TALLMADGE: Tallmadge couldn’t corral athletic quarterback Darryl Richards and lost 26-23 to No. 8 seed Kenston in the Division II Region V quarterfinal Friday night at Tallmadge High School.
The Blue Devils, the No. 1 seed in the region, racked up 599 yards of total offense but turned the ball over six times (three lost fumbles, including one on the Bombers’ 2-yard line, three on downs) and allowed Kenston (7-4) to build a two-possession lead that couldn’t be overcome.
Tallmadge (8-3) survived a five-turnover performance in Week 9, when the Blue Devils overcame a brutal first half to come back and beat Wadsworth 19-14. But in the playoffs, the Blue Devils couldn’t beat the odds twice.
“We turned the ball over too much,” Tallmadge coach Joe Vassalotti said. “Here in the playoffs, everyone’s good. If you make enough mistakes, it’s going to come back to haunt you. Tonight, that’s what happened to us.”
Tallmadge’s defense played well early but couldn’t keep Richards, Kenston’s wide-receiver-turned-quarterback, from scrambling for first downs at opportune times. Richards ran for 217 yards and three touchdowns on 23 carries and passed for 86 yards and another score.
Richards gave Kenston a 19-10 lead early in the third quarter on a 10-yard touchdown keeper to cap a lightning-fast 65-yard drive in only 80 seconds. With 8:44 remaining in the game, Richards put Kenston ahead 26-16 on a 16-yard touchdown scramble, again weaving in and out of Tallmadge’s defense.
On the Blue Devils’ ensuing drive, senior quarterback Anthony Gotto began to experience leg cramps. Gotto, an athletic quarterback who normally relies on his legs, was barely able to walk and lost the ability to scramble out of the pocket. Gotto came out for only two plays after falling to the ground (he had to come out by rule).
Gotto wasn’t the same, only able to take a step or two after taking the snap out of the shotgun. He was twice sacked by Kenston senior lineman Ryan Snedeker for big losses.
Still, Gotto drove the Blue Devils onward. Tallmadge received the ball with 4:10 remaining at their own 20-yard line. Gotto was sacked on the first play but then hit senior Johnny Linn (73 yards rushing, 62 yards receiving) for 38 yards on a short screen pass. Two pass-interference calls brought Tallmadge to within the red zone, and Gotto found senior Bryon Cook (four catches, 38 yards) in the end zone with 1:57 left in the game.
Down 26-23, the Blue Devils nearly recovered the on-side kick but couldn’t come out with the ball after a scramble. Kenston forced Tallmadge to use its timeouts and gave it the ball with 1:35 left.
Gotto, still not able to move more than a few feet during each play, twice completed passes to senior Cordt Skraba and drove Tallmadge to Kenston’s 30-yard line. Gotto attempted a couple of passes into the end zone that fell incomplete and had the ball swiped from his hand as he was throwing on fourth down as time expired to end the game.
Still, Gotto’s drive to remain in the game impressed Vassalotti and those in attendance, who gave Gotto a standing ovation after the game. He finished the night 19-of-33 passing for 364 yards and two touchdowns to go along with 79 yards rushing.
“Anthony’s a warrior,” Vassalotti said. “He’s a tough kid. He battled.”
Ryan Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.