When a high school football team averages 37 points per game, its defense can sometimes get overlooked.
Mogadore's 'D' has played second-fiddle for most of the 2018 regular season, but took over the lead role in Friday night's postseason opener. The top-seeded Wildcats (10-1) forced five turnovers, which were all turned into touchdowns that buried the No. 8 seed Raiders (7-4) 35-0 in their Division VI regional opener held at Portage Community Bank Stadium in Ravenna.
A Wildcats defense that has been vulnerable at times this fall, giving up over 30 points on four occasions, posted its first shutout of the season against a Columbia squad that had scored 146 points in its last three outings.
“Super proud of our defense. I love the way that they stepped up tonight and got after the ball,” said Mogadore coach Matt Adorni. “They were tested in some games this year. We haven't really blanked anybody, and what a time to pitch a shutout against a team that had the ability to put some serious points on the board.”
Mogadore moves on to the regional semifinals against No. 5 seed McDonald (11-0), which topped No. 4 seed Rootstown 46-20. The game will be played next Friday, with the site announced on Sunday.
Adorni became the winningest coach in Mogadore football history, earning his 151st victory in season No. 15 to pass legendary Wildcats mentor Norm Lingle.
“It is special, and someday I'll look back and be happy about that. But right now, in the moment, it's all about advancing,” said Adorni.
Earlier this week Adorni made a difficult decision to move the game to Ravenna due to the poor field conditions at Mogadore's grass field. Defending star Raiders senior running back Brandon Coleman, who rushed for nearly 1,600 yards during the regular season, on turf rather than grass seemed to be an even more difficult challenge.
“It was a tough thing for the seniors to swallow, moving a (home) game. I don't think I was a real popular guy in town on Tuesday when we decided this,” said Adorni. “I told our kids I'd never put them in a position we didn't think they could handle. We thought this was the right thing for everybody involved. It actually looked like a football game. I'm afraid it wouldn't have in our stadium.”
Coleman wound up with the toughest 109 yards he's ever gained on 24 carries. He broke a couple runs after the contest was in hand, but was never able to get into any rhythm.
“Some people said, 'Hey, you're putting a big rusher on turf.' But we felt confident that this would help our guys too, to get off blocks and move around,” said Adorni. “We didn't let him get too many momentum runs in a row. That 's what he was really good at. (Senior linebacker) Gavin Christy was excellent, (junior cornerback Dylan) Jones was good, (senior lineman Logan) Penix ... really it was a great team effort. Guys stayed in their lanes and didn't let him cut back.”
Mogadore actually committed the game's first miscue, a fumble that Columbia recovered at its 46-yard line. But senior linebacker Devon Pritts returned the favor by intercepting a screen pass and returning it to the Raiders 23.
After junior Nathan Stephenson converted a fourth-and-nine by catching a short pass and getting the final few yards all on his own, Penix scored from a yard out to give the Wildcats a 7-0 lead.
On the first play of the second quarter senior linebacker Armondo Chesley picked off a pass, and on the play after that senior quarterback Luke Rosato tossed a 26-yard scoring strike to senior Kyle Coffman to put Mogadore up 14-0.
Senior defensive back Eli Robertson recovered a fumble on the Raiders' next possession. This time Christy made it hurt by scoring on an 18-yard run to push the lead to 21-0 at intermission.
Columbia committed a turnover to start the second half when the ball was knocked free from senior quarterback Jared Bycznski on an option run. Rosato and Robertson then hooked up for an 18-yard score that gave the Wildcats a four-touchdown cushion.
Turnover No. 5, a fourth-and-long fumble by Coleman, led to a 1-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter by Chesley that ended what little doubt remained.
Mogadore's offense was the epitome of opportunistic, going five-for-five turning turnovers into touchdowns. Rosato completed 8-of-10 passes for 107 yards, Coffman caught four passes for 58 yards, and Christy led the Mogadore ground attack with 94 yards on 19 carries.
“These kids played so hard for us. I'm really proud of the effort they gave,” said Adorni. “It's not the biggest or fastest team we've had, but these guys fly around and play hard, like they're coached.”