The Press Newspaper
From that first moment, when the Orrville Red Riders plunged into the end-zone
after a clock-devouring six on the game's opening drive, to the young "Comet Crazies" going, well, crazy in the student section near the end zone, one could tell that all was not right for our beloved Genoa Comets in Ashland on November 14.
That the bountiful football feast that we'd all grown so fat together on for the past three months or so, to the tune of 600 points being served up by our offense, with only 31 being squandered by our defense, was about to be spoiled.
Here it was, the SLL's leading rusher (1,526 yards, 140 attempts), Genoa's touchdown machine (28) in senior fullback and Lake transfer Greg Hillabrand, getting stuffed at the line of scrimmage by the Red Rider defense. This is something no other defensive unit has been able to do in 26 games to the 5-foot-8, 213 pound Alan Miller Jewelers All-Press Player of the Year.
There was a tipped pass thrown by senior signal caller Matt Bassitt plucked out of the air by a Red Riders' defender at the ten minute mark of the third quarter to squash any type of momentum the Comets could've built by mounting a second-half opening drive. This, even though we saw the All-Press First Team quarterback throw for an SLL third-best 1,537 yards on 151 attempts (while completing 95), fire for 24 touchdowns, and notch a stratospheric 131 average quarterback rating in a dozen games.
It was the usually-shut-down secondary coverage a la "Mr. All-Ohio" cornerback Connor "the Heat-Seeking Missile" Wendt (a senior), rookie cornerback Brandon Roberts (a sophomore), and senior free safety Scottie Traver, aka "the Cerebral Assassin," getting broken apart like the proverbial wishbone on long, pretty touchdown darts from Orrville QB Joseph Besancon to his favorite, fleet-footed target in wide receiver Sam Miller.
Still, what this 36-35 loss in only the second round of the state playoffs in a year that our team was supposed to go all the way was also all about, is that we as "Comet Nation" should truly be thankful.
For it was a very special moment in which community's teenage boys went from being typical high school football players to bona fide Genoa gridiron legends. They matured into brave, young men, we could all be proud of.
These brave, young men could someday become our teachers and leaders — all 71 of whom enlightened us this fall.
There were plenty of Genoa highlights on November 14, too.
Let's see, here it was "the Human Bowling Ball" Hillabrand still rumbling and bulling his way to 172 yards on 29 carries for three scores, against perhaps the finest defense he's ever faced in his Hall-of-Fame-caliber, two-year Comet career.
It was Bassitt on defense picking off a crucial Besancon pass in the second half as an extra nickel back in on defense to get one back for the good guys. That helped change the tide of the Red Rider wave of scoring.
It was the SLL's second-leading scorer (26 touchdowns), the Comets' leading receiver (771 yards), and "Mr. All-Ohio" himself, Connor Wendt, snaking his way through the Orrville defensive backfield like a sidewinder, and exploding to the pylon like a heat-seeking missile on a 10-yard run, to keep the rally going.
It was 6-9, 235 pound "Big" Richard Wonnell from his defensive end position, stomping through overmatched Orrville blockers like he was Godzilla wading through Tokyo, on his way to harassing, and hurrying Besancon all night long, despite playing for most of the evening without his bookend defensive end, and twin "tower-of-terror" Jon Lester, who left the game early in the first half with a painful left arm injury.
As was it "Superman" Seth Dufendock, a junior, and the Comets' leading tackler from his linebacker position (45), who came in at halfback to really come through for G-Town on the ground (84 yards) once Orrville finally solved "GHilly," and as the team's brand-new emotional leader, all despite nursing a separated shoulder injury.
And who could forget Lester, "the Postman," who tossed aside his own ice-pack, and shrugged off his injury, to come into the game late on a crucial special teams stand, when he recovered a botched kickoff return in the Red Rider end-zone, to bring his team within one.
Sure, we still came up a little bit short, as Bassitt’s last-ditch pass fell safely to the turf. And who didn't feel for Hillabrand when No. 30 sunk to his knees, on that same terra firma, for not bringing home a state championship like he wanted.
The sun will rise high over G-Town once again, and chase these somber and heavy gray clouds away.
After all, how could it not all be so, when we have a good man like third-year head coach and three-time SLL champ "Iron" Mike Vicars and the rest of his Hall-of-Fame staff as architects of our future championship gridders?
For them, speaking as a Genoa High graduate and Comet fan, I am thankful.
As I am for all 71 players from this year's regional semi-final playoff team and the SLL champions of tomorrow, and the Comet greats of yesterday.
The dream is still very much alive.