By Tom Nader
Publisher and Editor
What does it feel like to play the Perry Pirates?
After 48 minutes of playoff football against the top-seeded juggernaut, Garfield head coach Mike Moser felt like he could offer a pretty succinct synopsis.
“It is like holding on for dear life on every single play,” the veteran coach said.
That’s not a good feeling for a football team.
Unfortunately for the G-Men, though, it was accurate.
The Pirates were as good as advertised as the region’s No. 1 seed and delivered a decisive 42-14 defeat to the G-Men in a Division V, Region 17 regional semifinal at Maple Heights High School. Both teams entered Friday’s showdown with identical 12-0 records.
“Give Perry a lot of credit. That is a very good football team. A very good football team,” Moser said. “They are well coached, play hard, have great players and have good schemes.”
Even still, the G-Men proved they could stand alongside the giant throughout different parts of Friday’s game.
The recurring problem, however, became Garfield’s untimely mistakes that traded between penalties and botched snaps.
Offensive drives for the G-Men continually took on the unwanted blueprint of one step forward, two steps backward. On more than one occasion, a favorable down-and-distance turned into Garfield playing behind the sticks in a game where the margin for error did not allow room for the G-Men to make for up those mistakes.
The miscues became the direct result in Perry building a 28-0 lead before the midway point of the second quarter.
A pair of short 3-yard touchdown runs in the first quarter, pushed across the goal line by Dare’on Howard and Jayden Studio gave the Pirates a 14-0 lead. Each one set up by long punt returns by Brayden Richards that gave Perry short field position to work with. The first being a 52-yard return to Garfield’s 32 and the second being a 38-yard return to the Garfield 34.
The G-Men fell behind further in the second quarter, starting with a 12-yard reception from Walter Moses to Owen McKoon that was perfectly lofted over a pair of Garfield defensive backs that had defended the play well.
That score made it 21-0, then the Pirates’ lead jumped to 28-0 at the 8:52 mark when Studio broke free for a 63-yard touchdown run that was set up by an interception by Armani Chiappone.
The G-Men managed to get on the board before halftime when they completed a drive with a 5-yard touchdown pass from Eric Geddes to Keegan Sell.
On the play, Geddes ran to the right of the line, with the look of what was going to be a designed run, but then he stopped, set his feet and threw the ball all the way back against the defense to the left side of the field that Sell jumped into to the air to snag the score, which made it 28-7 at the break.
Garfield received the kickoff to start the second half. Desperately needing a score to set a new tone for the final 24 minutes, the G-Men put together a calculated drive that moved the ball down the field and into Pirates territory. Facing a third-and-short, a bad snap to the running back resulted in a 15-yard loss and the drive came to a halt. Perry then used time to its advantage, scoring the third quarter’s lone points on a 12-yard pass from Moses to Studio to lift the lead to 35-7. Studio added his third touchdown in the game on a 56-yard run in the fourth quarter that made it 42-7 when Aitor Ontanon Lopez connected for his sixth straight extra point.
Garfield’s final score came on a 12-yard run by Sell with 2:13 to play.
Sell finished with 113 hard-earned yards on 23 carries for Garfield. Though, much of Garfield’s offense was hard earned on Friday against the Pirates’ stout defense that entered with five shutouts and allowed just 5.9 points per game. Geddes had 23 attempts for 79 yards and Garfield’s vaunted run game was held in check for 214 yards in 57 attempts (3.8 yards per carry).
Garfield’s offense, which had produced 54 touchdowns of 20 yards or more throughout the season, never created any of those gamebreaking plays on Friday. In fact, Garfield had only one play from scrimmage go for more than 20 yards, which was a 21-yard reception from Geddes to Christian Gallagher in the third quarter.
Despite the difficult loss that ended Garfield’s season, Moser smiled when reflecting back on what the team’s senior class has meant to the program. And to him.
“Tonight is tough, really tough, because I love those guys,” he said. “We have had a lot of great times together and they have been special. I know how much this meant to them tonight and ultimately they did not reach their goal, but I know they will look back on this game and this season and have fond memories. Maybe not right now, but in time, they will and they will remember how special it was to do it with each other.”
Studio was simply dominant — on both sides of the field — and rushed for 201 yards and needed only 17 carries to get there.
Perry advances to the Division V regional final and will face South Range, which defeated the Pirates last year on its way to the state championship. The Pirates and Raiders will play next Friday at a site that will be announced by the OHSAA on Sunday afternoon.