The Wolverines lose in overtime 29-28 as Poland converts the two-point conversion in the likely final game on Howell Field's field.
West Geauga’s 25 seniors thought Week 8 against Chagrin Falls could have been their very last game on the field that is Howell Field, a devastating 22-20 loss on a failed two-point conversion.
But the Wolverines beat Beachwood in Week 10, things fell into place, and the grass that has served West Geauga football players for more than 50 years hosted a home playoff game for the first time in 10.
Howell Field is known for its mud this time of the season, and the mud showed up like the Wolverines’ fans and parents, who bought 900 presale tickets during the week.
Snow flurries kept the maintenance crews off the field until 12:30, making the already-difficult preparations more difficult.
And with the Wolverines impending 29-28 loss, a West Geauga era ended; the field turf era will soon begin, almost certainly this summer.
A donation box reminded fans between the stands and the concessions.
In the first round of the Div. III, Region 7 playoffs, West G hosted Poland Seminary, a public school just outside of Youngstown, and jumped out to a 21-0 lead behind the arm and legs of Connor Krouse, with TD runs of 1, 38 and 1 yard.
Krouse led the county in TD’s this season.
But Poland scored with 49 seconds before halftime; a recovered onside kick led to another Bulldogs score; and the Wolverines’ 33 minutes of hard work had suddenly disappeared as a surprised team ran into the locker room.
Poland tied the game at 21 in the second half before the regulation clock ran out, sending the game into overtime.
When the Bulldogs deferred the toss, West Geauga promptly took a 28-21 lead with a Krouse TD pass to Joe Kijauskas.
Poland was penalized and failed on first and second downs, setting up a third and 13.
Then, with the West Geauga students and band starting the chant of “I believe — I believe that — I believe that we — I believe that we can win,” Poland converted on a pass from QB Dom Petrony, the Bulldogs’ offensive catalyst through the air.
When Ross Gould scored, the real drama began.
Varsity head coach Mark Brungard made the incredible call, the one that keeps coaches up at night. The Bulldogs went for a two-point conversion to win the game. A season and seniors’ careers all down to one play.
Gould scored easily off of right tackle, shocking everybody in attendance and stealing the game 29-28.
It was the third West Geauga lost this season by two points or less.
“There were a lot of big mistakes that would have been game-changers for us that we made,” said senior Tommy Snavely as he walked off the field. “But it happened.
“Playing West Geauga football has been everything to me,” he added. “There’s nothing I would change; I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Matt Manolio couldn’t believe it, shaking his head as he described the last four years of his life.
“We all devoted everything, all in on this team,” he said. “I love all these guys. It’s not the way we wanted to go out. These guys are my family.”
Manolio said the team played a great first half, but Poland responded well.
“We knew what was coming,” the senior lineman said. “It just came down to the wire there. Both of us were fighting there.”
Danny November was the heart and soul of the 2013 Wolverines. He played with that passion, and he looked the part, too. November last cut his hair his freshman year, said his mother, Adriana. Since then it’s only been trimmed. He now plans to donate it, she said.
“It was a heartbreaker,” she said. “It was a heartbreaker.”
This team meant the world to Danny, Adriana also said. The family even put off talking about college because football was all-consuming.
“He couldn’t wait to come home (to Howell Field) and play,” she said. “They played with everything they had. I just don’t know. It wasn’t in the stars. I wish we could go back another four years.”
The Wolverines give their post-game speeches in the privacy of their locker room. Outside that room, though, it was a mixture of solemnity and support, as one player after another exited into the crowd. Some players turned back; they weren’t ready yet.
Krouse, the senior who has endured some personal hardship, led the Wolverines on and off the field as a well-spoken and mature guide for his teammates.
He was the first from the locker room, hugging family, sobbing.
When he finally spoke, he held his mother’s hand.
“I love all these guys,” he said. “We all put our hearts on the line and coming down to the last play, it could have gone either way. But I still love these guys, and we all played our hearts out. We didn’t take a play off.
“I’m just so thankful this is my team, and I’m fortunate. This community support is awesome. And I just … you know, I’ll miss it next year a lot, but this team went through a lot this year. I’m glad we taught the younger kids how to work, and West G football is in my blood now. I bleed blue and white, and I’ll miss all these guys.”
Sophomore Carmen Engoglia credited Krouse and the seniors for everything.
“Without them I’d be nowhere,” he said. “I was a pretty immature guy at the start of the season, but I felt like one of the seniors at the end.”
Junior Abdul Levy also carried the burden on offense at RB. Though he fought off injury all season, he ended with long runs in the second half.
“We did all we could do, we tried,” Levy said. “It just came down to a play that didn’t go our way.”
Levy added: “Connor Krouse taught me how to lead. When we needed a play, he stepped up, and that’s what a senior should do. That’s what I’m going to do next year, hopefully.”
Head coach Lou Cirino, now in his fourth season leading his alma mater, stayed behind in the locker room. The Wolverines finish the season 7-4.
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