By Phil Keren
An impressive all-around performance from its signal-caller and an opportunistic defense that captured four turnovers were the key pieces of Kent Roosevelt’s 28-20 win over arch-rival Ravenna.
The teams played the first half of the game on Thursday night in Ravenna’s Portage Community Bank Stadium before a storm moved in at halftime and forced the postponement of the second half until Saturday afternoon. The game restarted at the beginning of the third quarter with Kent Roosevelt leading, 21-14.
Roosevelt’s victory in the 109th competition for the Big R Trophy was its 52nd win in the longtime series. Ravenna has won the game 54 times and there have been three ties.
“We came together as a family,” said Kent Roosevelt head coach Kardell Jackson, who celebrated the first win of his career. “From the staff to the players, they were bought in. This group of guys, they give off this positive energy that’s like no other team I’ve been a part of.”
Ravenna head coach Joe Callihan said he felt he and his staff “didn’t do a good enough job as coaches to get our kids ready.”
That said, he was pleased with his players’ effort all four quarters.
“I was really proud of how hard our kids played,” Callihan said. “Nobody was hanging their head. We just had some self-inflicted turnovers and you can’t do that and play winning football.”
It was a tight game from start to finish, but the plays made on the ground and through the air by Kent Roosevelt senior quarterback Jack Smith tipped the contest in the Rough Riders’ favor.
Smith completed 18-of-28 passes for 331 yards and three touchdowns, and tallied 48 yards rushing on 21 carries. Those rushing statistics don’t really capture Smith’s elusiveness and ability to extend plays to give his receivers more time to get open.
Jackson praised the versatility displayed by Smith and noted that he wasn’t surprised by the plays made by the senior quarterback.
“What goes unnoticed is just the competitive fire he has,” Jackson said. “(He’s) a natural leader. I know he wanted this one bad and he played like it.”
Jackson noted while Smith is a strong runner, his quarterback is “always looking to throw first. He stays ready, keeps it loaded, ready to go.” He noted his staff encourages the receivers to keep looking for open spaces as they run their routes.
It was the throwing game which Jackson described as “our bread and butter,” led by Smith and a talented group of receivers that made the difference for the Rough Riders.
“At the end of the day we had to get back to what we did best,” Jackson said.
Smith discussed the unique challenge of playing one game spread out over two different days.
“The biggest thing that we had to do the whole time was maintain our composure and our focus,” Smith said. “It’s not easy to come back two days later and finish off half of a football game.”
Ravenna opened the second half with a well-executed seven play (all runs), 55-yard drive that moved the ball to the Roosevelt 17-yard line before Roosevelt senior James Lewis ended the drive with an interception in the end zone.
To their credit, the Ravens’ defense did not allow Roosevelt to capitalize on the miscue. Ravenna senior linebacker Austin Marshall sacked Smith on third down to force the Rough Riders to punt.
On the first offensive play of the ensuing possession, Ravenna senior running back Daniel Sanders broke through the Roosevelt defense and sprinted away for a 39-yard touchdown at 5:21 of the third quarter. The Ravens trailed 21-20 after they missed the extra-point attempt.
Sanders finished the game with 133 yards on 11 carries.
The momentum that started to shift to Ravenna’s sideline took a bigger step in that direction when junior linebacker Jaxon Kelly hit Smith to force a fumble that was collected by senior lineman Dave Davis at the Roosevelt 40-yard line with a little less than three minutes to go in the third quarter.
This time it was the Rough Riders defense’s chance to hold strong and make sure Ravenna didn’t cash in on the turnover. On third-and-5, Roosevelt’s Michael Shannon tackled Bobby Melzer for a 3-yard loss to force a punt.
“Defensively, we have the mindset (that) we bend, we don’t break,” Jackson said. “We gave up too many big plays today, but we talk about fight and those guys ended up believing in each other. Those guys, they had some fight there at the end to bring it home.”
That defensive stop seemed to energize the Roosevelt offense on its next possession. The Rough Riders drove 80 yards in nine plays, and secured an eight-point lead when Smith linked up with sophomore Theodore Maccarone on a 3-yard touchdown pass. The drive included a 12-yard scramble from Smith, a 49-yard completion from Smith to sophomore Gavin Peeps, and two other receptions by Maccarone (14 and 16 yards).
That 16-yard catch by Maccarone came as Roosevelt was facing fourth-and-6 from the Ravenna 26-yard line. After using his legs to elude pass rushers, Smith found Maccarone along the sideline for the first down conversion.
As solid and well-balanced as that scoring drive was, Roosevelt’s best drive may have been one where they didn’t score. After senior Anthony Helton sacked Melzer to force a Ravenna punt, the Rough Riders put together a 10-play drive that only netted 23 yards, but consumed five minutes and 16 seconds of precious game time. This possession included an eight-yard scamper by Smith on a fourth-and-4 play.
The Roosevelt defense then made one final play to put its stamp on the game when junior Jaden Dennison recovered a Ravenna fumble at the Ravens’ 17-yard line.
“The defense stepped up when we needed them,” Jackson said. “Our offense got first downs at the end.”
Callihan said his team “played their tails off,” but also offered a “ton of credit” to Roosevelt.
“They presented a unique offense, going empty every play and getting the ball to their guys in space,” Callihan said. “They were very efficient with it.”
Play for play, Callihan thought his team executed, but, unfortunately, had a couple of “costly turnovers” both on Thursday and Saturday.
That said, Callihan said he looks forward to getting back to work in the upcoming week.
“We’ve got a lot of really good kids and a lot of hard-working kids that I know will not be satisfied with the results of today and I expect them to come in Monday ready to work,” Callihan said.
Ravenna got on the board first with a 46-yard run by Sanders at the 5:27 mark of the first quarter. Mikey Myers hit the extra point to give the Ravens a 7-0 lead.
Kent Roosevelt responded early in the second quarter when Matt McCann recovered a fumble at the Ravens’ 16.
That turnover quickly turned into points for the Riders, when Jaiden Portis took a handoff on a read-option play raced into the right corner of the end zone to tie the game 7-7.
Ravenna jumped back out in front 14-7 on another run from Sanders. This one coming from 4 yards out, with the senior runner reaching the goal line after a couple of elusive sidestep moves.
Roosevelt tied the game by scoring off another turnover, which became a recurring theme in the first half. The Ravens put the ball on the turf, after a big-chunk run, when Dennison punched the ball loose and it was picked up by Anthony Helton.
Smith then launched a 51-yard completion to Tyler Ellington that set up a 10-yard touchdown strike from Smith to Lincoln Wade to knot the score at 14-14 with 1:29 to play in the second quarter.
Good clock management allowed the Riders one more score before halftime.
Roosevelt was able to force a punt out of the Ravens, who are set to receive the second-half kickoff.
With time ticking under 1 minute to play in the first half and the Riders facing a third-and-5, Smith dropped back and aired out a ball. It traveled 55 yards in the air and out-threw the Ravens’ secondary, allowing Portis to get back behind four different Ravenna defensive backs to haul in a 54-yard pass, in stride, at the 5-yard line and into the end zone with 21 seconds left in the second quarter.
The score put Roosevelt up 21-14.