We arrived at Louisville stadium at 6:00 for tonight's game. The weather is perfect, and the field looks great. We exchanged pleasantries with Louisville Leopard head coach Paul Farrah. He tells me I can go on either sideline, wherever I want to go. Thanks, coach.
I have to go see Canton South head coach Elmer Schuetz. We chat for a while, talking about his players. He tells me he thinks senior lineman Chris Arick can play Division II college football, possibly at a school like Ashland. I'll keep my eye on Arick. I'm concentrating on two players from each team, Austin Power and Drew Kuhn of Louisville, both juniors, and sophomores J'Keem Waters and Devon Torrance of Canton South. At Ohio High magazine, as a contributor, I have Torrance as my highest rated player in the game. DeVon's younger brother DeVoe, a freshman, is also a highly rated player, but I'm not sure how much playing time he'll get tonight. Also, I have a list of 5-6 other players to evaluate from each team.
Louisville is honoring their initial class of hall of fame inductees during pregame. Chlebeck, Gladieux, Starkey, Kuhn, Steir and others are introduced. Wow, what a roster of talent this town has produced. Just before kickoff, I'm in the Wildcat locker room, waiting to hear Coach Schuetz deliver his pregame speech. Before Schuetz delivers his address, Wildcat senior Shawn Griffin talks to his team about how much this game means to him. He is passionate, emotional and direct, as he attempts to lead his team to victory. I'm impressed with his leadership skills, as it's easy to see his love for the game. Then Coach Schuetz takes over. He pauses, and the silence is evident before he begins to inspire his troops. He's calm and confident, as he stresses the points he wants his team to hear. Finally, it's time to take the field. How can you top Friday night football in Stark County?
I decide to watch the start of the game from the Wildcat sideline to see if Torrance can get loose against a great Leopard defense. Canton South is clearly the underdog in this game. In their history they have exactly one win over Louisville. The Wildcats are a young team, and I'm anxious to see how they respond, on the road, against this undefeated powerhouse. The first play, from their own 35, is a run by Torrance. By the time Louisville gets him stopped, he's all the way to the Leopard 10 a 55-yard run on the first play. Torrance's speed is evident. He's clearly the fastest player on the field, and one of the fastest in the state.
Louisville's defense stiffens, led by their great linebacking trio of Austin Power, Justyn Beadling and Brian Whaley. These three players are awesome, and they stop Louisville on downs. On fourth down, Leopard star Drew Kuhn (pictured left) breaks up a pass, and the Leopards take over. After a nice drive, Drew Kuhn, now at running back, scores on a 4-yard run. Man, this Kuhn is good.
After stopping the Wildcats, the Leopards throw deep, and Torrance makes a play on the ball on defense, tipping the ball in the air. Leopard wideout Cory Fausnight grabbed the ball out of the air and sprinted to the end zone, completing a 68 yard touchdown. The Leopards go for two, and Drew Kuhn, now at QB, runs it in, making it 14-0. It's the middle of the first quarter, and I've seen Kuhn play QB, WR, RB, and DB. I see him kicking off to the Wildcats, and now I'm wondering if there's anything this kid cannot do. I'm also wondering why we don't have Drew Kuhn in Ohio High magazine, as one of the top juniors in the state, which he clearly is. We missed this guy, but he'll be rated in the next issue.
I'm also continuing to marvel at the Leopard linebackers, especially Whaley, who's making a lot of plays. Wildcat senior Shawn Griffin continues to exhort his team, not letting them get down on themselves. I'm not sure where this kid fits in as a college player, but he's a warrior at LB and a coach on the field. I'll go to battle with this kid every day of the week. I don't know what his future plans are, but he has the ability to motivate, and I think he could be a great coach. As I'm wondering if the Wildcats will be able to run the ball, sophomore fullback J'Keem Waters is rumbling down the field, after initially being stopped in the backfield. Waters outruns the Louisville secondary on a 58 yard TD run. For a 225 pound man, Waters shows the speed I'm hoping to see. He ran a 4.7 forty yard dash this summer, and his combination of power and speed makes him a top player in the sophomore class.
