Chardon Tops Akron East in 1st Round of Playoffs
November 5, 2021 by Matt Jaworski

23-game win streak is a new school record

Chardon advanced to the second round of the playoffs after handily defeating Akron East 38-7 in the first round of the Div. III Region 9 playoffs.

Game photos click here.

Chardon advanced to the second round of the playoffs after handily defeating Akron East 38-7 in the first round of the Div. III Region 9 playoffs.

The Dragons proved to be better than a 16 seed, but could only muster one touchdown — on their first possession of the game — an 11-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Justin Cox to senior wideout Eric Holley, a Boston College recruit.

The early score by East put Chardon in unfamiliar territory. The Toppers had not trailed in a game since the third quarter of their week one game against Glenville.

For some teams, this might be looked at as adversity and cause them to play tighter. Chardon however, is not most teams.

“There was no talk on our sidelines,” said Chardon coach Mitch Hewitt about going down early. “This is a football team that has been through a lot and has seen a lot of good football played. At this point, you do not get to 10-0 and start doubting after one score. You trust in your kids and your system.”

“We haven’t faced adversity a lot this season, so it was good for us because we’re not going to roll every team we play,” said senior tight end and defensive lineman Alex McDonald.

After giving up the score, the defending state champions simply marched down the field and tied the game up.

On their next possession, East marched down the field and appeared set to retake the lead. However, sophomore defensive back Leo Colombi picked off Cox in the endzone and returned it to the Chardon 41-yardline.

Chardon moved the ball down into the redzone, but stalled out short of the endzone.

Nathan Tager, the senior kicker, connected on a 23-yard field goal attempt to give Chardon a lead they would not relinquish.

Following a kickoff return to the Chardon 44, the Topper defense buckled down and got a turnover on down.

The stop was key, as junior quarterback Alex Henry connected with senior running back Trey Liebhardt for a 53-yard touchdown pass to give the Toppers a 10-point lead with 1:42 to go before halftime.

“I went out on an arrow and as soon as I saw the guy come up and I knew I had him,” said Liebhardt. “Henry threw me a great ball and I scored.”

Liebhardt, who had a great game in week 1, has been sparingly used on offense this year, due in large part to his value on the defense. However, when he is in the game, he has the ability to make big plays. While he is not the tallest receiver, he has developed some good chemistry with Henry.

“He’s like my best friend,” said Liebhardt. “We played catch freshman year and we play catch every day after practice.”

Hewitt called Henry’s performance his best all-around game of the year. Henry ran for only 42 yards, but threw for 142 and two touchdowns.

East, who would receive the ball to start the third quarter, tried to mount a late drive instead of running out the clock at the end of the first half.

The decision proved costly, as Cox attempted to avoid a sack by throwing the ball toward the line of scrimmage. Senior linebacker Heath Fetchik saw Cox throw all the ball and dove toward it, intercepting the throw before it hit the ground.

“The play was flowing that way and I was working over there” said Fetchik. “I’m not sure who on the defensive line was getting to him, but he got it off and I saw it and dove and made the catch.

“I wasn’t expecting him to throw the ball, so I was shocked,” he added.

Chardon appeared poised to find the endzone again following the pick, but settled for Tager’s second field goal of the night, this one from 24 yards out, as the clock struck zero.

With less than two minutes to go in the half, the Toppers turned a three point lead into a 20-7 advantage.

Fetchik credited the turnaround to his team’s composure.

“When you keep your composure, stuff like that can happen,” he said. “It changed the momentum of the game.”

Early in the third, the Hilltoppers put together a quick drive capped off by McDonald’s score. After catching the short pass from Henry, the Youngstown State recruit rumbled into the endzone for his first touchdown catch of the year.

“I heard the play called and got real excited because I thought they were finally going to throw me the ball,” he said. “I was wide open because their safety was coming down all night. The only thing I was worried about getting hit by that defensive end off the line.”

“He’s an all-time Hilltopper and that’s a powerful statement to say,” Hewitt said about McDonald. “I’m extremely proud of him.”

A successful two-point conversion made the score 28-7 and Chardon was in full control.

Tager’s third field goal of the night with 1:11 to play in the third quarter upped the score to 31-7.

The final score of the night, which started the running clock, came from senior quarterback Zoran Vujakilja, who ran it in from five yards out.

Chardon finished the night with 337 yards of total offense, including 195 on the ground and 142 through the air.

On a night when the offense left some points on the board, McDonald said the Toppers offense played against one of the most physical defensive lines they have seen all year.

That being said, the physical play of Chardon bothered the Dragons, as they were called for a number of penalties all night.

“It helps a bunch when you pick up a first down and don’t have to run a play,” McDonald added.

“Our team plays physical and as the game went on, and they got worn out,” Fetchik said.

East was able to pick up yardage throughout the night, but for the most part, could not put points on the board. The Dragons totaled 319 total yards of offense, with 165 coming from the running game.

Freshman running back Zaire Stevens accounted for 126 rushing yards and ripped off a number of big runs throughout the game.

As much as the state is trying to make a lot of money off of 16 teams, that’s the reason16 teams deserve to be in it,” said Hewitt. “That’s not a 16 seed team. That’s a really talented football team that I would put somewhere in the top eight.”

With the win, Chardon will host Streetsboro in the sectional quarterfinals. This will be Chardon’s final home game of the year at Chardon Memorial Field, as any games played after week 12 will be played at a neutral site.