Thursday, February 22, 2024

Mentor stays unbeaten by outlasting Brunswick, 21-14

Mentor won its first six games of the season by an average of 35 points per contest and was just recently ascended to the top of the Associated Press Division I state poll.

And yet, there were some critics that wondered how the Cardinals would do coming down the stretch in a tight game that didn't go quite as easily as most have gone this fall.

Those questions were answered in a big way Friday night at Judy Kirsch Stadium in Brunswick.

Mentor defensive back Michael Ballantine tipped a pass near the end zone with time running out and his teammate Marc Walton snagged the ball for the game-clinching interception in a 21-14 win over host Brunswick.

The Cardinals (7-0), who won their previous four home games by a combined score of 200-19, played their starters into the fourth quarter for the first time in over a month as the Blue Devils stayed close the entire night and had a chance to tie or win the game on the final drive before Walton came up with the big interception.

"We were in the right position and we all did our job, and I was able to make a tip and Marc made the play," Ballantine said.

Walton, who had an interception return for a touchdown in a Week 6 win over Shaker Heights, said responding in a late critical situation after not playing in the fourth quarter of four straight games is all about being prepared at all times.

"It is all about keeping your composure in those situations and doing what you are trained to do," Walton said.

"We always talk about facing adversity, and we are taught to battle. Tonight, we battled through a lot."

Brunswick actually opened the scoring on a touchdown pass by talented quarterback Stephen Ficyk. The Blue Devils went up early, 7-0, and it was the first time Mentor trailed since Week 2 at St. Ignatius. Brunswick (4-3) maintained the touchdown edge into the second quarter before the Cardinals tied the game on a TD pass from Jake Floriea to Eddie Daugherty.

Floriea also connected with Alex Mathews after a nice individual effort to scramble away from pressure that gave Mentor a 14-7 lead in the second quarter that lasted until the fourth quarter.

The Cardinals appeared to put the game on ice with a 14-play, 99-yard drive that was capped by the second scoring hookup between Floriea and Daugherty resulting in a 21-7 lead with 8:47 left in regulation.

However, Brunswick answered with a TD pass from Ficyk to Joe Pinzone to pull to within a touchdown, and then after another Daugherty TD reception was called back by a penalty, the Blue Devils recovered a Mentor fumble and marched toward the potential game-tying or game-winning score before Ballantine and Walton put an end to the drama.

"Coaches harp on us all the time to play through adversity and we did that," Daugherty said. "It was good to get a full game in and play four quarters because we have to get used to that moving forward."

Floriea completed 25 of 37 passes for 362 yards and three touchdowns. Daugherty caught 12 passes for 192 yards and two scores.

The difficulty of preparing for a good Brunswick team was made harder with the passing of Riley Pearson, a former football trainer who succumbed to a lengthy battle with cancer, on Oct. 5. In addition, a freshman football player was life flighted from the JTO on Thursday following a hard collision, but he was released from the hospital on Friday night.

"It was a tough week, a long week, but it was good to get back on the field and play a good team like that," Trivisonno said.

"This is a tough place to play and win. And we have to play a little harder on every play and learn to keep battling through adversity. We have a long way to go. But, I liked the poise they showed in a close game. We relaxed, we knew what we were doing."

Mentor returns home on Oct. 17 to host Solon in another key NOC Valley clash.

Steve Hare
Steve Hare
Steve Hare is the Chagrin Valley Conference's Sports Information Director. He also created and publishes, an online publication dedicated to providing hyperlocal coverage to area high school athletic programs. Hare began covering high school sports for the Lake County News Herald in 1997. Hare attended Willoughby South High School through the middle of his senior year, then graduated from Berkshire High School in Burton in 1986. He played football, wrestled and was an all-Geauga county baseball player (1986). He lives in Chardon with his wife Paulette and their children.

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