CHESTERLAND–As the third head coach at West Geauga in as many years, Adam Sopkovich wanted to make an impact right away against visiting Chardon on Friday.
Scoring 20 unanswered points to beat the Hilltoppers, 20-19, for the first time in six years was an excellent way to do that.
“I never doubted one minute, one second,” Sopkovich said to his players and fans following the win.
But the road to victory wasn’t as easy as he would have hoped.
Neither offense found a rhythm early, as both teams punted on their opening drives. Chardon drove down the field on its second possession through a sequence of runs. On fourth down, Chardon quarterback Andrew Kobuszewski tried to run outside to get the first down but was stopped by Wolverine senior linebacker Gino Fornaro for a turnover on downs.
“That play got me pumped and ready to go,” Fornaro said. “For myself, it boosted my confidence.”
Chardon opened the second quarter with a 94-yard touchdown pass from Kobuszewski to Jon McKnight.
The Hilltoppers then forced the Wolverines to go three-and-out on the next possession and quickly pushed their lead to 13-0 on a 26-yard Wade Novak scoring run. McKnight then returned a punt 57 yards for another score that put Chardon out in front, 19-0.
That’s when the Wolverines got the momentum changing play they needed.
Nick Henry returned the ensuing kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown to pull West Geauga to within 19-7.
DiLalla later added a 35-yard field goal to cut Chardon’s lead to 19-10 at halftime.
West Geauga avoided disaster in the third quarter when a muffed punt gave Chardon the ball at the Wolverine 22.
The Wolverines held and DiLalla booted another field goal to pull West Geauga to within 19-13 with 16 seconds left in the quarter.
Senior defensive end Pedro Rodriguez then forced a fumble and junior Dylan Baliker scooped it up and ran it back to the Chardon 3.
“That was a momentum swing for us,” said West Geauga offensive coordinator Damien Ivory.
Three plays later, Henry ran around the left side to tie the game at 19. The extra point gave the Wolverines their first lead with 11 minutes left to play.
Chardon had opportunities to retake the lead but the Wolverines forced and recovered two more fumbles down the stretch to seal their victory.
“For a while, I felt numb,” said West Geauga defensive coordinator Mario Sims. “The crowd was so electric; everything was electric. It was just in the cards for us.”
West Geauga travels to Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin next Friday.