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Morgan’s special opening night leads Rovers over Devils

Morgan’s special opening night leads Rovers over Devils


By Phil Keren



Strong offensive execution in the first half, along with the conversion of some key plays in the second half, propelled Rootstown to a 42-30 season-opening victory over Crestwood on Friday night.

The Rovers’ ground game was spearheaded by senior Dawson Morgan, who rushed for 327 yards on 35 carries and scored all six of Rootstown’s touchdowns.

“I think today he showed he can fight,” said Rootstown head coach Chris Knopick. “(We) got him running hard, being decisive. We made some changes to get him coming downhill more from our scrimmages. I think it showed tonight.”

Knopick said he thought his offensive line did a good job opening up lanes and gaps for Morgan to run through.

“They love to run-block, they love to smash people and they’re finally learning to be a little more aggressive and finish blocks,” Knopick said.

On the opposite sideline, Crestwood head coach Jack D’Amato praised his team for the resilience they showed as they clawed their way back into a game they trailed 28-0 at halftime.

“I’m proud of the way the kids kept fighting and didn’t give up,” said D’Amato.

In the first half, Rootstown scored touchdowns on all four of its possessions, with Morgan crossing the goal line on runs of 1, 8, 2 and 11 yards. While Morgan carried the load on each drive, quarterback Ryan Piscitani mixed in a few well-timed throws to keep the chains moving.

“Ryan was fantastic managing the game,” Knopick said. “He was lights out throwing the ball. I’m really proud of him.”

Knopick tipped his hat to Piscitani for a strong read and precise throw to Tristan McKibben, who turned a catch on a quick slant into a 36-yard gain. A horse-collar penalty added more yardage to the play.

“That play was all Ryan,” Knopick said. “He took the pre-snap read and hit him in stride. The option was there for him and he took it.”

The Rovers scored five plays later on an 8-yard scamper from Morgan to take a 14-0 lead late in the first quarter.

Piscitani connected on six of his nine passes for 98 yards.

Knopick said he and his coaching staff have a goal for each down in a given offensive series. As an example, the Rovers are locked in on gaining at least four yards on each first-down play.

“We did a great job tonight of putting ourselves consistently in second-and-medium, second-and-6, second-and-4, which allowed us to mix in the pass,” Knopick said.

In the first half, Crestwood had some costly penalties, which stalled drives. D’Amato said he was disappointed with the mistakes and said they would work on correcting those errors.

The Red Devils, however, opened the third quarter with a pair of scoring drives to cut the Rootstown lead in half. Lining up in the Wildcat formation, running back Nate Blasiole scored on a 2-yard run and then raced into the end zone for the 2-point conversion. A key play of the drive was a 35-yard pass from quarterback Charlie Sommer to wide receiver A.J. Januska.

“Charlie really showed some poise back there,” D’Amato said. “Took a couple hits and delivered the ball right on target. He did a great job.”

Sommer completed five of his 13 throws for 140 yards and was intercepted once.

On Crestwood’s ensuing offensive series, A.J. Januska caught a 40-yard touchdown pass from Wyatt Januska in the front corner of the end zone.

D’Amato said he was pleased with the hard-nosed play of Blasiole, who finished with 132 yards rushing on 22 attempts and two touchdowns.

“He’s a special kid, a special back,” D’Amato said. “He’s just an all-around special kid from a special family. He is one of the hardest workers we have. He just loves football and loves everyone on that team. He played a hell of a game.”

Knopick applauded the Red Devils for coming out of the gate swinging in the second half.

“They weren’t going to lay down,”  Knopick said. “They came out and took it to us. We had to settle in.”

The Rovers re-focused and opened the fourth quarter with an 11-play, 71-yard drive that culminated in an 11-yard scoring run from Morgan. The touchdown gave Rootstown a 35-14 lead with just under 9 minutes left. The drive’s pivotal moment came when Piscitani connected with Morgan on a 20-yard pass along the sideline on third down and 4 from the Rootstown 35-yard line.

Crestwood cut the lead to 35-22 when Blasiole scored from a yard out to cap a four-play, 46-yard drive that started when the Red Devils recovered a Rootstown fumble. Sommer then rolled out to his right and threw a strike to Tristen Addis for the two-point conversion.

With a little less than three minutes left, Crestwood’s onside kick was recovered by Rootstown at midfield. Two plays later, Morgan broke through the Crestwood defense and sped down the sideline for a 45-yard touchdown to give Rootstown a 42-22 advantage with 2:24 to play.

D’Amato noted some halftime adjustments made by his coaching staff helped the defense make some strong plays in the second half, but he noted Morgan was “extremely fast,” and elusive.

“He’d make one guy miss and just go,” D’Amato said. “But we’ve got to be better tacklers.”

Knopick said the strong effort from Crestwood in the second half prompted him to reiterate his coaching staff’s ongoing message of giving a full effort for the game’s entirety.

“We preach playing four quarters all the time,” Knopick said. “But they’re still teenage boys and being up four scores in a game we thought was going to be tight, it’s tough mentally to get them going. We got to get that killer mentality and preach keeping the foot on the gas.”

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