August Fagerstrom

MOGADORE: Coming off a perfect 10-0 regular season, there were high hopes for Mogadore heading into the season opener Friday at home against Norton.

When the Panthers (0-1) scored on a 78-yard touchdown run by senior running back Jake Fling on their second play from scrimmage and Wildcats running back Brandon Berry fumbled two of his first four carries, it’s safe to say Mogadore was not living up to those high expectations.

Berry didn’t let his two early turnovers get him down. He went on to rush for a school-record 316 yards to go along with three touchdowns in the Wildcats’ 49-34 Portage Trail Conference victory.

“I sat him next to me for a little bit of a series but Brandon’s got to stay in there and keep battling for us,” Mogadore coach Matt Adorni said. “He didn’t pout when I sat him on the bench. He came out and ran harder after that.”

Berry appreciated the support.

“My coaches and teammates just told me to shake it off and get the momentum going,” Berry said. “I couldn’t let down my team.”

On the ensuing kickoff after the Panthers’ first touchdown, Mogadore returned the kick 44 yards and had only the kicker, Sean Rutherford, to beat, but he made the tackle.

Rutherford was also the one to recover Berry’s first fumble, and the momentum seemed to be heavily in the Panthers’ favor early.

“We didn’t panic,” Adorni said. “We haven’t been down in a while, but our kids did a great job staying focused. It took me a while to figure out some things we could do offensively and I think when we started throwing a little bit it loosened them up.”

Wildcats senior quarterback Anthony Ricci completed a 19-yard touchdown pass to sophomore running back Nathan Alexander near the end of the first quarter to tie the score at 7-7.

Fling and Alexander traded running touchdowns to make the score 14-14 in the second quarter before Berry scored his first touchdown on a 15-yard run with 1:40 before the half.

Senior quarterback Brandon Cuda and the Panthers offense then put together a great two-minute drill, driving 60 yards in 10 plays capped off by a 1-yard touchdown run by Cole Edgell. However, Rutherford missed the extra point and the Panthers trailed 21-20 at the half.

The Wildcats came out a different team in the second half, putting together a 10-play, 4:54 drive that ended with a 16-yard Berry touchdown run, and then forcing a three-and-out against a Panthers offense they had trouble containing in the first half.

The game seemed like one where the first team that made a big stop would take over the momentum, and that stop served as the turning point.

Berry broke a 43-yard touchdown run to put the Wildcats ahead 35-20, and the game looked like it was about over.

The Panthers still found some fight in them, though, as they recovered their third fumble of the game on their own 24. Fling then broke a 76-yard touchdown run that would have cut the deficit to one score, but it was called back on about as deflating of a chop block penalty as there could be.

Fling finished with 248 yards and four touchdowns on 13 carries.

“We’ve got to do a better job defensively,” Adorni said. “That was supposed to be one of our strengths coming in, but they have a darn good running back. We knew they were going to be one of the toughest games we played this year.”