Now it's 14-7, and neither team is moving the ball. Suddenly, with a minute left in the half, South fumbles deep in their own end. On third down, Griffin breaks up a pass keeping the Leopards off the board. On fourth down, Leopard QB Mark Gulling, a vastly underrated junior, hits Drew Kuhn, who else, with a perfect throw for another Leopard touchdown.
At halftime, Louisville leads 21-7, and I'm wondering if the Wildcats can stay in the game. I catch Leopard coach Farrah going into the dressing room, and he's obviously very happy with his team's play. At this point, I'm thinking the first five minutes of the third quarter will tell if this game becomes a blowout or if the Wildcats can claw back into it. As Canton South returns to the field, they appear to be confident, and I'm thinking coach Schuetz has his hands full trying to stay in the game. Of the players I'm watching, Kuhn has been spectacular, Powers is very steady, and I'm really impressed with Whaley. Torrance is playing great at defensive back, and has a 55 yard run, and Waters is a battering ram at fullback.
Midway through the third period, Canton South has to punt. After fielding the ball at midfield, Drew Kuhn takes the punt all the way for another Leopard touchdown, making it 27-7. Moments later, Justyn Beadling, one of the great Louisville linebackers, intercepts a Wildcat pass, and runs 25 yards for another Leopard score. Now, it's 34-7, and with six minutes to go in the third quarter, I'm thinking about where I'm going to eat after the game. On the Wildcat sideline, the team is still trying to stay positive, but I don't think they have a chance to get back into the game. Suddenly, Torrance is flying down the sidelines on a 48 yard gain, to the Leopard 6. J'Keem Waters powers the ball into the end zone, dragging Leopard defenders with him, cutting the lead to 34-13.
In the fourth quarter, after holding the Leopards, the Wildcats take over on their own 15 yard line. It takes Torrance about 11 seconds to go 85 yards, on a sweep, cutting the lead to 34-21. After Drew Kuhn dominated the first half, sophomore Devon Torrance is taking over the second half. Can they actually win this game? The Wildcats hold again, and suddenly it's QB Ronnie May hitting Torrance for 22 yards, then finding senior Nick Foster for a key first down, and throwing to Antwon Ervin deep in Leopard territory. I'm amazed at this comeback, and it's May finding Torrance, who else, in the end zone from 23 yards out, and now it's 34-28, with 3 minutes left. Can they do it?
Canton South attempts an onside kick, which they recover, but the officials correctly rule the Wildcats touched the ball before it traveled 10 yards, giving the ball back to the Leopards at midfield. With Brian Whaley sidelined with leg cramps, coach Farrah inserts star tailback Aaron Scott into the lineup. Scott, a senior, was not expected to play due to injury, but the game is on the line, and his team needs him, so he's out there. After a first down, and facing a certain loss, the Wildcats made a big play. Ronnie May caused a fumble, and junior Aaron Foote recovered the ball. The Canton South sideline was in an uproar, while it had grown silent on the Leopard side.
Amazingly, the Wildcats were one score from completing an unbelievable comeback, but in big moments, great players make great plays. As South tried to throw deep, Drew Kuhn made an adjustment on the ball, tipped it to Leopard Paul Aslanides for an interception, saving the game for the Leopards.
After the game, Coach Farrah congratulated his team on their victory, while Coach Schuetz tried to console his team. Both teams left everything they had on the field, and it was a great football game to watch. My last memory of the evening was seeing Shawn Griffin, sitting outside the locker room, his faced buried in his hands. He had given all he had to give, and his team had fallen short. I thought about what I might say to try to comfort Griffin, but I knew there was nothing that could erase the hurt he was feeling. Hopefully, Griffin and the Wildcats will look back on their performance and feel good that they did not quit when the odds were against them. For the Wildcats, I don't know when I've admired a team more, that would up on the short end of the score. For the Leopards, you put on a great show, and won with class and humility. I'm anticipating next week's matchup between Louisville and Northwest and wondering how they could top this game. For the Stark County football fans, understand how special it is to live in this area and experience these marvelous athletes, week after week. We are truly blessed to live in this football crazy area.