Tigers lose 52-35 to Benedictine in Regional Semi-finals.
All summer long they heard people tell them they weren’t going to be any good. Throughout the early portion of the season, the critics quipped the seniors were simply bridging a gap until next year. Despite the naysayers, the Tigers never gave up on their season and proved the detractors wrong — all the way to the regional semifinals.
Chagrin Falls came up short of their ultimate goal to win a state championship, falling to Benedictine in the Div. IV, Region 11 Regional Semifinal, 52-35.
“All year long, we were considered the underdog,” said head coach Mark Iammarino. “We came out of it with a fifth straight CVC championship and a playoff victory. I’m really proud of these guys. I know it’s going to sting a little bit, but I told them don’t let it sting too long because they accomplished a whole lot while they were here.”
Benedictine (9-3) advances to face Youngstown Cardinal Mooney in the Regional Finals. With the victory, the Bengals improved to 5-0-1 all-time against Chagrin. The tie occurred in the very first meeting between the two programs in 1976.
Jumping out to an early lead Chagrin (9-3) had success moving the ball and keeping Benedictine on the field.
The Bengals though, scored 38 unanswered points to pull away from the Tigers and put the game out of reach.
Begnals junior linebacker/running back Jerome Baker , who is being recruited by all the major Div. I college, including Ohio State, played the type of game one would expect from a five-star recruit.
A wrecking ball on both sides of the field, Baker rushed for 252 yards and five TDs; he also gave a stellar defensive performance. His play was simply too much for the Tigers to handle.
“It really hasn’t hit me yet and probably won’t for a while,” senior Matt Iammarino said while fighting back tears. The youngest son of coach Mark Iammarino had spent so much of his life around Tiger football and now, it was suddenly over.
“I’ve been on the sidelines since I was 3 or 4. After 14 years of this, this was the last one. When it hits me, it’ll hit me hard. I’m so honored to have played for someone like my dad. To play for your dad is one of the greatest things.”
Trailing 7-0 after a 32-yard Baker touchdown, senior Ed Shelley continued his torrid field goal streak by connecting on two field goals, from 31 and 45 yards out.
From their own 22-yard line, the Bengals unsuccessfully attempted a fake punt with seconds left to go in the first quarter. Two plays later, the Tigers made them pay as QB Michael Brigeman hit senior wide receiver Lukas Sontic for a 16-yard touchdown to take a 13-7 lead.
The Bengals responded as Baker took a handoff, made a move toward the Benedictine sideline, and ran 80 yards for a touchdown to help give his team the lead back at 14-13.
Chagrin responded to Baker’s run with a 10-play scoring drive. Facing a 4th-and-goal from the Benedictine 1-yard line, coach Iammarino called a timeout to decide if they should kick a field goal or go for the TD.
Iammarino made the right call during the timeout, as Shelley took the fourth down handoff and ran nearside to the corner of the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown. The Tigers attempted the two-point conversion and Brigeman pitched the ball to Shelley, who made a diving, successful stretch toward the nearside pylon. The score gave Chagrin a 21-14 lead and what appeared to be a ton of momentum midway through the second quarter.
But Benedictine began a stretch of 38 unanswered points.
Baker added touchdown runs of 31, 8 and 32 yards. Fellow running back Dontez Rash added runs of 46 and 2 yards.
“We wanted to keep the ball,” Iammarino, or Coach I, said. “We felt if we could keep their offense off the field, we’d have a better chance at winning. We did that in the first half and gave up just three big plays. In the second half, we gave up big plays and it wore us down. Hats off to our kids and our coaches on a great season.
Trailing 52-21, Chagrin could have given up. The senior class was not about to let that happen though. Throughout the season, they challenged the underclassman to never give up, never give into adversity. This was the exact time to show them it was more than just talk. The Tigers added two touchdowns over the final five minutes of the game on Shelley runs of 14 and 12 yards.
“It’s personally rough for me to see my youngest son finish off (his career),” Iammarino said. “It’s tough for him. I’m proud of him though. I thought he played really well today when we were able to get him the ball. You always hate to see the season end with a loss, but that’s the nature of the beast and I told the kids that once you get in the playoffs, someone’s gonna win and someone’s gonna go home — that’s what it’s all about. I hope they let the disappointment and the frustration end once they get out of that locker room. They have an awful lot to be proud of this year.”
Chagrin Falls began the year with a win against Madison, a loss to NDCL, a win over Wooster and loss to Aurora. Following the 2-2 start, the Tigers won six straight CVC conference games to claim a share of their fifth consecutive conference title. Last week, Chagrin earned a hard-fought victory over Cleveland Central Catholic to advance to the regional semifinals.
For senior Michael Munday, the memory he’ll cherish about this season was overcoming adversity.
“That we could bounce back and come together from there and also come together as a community meant a lot to me,” Munday said. “This year was really important to us because a lot of people were really doubting us after we lost a big senior class last year. That’s another thing we can be proud of — we did the impossible and did what everybody said we couldn’t do and won our fourth CVC championship. That’s something they can never take away from us.”
The loss closes the book on a stellar run by the 12 seniors on the roster. Following the game, coach Iammarino took time to speak individually about all of his graduating seniors: Blake Eagle, Joey Carsarona, Iammarino, Munday, Shelley, Sontich, Sam Zdolshek, Will Czerr, Kurt Stueber, Hunter Adams, Alex Goebel, and Daniel Herbener.
Clearly, this senior class meant so much to their head coach. He spoke glowingly of the kids who were put into a difficult position. Some battled injuries, others were first-year starters, a few were veterans who rarely came off the field.
Several, the coach noted, had a 4.0 or higher gpa.
For a program known for long playoff runs through November, the loss shouldn’t deter what this senior class accomplished, Iammarino thought.
“When you think about it, there’s so many schools in the state of Ohio and this year, only seven get to go home as state champs,” he said. “For high school football, we’d love to be state champs, but that doesn’t define your program and doesn’t define your players. Of our 12 players, they’re all just tremendous in the classroom, excellent football players and I’d be happy to call any of them my son.”
“So many of us came together, even if all 12 of us weren’t best friends,” added Munday. “We came together as a group , a group of seniors, a group of leaders, and that just shows what teammates mean to you. They all mean the world to me and I can’t ask for better guys to be out here with.”
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