Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Fortkamp scores four touchdowns to lead Wickliffe past Trinity

Wickliffe football teams have been running the Wing-T offense—or a variation of it—for a very long time. Lots of motion, misdirection and slick ballhandling.

But sometimes all that flash just doesn’t matter. Sometimes it just comes down to the big guys up front. Such was the case Saturday as Wickliffe pounded its way past Trinity, 46-14, in a Chagrin Valley Conference crossover game at Bedford High School.

“It wasn’t the scheme, it was the physicality,” Trinity coach Jeff McSweeney said. “They owned us up front. As the old adage goes, if you win the war in the trenches, you’re probably going to win the game. They definitely won the war in the trenches.”

Led by Kent State commit Chase Fortkamp, who rushed for 224 yards and four touchdowns on just 17 carries, the Blue Devils moved the ball up and down the field almost at will.

Wickliffe, which broke a three-game losing streak to even its record at 4-4, gained 459 yards of offense, with 443 of it coming on the ground.

In addition to Fortkamp, Mason Bala added 97 yards on 15 carries, Evan Rypinski had 88 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries, and Isaiah Bolon had 34 yards and a touchdown on seven carries.

“We knew we wanted to use a lot of misdirection tonight,” Wickliffe coach Marce Porcello said. “Our guys up front, they were blocking, and our running backs were breaking tackles and running very hard.”

Fortkamp has been battling a high ankle sprain most of the season and missed the last two games, a seven-point loss to 6-2 Beachwood and a three-point loss to 6-2 Berkshire.

Porcello said he felt the junior was playing at about 85 percent against Trinity, but even so, his return sparked the team’s effort.

“It makes a huge difference,” Porcello said. “He’s our guy. He’s great on both sides of the ball. He plays special teams. He’s a captain of the team. It’s huge to have him back.”

Fortkamp scored a touchdown in each quarter. The 6-foot-2, 210-pounder scored on two short power runs in the first half, adding a 42-yarder in the third quarter and a 40-yarder in the fourth.

“It feels great being back,” he said. “Missing those two games really hurt me. I thought we executed everything really well. It was a great team win.”

The Blue Devils took control of the game right from the start. Trinity, which fell to 4-4, won the coin toss and chose to take the ball, but three plays netted only eight yards and the Trojans had to punt.

Starting from its own 35, Wickliffe quickly ripped off big running plays, as Bala went for 17 and Rypinski went for 14. It was a trend that would continue the entire game, as the Blue Devils had 16 running plays that went for 10 yards or more.

Midway through the first quarter, Fortkamp opened the scoring from a yard out, completing a nine-play, 65-yard drive. Trinity’s next play from scrimmage resulted in a mishandled option read handoff between quarterback Ian Anderson and running back Zion Owens, with Wickliffe’s Zak Esteves pouncing on the ball on the Trinity 31.

Three plays later, Rypinski took it in from the 1, and the rout was on. The half ended with Wickliffe on top, 26-7. The Blue Devils had 305 yards of offense and 14 first downs to just 48 yards and two first downs for Trinity.

In fact, the Trojans scored only after an electric 84-yard kick return by Kirk Colvin that took the ball to the Wickliffe 1-yard line. But even then, Trinity struggled, as it took three plays to get the ball into the end zone.

“Bottom line, they were more physical up front than we were,” McSweeney said. “They beat us up. The Wing-T caused us problems, but it wasn’t anything we didn’t expect. I give them a lot of credit. They got off the ball and they got after our guys. They were on our guys before we knew it.”

The second half was more of the same, with Wickliffe dominating on both sides of the ball. The Blue Devils forced three turnovers—two interceptions and a fumble—and didn’t allow Trinity to move the ball with any consistency until the game was out of reach.

It’s been an odd season for Porcello and his team. Despite making the playoffs each of the past three years, the roster has shrunk dramatically. In fact, only 19 players dressed for the game against Trinity. But the team has talent and is young, with only five seniors on the roster.

“I’m happy with the way we played tonight,” Porcello said. “We had a three-game losing streak and we’re not used to that. But I’m proud of how our guys bounced back and put in the work this week. They never hung their heads. It’s a good bounce-back game for us.”
Trinity also has a young roster that McSweeney said needs to mature.

“We had a tough night,” he said. “I thought we would do a little better offensively, but we struggled there. We’re a young football team and we’re trying to grow up. We have a lot of sophomores who are trying to figure out what’s going on. All we can do is go back to the drawing board and start working again. We have two more in front of us.”

The Trojans are in the middle of a brutal four-game stretch to end the season. The final four games are against 6-1 Cuyahoga Heights, 4-4 Wickliffe, 6-2 Independence and 6-2 Lutheran West.

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