Chardon Survives Test from Geneva, Advances in Playoffs
November 9, 2023

The Hilltoppers overcame sloppy play and mistakes to pull away from Geneva in the second half Nov. 3 and pick up a 28-14 victory in the second round of the Division III Region 9 playoffs.

Game photos click here.

The Hilltoppers overcame sloppy play and mistakes to pull away from Geneva in the second half Nov. 3 and pick up a 28-14 victory in the second round of the Division III Region 9 playoffs.

With the win, Chardon (9-3) advances to play Aurora (11-1) in the regional semifinals Nov. 10 at Jerome T. Osborn Stadium in Mentor.

Geneva (10-2) proved to be a tough test for the Toppers, as former Chardon assistant coach Chip Sorber installed Chardon’s Wing-T offense at Geneva when he was head coach. Sorber also brought a change of attitude and toughness to a program that was struggling. Current Geneva Head Coach Don Shymske kept the offense and took the program to the next level.

“That’s a good football team who battled,” said Chardon Head Coach Mitch Hewitt of the Eagles. “They are all heart and guts. They’re the number two-seeded team in Region 9 for a reason, and 10-1 for a reason.”

The Hilltoppers struggled to face a team that ran a similar offense and used much of the same vernacular on both sides of the ball.

“They know our offense, and we know their offense, so it was a great defensive battle,” said Chardon junior halfback/cornerback Caleb Hewitt.

On a night full of mistakes, it was a call to “go for it” by Shymske on fourth down and one from the Geneva 31-yard line that proved costly when the Hilltoppers got the stop.

The turnover on downs led to the game’s first score, as Caleb Hewitt caught a screen on the near side and appeared to be bottled up. However, Hewitt made a video game-like play and reversed field to the far side, out-racing the Eagles defenders 34-yards to the end zone.

“We were supposed to block 15 (Donald Shymske), and I went out there and made a move on him,” Caleb Hewitt said. “He played it great and I saw an alley, flipped it around and scored.”

“It was fun,” he said of the highlight reel score.

Caleb’s dad/coach thought the move was impressive.

“He’s a talented kid, and his mom’s pretty talented, so he gets most of his genes from her,” the coach said of his son. “I’m real hard on him, and I’m proud of him.”

Midway through the second quarter, Geneva tied the game as sophomore fullback Bryce Peet hauled in a four-yard touchdown pass to tie the game.

Chardon had an opportunity to take the lead about four minutes before halftime, when senior defensive back Braden Maruna intercepted Eagles quarterback Kenny Young at midfield. The Toppers, though, could not capitalize on the turnover, and the teams entered halftime tied 7-7.

For Chardon, it had been a rough half.

“They were really finding the ball, but we weren’t communicating with each other, and that comes back to me,” said senior offensive lineman Logan Bryant.

Prior to going into the locker room at halftime, Coach Hewitt kept the team on the field and addressed his squad. It was a move similar to what he did in Week 5, when Chardon played at Bishop Watterson.

“We were sloppy,” said the coach, who explained that Chardon made no adjustments at halftime. “We lost the line of scrimmage against people playing both ways and it’s unacceptable. I don’t know if l led them astray this week or failed to prepare them for what we thought would be a physically tough football game. I’ve got to do a better job.”

So what did the coach say at halftime?

“He told us relax,” according to Caleb Hewitt.

After taking the kickoff to start the third quarter, the Hilltoppers needed only three plays to score.

The second half opening drive by the Toppers proved to be one of the best executed plays of the night for Chardon and ended with a 39-yard touchdown run by Hewitt on a jet sweep.

“We had a rough first half,” Caleb Hewitt said. “They hit us in the mouth, and coming out, we needed to score.”

“Momentum in football is everything,” Bryant said. “Getting that momentum coming out of the half really pushed things in our favor.”

Hewitt would go on to finish the night with 66 rushing yards and one touchdown. He also caught three passes for 59 yards and one score.

Up by a score, Chardon was not done.

Senior linebacker Austin Green picked off Young on the Geneva 26 yard line and gave the offense prime field position.

Unfortunately for Chardon, penalties pushed the ball back toward midfield, and the Toppers were forced to punt.

Leading 14-7, the Hilltoppers gained some scoreboard separation early in the fourth quarter when junior fullback Vinny Colombi burst into the end zone for a five-yard touchdown run to push the score to 21-7.

The score was set up by a big catch by senior Leo Colombi from senior quarterback Will Francis.

“It was an incredible play,” said Coach Hewitt of the catch by Colombi.

For his part, Colombi lamented all the missed open passing routes.

“We’re still leaving routes open and missing things,” he said. “We’ve got to get better.”

Roughly four minutes later, Geneva responded with a methodical drive down the field that ended with a three-yard score by halfback Hayden Diemer.

As was the case for most of the second half, penalties proved problematic for the Toppers.

“It’s brutal,” Coach Hewitt said. “It seems that we sort of kicked that habit, but tonight that was not the case. We’re going to lose if we do that next week.”

Added Caleb Hewitt: “We’ve got to clean it up right now. Sweet 16, we can’t have that.”

Senior halfback AJ Bruce countered the Diemer score with one of his own, as Bruce ripped off a 39-yard touchdown to end the scoring at 28-14.

The Hilltoppers finished the night with 293 total yards of offense — most of those coming in the second half. Chardon rushed for 202 yards and passed for 91 yards. The team also committed 13 penalties for 155 yards.

Bruce led all runners with 83 yards and a touchdown.

Geneva was held to 201 yards of total offense — 100 on the ground and 101 in the air. The team turned the ball over three times and committed nine penalties for 75 yards.

While the quality of play displayed in the win was lacking, the victory kept Chardon’s hopes of a state title alive.

“We’ve got to get better and clean things up,” Coach Hewitt said.

One of Chardon’s keys in winning this game was its experience in overcoming adversity throughout the season.

For Bryant, parts of the game made him think back to the 14-10 Week 5 loss to Bishop Watterson.

“When things aren’t going your way, you think back on those other games where the same things happened,” he said. “Adversity is like a wake-up call. You have to get your butt in gear and go.”

Up next for Chardon is the Aurora, which earned the third seed in Region 9 and suffered its only loss of the season, 31-14, in Week 2 to Riverside.

The Hilltoppers last played Aurora in 2019 in the Division III Region 9 Regional Finals.

In that contest, Chardon led at halftime, but could not hold off the Greenmen. It was a loss that helped fuel Chardon’s 2020 state championship run.

Once again, the Greenmen stand between Chardon and a shot at the title.

“Aurora is a great team,” Bryant said, “and the game will be a struggle.”