STOW: For as wild of a game as Stow’s 16-15 Division I regional quarterfinal victory over Elyria was, it only makes sense that a reversed call on a shanked punt turned out to be the turning point of the game on Saturday night at Stow.
The visiting Pioneers, leading 15-9 with a little under seven minutes remaining in the game, were punting from their own 24-yard line on fourth-and-9.
The punt was shanked high in the air and landed near a large group of players. Bulldogs sophomore Jakob Madgar appeared to touch the ball, and the Pioneers were given possession. However, the referees convened and overruled the original call, saying that a Pioneers player pushed Madgar into the ball.
On the next play, Bulldogs wide receiver Jake Flinn made an incredible diving catch in the end zone, falling backward with two defenders on him to haul in the 37-yard, go-ahead touchdown pass from quarterback Andrew Wargo.
“Jake’s been so dependable this year,” Stow coach Mark Nori said. “Every time we need a big play or the ball’s around him he seems to cradle it in.”
The crowd was treated to an equally electric first half that featured three interceptions, two touchdowns, two field goals, two fumbles, a fake punt, a halfback pass, a blocked extra point and a 59-yard kickoff return.
Brian Groves started things off for Stow by returning the opening kickoff nearly into opposing territory, but fumbled into Elyria hands.
However, Groves quickly made his teammates forget about his fumble with a sack and interception on consecutive plays.
“You’ve just got to have a short-term memory,” Groves said. “My teammates came out, picked me up and encouraged me. And I just made up for it after it.”
Five plays later, Wargo hit Jonte Pooler with a 30-yard touchdown pass to put the Bulldogs ahead 7-0.
The Pioneers wasted no time in answering the score when Jacob Csizmadia made a terrific over-the-shoulder catch on a 34-yard lob from Hunter Parsh on the ensuing drive.
The extra-point attempt was blocked by Pooler to maintain a one-point lead that ended up potentially saving the game from overtime.
“Every point counts. If you can grab one off of an extra-point block or wherever you can grab one you’ve got to do it,” Nori said.
The Pioneers (7-4) had to settle for a 23-yard field goal by Josh Lewis after a long drive to take a 9-7 lead, but the Bulldogs (10-1) quickly erased it with 37-yard field goal of their own by Garrett Rigby that sent them into the locker room with a 10-9 halftime lead.
Jumarr Lewis punched in a 1-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter to give the lead back to the Pioneers, who opted to go for a 2-point conversion that would have put them ahead by seven instead of taking the extra point. The pass attempt failed, and again the importance of one point was evident in the final score.
The win was Stow’s first playoff victory since 1988. The seventh-seeded Bulldogs, making their first playoff appearance since 1995, move on to face second-seeded Mentor at a neutral site next week.
“You take your night and relish in the win a little bit, but its back to work tomorrow,” Nori said. “We can’t make mistakes against a team like Mentor. If we make the same mistakes we made tonight, it will be a long night for us.”