By Tom Nader
Publisher and Editor
As he stood in three inches of churned up mud and rain fell onto his green windbreaker, Mogadore football head coach Matt Adorni radiated an energy that only a championship night can produce.
Adorni’s Wildcats had just completed a 27-0 shutout victory over previously undefeated Rootstown to capture the Portage Trail Conference crown.
The 45th league title in school history.
The 2023 Wildcats are something different than all of those league champions that came before them.
At least Adorni believes so.
“We have had some good teams, and we have had some great teams, but I am not sure we have had a team quite like this,” the veteran coach said. “A team that has to go out there and fight week after week like they do.”
Friday’s fight featured a variety of elements
Primarily, a talented Rovers team and their dominant run game fueled by an experienced and powerful offensive line and the downhill running of senior Dawson Morgan.
In most cases, that is all the challenge a team would need, but Friday also brought rain that quickly turned the natural grass at Rootstown’s Robert C. Dunn Field into a muddy, sliding ice rink.
Statistically speaking, the two teams were mirror images of each other.
On the ground: Mogadore rushed 40 times for 89 yards and Rootstown rushed 35 times for 94 yards.
In the air: Mogadore threw for 46 yards and Rootstown threw for 35 yards.
Where the advantage tipped to the Wildcats’ favor was in turnovers and penalties.
Two areas teams must always avoid in attempts to knock off the Cats.
Rootstown fumbled the ball seven times, losing four of them and also had an interception that closed out the first half in a desperation attempt to get the ball down the field. The Rovers also turned the ball over on downs four times.
Add them all up and the Wildcats forced nine turnovers (four fumbles, four turnover on downs and an interception).
Rootstown also totaled 105 penalty yards, including six 15-yarders, with many coming at the worst times. Two of which in particular kept Mogadore drives alive that would have given the ball back to Rootstown on critical fourth- and third-down plays in the second half.
Unfortunately for the Rovers, they were not bashful about making their mistakes early either.
On the opening drive of the game, Rootstown was successfully moving the ball down the field with its run game — as the field was wet, but still not torn up. However, a fumble on the third play of the game on the Wildcats’ 25 was recovered by Mogadore. Rootstown’s defense held strong and did not allow any points, but the fumble was a foreshadowing of what was to come.
The two teams traded first-quarter possessions before the Cats’ final possession of the first quarter flipped the field and set up a 2-yard touchdown run on the first play of the second quarter by Austin Constantine following a 32-yard aerial completion from Zeke Cameron to Nick Stephenson on fourth-and-3 from the Rovers’ 34 to set up first-and-goal from the 2.
On the Rovers’ next possession, Mogadore forced a punt and the snap to Rootstown’s punter was mishandled and he was tackled for a seven-yard loss and gave the ball to the Wildcats’ at the Rovers’ 35.
The eventual result was a 21-yard romp to the end zone by Mogadore’s Aaron Rumschlag on a trap that was disguised so well that noone on the Rovers’ defense realized Rumschlag had the ball until it was too late.
Constantine added the extra point, and within a quick five minutes, the Wildcats had taken a scoreless game and grabbed a 14-0 lead at the 6:27 mark.
Rootstown survived a fumble on its next possession, forcing a turnover on downs after the Wildcats took over on Rootstown’s 47.
However, the Rovers did not survive their second lost fumble of the second quarter.
With 40 seconds left in the second quarter, on their own 30-yard line, Rootstown called timeout to set up its late-half approach.
The first play out of the timeout was a wide receiver screen to the right boundary. Once the ball was caught and the receiver attempted to make a move to avoid Mogadore’s pressing defenders, the ball was fumbled onto the ground and Rumschlag was there to quickly scoop the ball up and race it 31 yards for a back-breaking score.
Kyle Kuharich blocked the extra point, but Mogadore took a 20-0 lead into halftime.
“That fumble return was a real backbreaker,” Rootstown head coach Chris Knopick said.
Rootstown’s next mistake did not cost them any points, but robbed the team of gaining any momentum. On the opening possession of the second half, Rootstown’s defense pushed Mogadore backwards and into a three-and-out. On the punt from Mogadore’s own 34, a roughing the kicker penalty kept the Cats’ drive alive instead of Rootstown getting the ball in good field position.
The mistakes continued to mount for Rootstown throughout the second half, while Mogadore was happy to run time off the clock with its runs between the tackles.
“We knew we wanted to make it a time game in the second half,” Adorni said. “I am just so proud of the kids for their effort tonight and everything they had to overcome. They were gritty and tough. Our defense was flying to the ball and on offense, we converted just enough.”
After a scoreless third quarter, Mogadore delivered the knockout punch with a 21-yard run by CJ Westfall on another successfully executed trap. The score gave the Cats a 27-0 lead with 5:51 to play.
“It is really simple, we just made too many mistakes tonight,” Knopick said. “In big games, against a team like Mogadore, you can’t make mistakes and tonight we made a lot of them. Give credit to (Mogadore), because they capitalized on almost every single one of them.”