making it 13-3.
Mooney responded in the second quarter, sending the blitz as Brady Geier punted. A Mooney player made the block and Robert Walker scored from 37 yards away to make the game 13-9.
That's all the closer Mooney would get the rest of the game.
On the next possesion, Homan moved the ball on the ground before Borger looked skyward, finding Brady Geier on a crossing pattern in the end zone for a 22-yard score to make it 20-9 at the half.
After a defensive third quarter where neither team scored, Coldwater put an exclamation point on a strong day for the Cavaliers.
Thanks to a solid punt return from Justin Kahlig that moved the ball to the Mooney 15-yard line, Coldwater hit paydirt again as Homan took a pitch from Borger and didn't stop until the end zone to make it 27-9 after Trevor Stromblad's extra point.
After Mooney went three-and-out, Borger found Ryan Geier for a 20-yard play, then two plays later capped a solid day with a 42-yard scoring pass to Brady Geier. Borger finished 12-of-17 passing for 209 yards on the day.
"When we went in at halftime, the seniors wanted to make sure we played (the second half) like we were down seven," said Brady Geier, whose four catches on the day were good for 106 yards. "We just didn't want to milk the clock. We wanted to just keep playing good."
Things finally became official with 1:46 left in the game as first Homan, then Borger and the rest of the starting offense, were called to the sidelines for a curtain call. Three Tony Harlamert runs later and the Cavaliers finally became state champs.
"Obviously, congratulations to Coldwater with their victory," said Fecko. "It was a hard-fought game. ... Defensively, they played good defense all year and really played well today. They made great plays to stop our offense from making plays."
"For the program, it's a great thrill," said Reed. "For these guys (the seniors), they've been playing football for four years. ... For the program, it was great to get the ultimate win, but these guys have always been winners.
"It really hasn't set in. I asked Steve (Borger) if he realizes he's state champs and he said not yet. ... It feels like we have to play one more game."