By Tom Nader
Publisher and Editor
The Rootstown Rovers put themselves in a difficult position on Friday night in the first round of the playoffs.
Hosting United, the Rovers fell into a deep 20-0 first-quarter hole after United broke the first play of the game for a 75-yard touchdown on a run by junior Luke Courtney.
A pair of turnovers on Rootstown’s next two possessions also turned into United points, with Courtney scoring twice more on a 3-yard run and 31-yard pass from Grant Knight.
“The first quarter started out rough,” Rootstown head coach Chris Knopick said.
Rootstown (7-4) outscored the Golden Eagles 49-42 the rest of the way and was as close as 55-49 with a little under 7 minutes to play before Courtney put the game away with 2:22 on the clock on a 2-yard run that pushed the Eagles’ lead back out to two scores with very little time remaining.
Courtney was the story for United.
He rushed 20 times for 238 yards and five touchdowns. He also completed 14-of-21 passes for 316 yards and three more touchdowns in a truly dominating performance.
“Hats off to United, especially their quarterback (Luke Courtney), who made play after play to put the game out of reach,” Knopick said.
Rootstown senior running back rushed for 182 yards on 33 carries and scored on touchdown runs of 4, 3, 1 and 1 yard, respectively.
At quarterback for the Rovers, Ryan Piscitani completed 16-of-24 passes for 212 yards and threw a pair of touchdown passes — a 64-yard strike to Branden Bobbs (4 receptions, 91 yards) and a 24-yard score to Chris Cooper.
The Eagles, who improved to 9-2 on the season, amassed 657 yards of total offense against the Rovers, with 316 yards through the air and 341 yards on the ground. Rootstown had 443 yards of offense (231 rushing, 212 passing).
“We clawed our way back into the game in the second half with a quick passing game and (Cody) Coontz finally breaking down their defense,” Knopick said. “Ryan Piscitani stepped in and played excellent at QB and Cody had another outstanding night.
“Ultimately, I am extremely proud of the effort our kids showed tonight,” Knopick added. “We never quit, which has been our M.O. all year. I challenged them to put together four quarters they could be proud of and outside of a rough start, they fought with all they had. Life is about overcoming adversity and these young men did it at every turn hit year. I couldn’t be more proud to be their coach.”
With Friday’s totals, Coontz finished the 2022 season with 2,322 yards, which stands as the single-season record for Rootstown. The total pushes his career program-record total to 3,286.
The 2,322 yards for Coontz ranks as the sixth-best single-season rushing total in Portage County history.
Coontz came close to tying the single-season touchdown record for the Rovers. He finished with 30, which fell short of Caleb Kaut’s 34 touchdowns in 2017.
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