Late in the third quarter on Friday, host Northmor looked to be well on their way to the second round of the OHSAA Division VI football playoffs, leading Hillsdale 21-10 and driving deep into Falcon territory.
Thirteen minutes later and the Golden Knights and their fans were stunned after their opponents had battled back to topple them by a 25-21 margin, ending Northmor’s season at 9-2.
After a 15-yard run by Wyatt Reeder, Northmor had the ball on the Hillsdale 18 and looked to be on the verge of adding to their 11-point lead. However, that drive would stall after three rushing plays netted five yards and a fourth-down pass fell incomplete.
However, the Golden Knights immediately got the ball back on a Logan Randolph interception, taking possession on the Falcon 31 with 11:41 left in regulation.
The team couldn’t convert on that opportunity, though, as two short runs and two incomplete passes gave Hillsdale possession on their own 28, with over 10 minutes still on the clock.
“We had two drives in the second half that we didn’t finish,” said Golden Knight coach Scott Armrose after the game. “I wish I could go back and call some different plays. They made one more play than we did.”
For most of the game, other than three big plays, the Hillsdale offense struggled to move the ball. Unfortunately for Northmor, one of those big plays came immediately after they turned the ball over on downs for the second time. Running back Ethan Goodwin got the ball on a reverse and sprinted 73 yards for six points. The Falcons then got a successful two-point conversion run by quarterback Ty Williams and Northmor’s lead was trimmed to three points.
Things got surreal on the team’s next drive. It looked like Northmor would suffer a three-and-out, but their punt was muffed by the Hillsdale returner and both teams claimed possession during the ensuing scrum. After a lengthy huddle, the referees decided to re-do the play. Once again, Hillsdale couldn’t cleanly field the kick and, this time, Northmor definitely gained possession.
However, flags littered the field, negating that play. Northmor would wind up getting a first down when everything was sorted out, though, as one of those penalties was for an unsportsmanlike penalty on the Falcons.
With a new lease on life, Northmor got two runs by Reeder for nine yards, bringing the ball to their 35. The team struggled with the snap exchange on third down, though, losing about half a yard. With about seven minutes left in regulation, Northmor attempted to convert the short fourth down play, but a rush attempt was snuffed by the Falcons to give them the ball on the Golden Knight 34.
“We needed a yard and handed the ball to Reeder, who’s good at getting us a yard,” said Armrose. “We’d run outside a couple times on that drive and I thought we had it set up to go back inside, but I was wrong. It was a bad play call.”
Hillsdale made Northmor pay, running the ball seven straight times on a drive that ended with a four-yard touchdown by Briar Funk that gave the Falcons the lead.
Northmor had one more chance, but after Hunter Mariotti hit Reeder for 19 yards to put the ball near midfield, their drive stalled and ended on an interception, allowing the Falcons to run out the clock and end the Golden Knights’ season.
Until Hillsdale’s comeback, the story of the game was Northmor overcoming a slow start offensively to manufacture a double-digit lead. The Golden Knights went three-and-out on their first two possessions, as Hillsdale took a 3-0 lead through the first quarter of play.
Northmor would strike quickly in the second period, though, as Mariotti hit Blake Miller for a 66-yard scoring pass and Nate Ruhl added the extra point to give them a 7-3 lead with 10:51 remaining in the first half. Trenton Ramos would pick off a Williams’ pass to give Northmor the ball again, but they would also turn the ball over.
Hillsdale would then regain the lead with a halfback pass from Brock Hoverstock to Justin Ziegler that netted 75 yards and gave the Falcons a 10-7 lead with about seven minutes remaining in the second quarter.
After the teams traded punts, Northmor was able to get some momentum going into the half, as they went from their 38 to the Hillsdale end zone in 10 plays, with Mariotti connecting with Miller again, this time for a 14-yard scoring pass.
Leading 14-10 in the third quarter, Northmor got another Mariotti-to-Miller touchdown on their second drive, as the two hooked up for a 35-yard scoring play. They would then snuff a fake punt by Hillsdale to take possession on their opponents’ 43 and were able to move the ball into the red zone before their drive fizzled out to set the stage for the Falcons’ fourth-quarter comeback.
After the game, Armrose noted that he was proud of his team’s efforts throughout the year, especially crediting his senior class for leading the team through the adversity created by having All-Ohio running back Conor Becker out with injury for nearly the entire year.
“I told the seniors how much I love them,” he said. “The adversity they had to overcome early in the season. They won more games than any group in school history.”
A number of those seniors paced the team’s offense on Friday. Mariotti completed 12 passes for 198 yards, with Miller catching four balls for 142 yards and Gavin Ramos adding five catches for 33. Reeder contributed 121 rushing yards to pace the team’s ground attack.
The coach said that the efforts of that senior class have provided a great example for his younger players.
“We’re excited about the future here,” said Armrose. “They know what it takes to win and be successful.”
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS