Rockets Offense Fails to Launch Against Chardon
November 11, 2021 by Matt Jaworski

The Hilltoppers pounded Streetsboro 63-7 in the second round of the Division III, Region 9 high school football playoffs.

Click here for game photos.

The Hilltoppers pounded Streetsboro 63-7 in the second round of the Division III, Region 9 high school football playoffs.

On paper, the Rockets had a prolific offense.

Streetsboro, like nearly every other team on the Toppers schedule, found out Chardon’s defense is one of the best in the state, capable of making any offense look bad.

It was the case on Friday night at Chardon Memorial Stadium, with the seniors playing their final home game of the year in front of packed home bleachers.

“This senior class is as motivated as any class I’ve ever seen,” said Chardon head coach Mitch Hewitt.

According to Hewitt, the seniors played with a chip on their shoulder because they felt disrespected.

“They kept hearing they weren’t going to be able to compete, they weren’t going to be as good as last year. They channeled that into a really nice season,” he added.

Before the game, Hewitt told the senior it was the last time they would ever have a meeting in the home locker room and the lights won’t be on for a meaningful Friday night game until 2022.

The seniors took it to heart, and then took it to the Rockets.

Early on in the game, the fans were loud, providing energy as the Toppers defended The Hill one final time.

“It’s nice having the fans back this year and the atmosphere back,” Hewitt said.

The Rockets opened the game with the ball and slowly began to move the ball downfield chewing up nearly six minutes on the clock and converting on two fourth downs.

The third time was the charm for the Hilltoppers defense, who forced a turnover on downs to get the ball on their own 38-yard line.

The Hilltoppers quickly moved down the field and capitalized when sophomore A.J. Bruce ran it in from 19 yards out.

Up 14-0 following an Alex Henry touchdown, five seconds into the second quarter, the Chardon special teams made their mark on the game.

Senior Rocco Perrico blocked a punt and less than a minute later, senior Ryan Petersen cashed it in to increase the lead to 21-0.

“It was a low snap and I jumped and it was there,” said Perrico of the blocked punt. “It was a huge momentum swing.”

The ensuring kickoff was a drop kick picked up by sophomore Will Francis and 23 seconds later, senior Sean Carr ripped off a 19-yard touchdown run.

Things went from bad to worse for Streetsboro, as the Rockets fumbled the ball on the return.

Junior quarterback Alex Henry found paydirt on the next play with a 26-yard touchdown run. The score made it 35-0

“It’s a third of the game,” Hewitt said about his team’s special teams play. “Coach Landies put that drop kick in to recover. It’s film study, knowing your opponent, believing in your kids and putting them in a position to make plays.”

“It was huge of them to make those plays,” said senior Nathiel Sulka. “They’ve been waiting their time to get minutes. I’m proud of them.”

Thanks to the special teams play, the multidimensional Rocket offense was in trouble. Any chance they had to get back into the game would be through the air.

“If you make a team one-dimensional, they’re easier to defend,” said senior defensive lineman Michael Washington.

“That series of special teams play demoralized them,” he added.

The Toppers were not done though.

Chardon added a 19-yard touchdown run by Carr and a 10 touchdown run by Henry to make it 49-0 a minute before halftime.

In the span of one quarter, the Hilltoppers turned a close game into a blowout with a 42-point quarter.

In the second half, touchdown runs by Zoran Vujiklija and Charlie Clark capped the scoring.

“Our schedule has prepared us for these moments,” said Hewitt. “That’s a weight room victory.”

When the dust had settled, Chardon racked up 526 yards of total offense – their biggest output of the season – with 480 coming via the run game.

Lost among the gaudy stats was a great deep ball thrown by Henry to Sulka.

Throughout the season, the duo has worked to get in sync. With the running game beginning to pile up some big numbers, Sulka and his fellow receivers stand to benefit.

“He’s starting to find me,” said Sulka.

The Rockets could only muster 123 yards, including 89 on the ground.

Streetsboro came into the contest having scored at least 40 points in 80 percent of their games.

Chardon’s defense was not impressed.

“My mindset was that if we contain eight, they won’t be able to move the ball on us,” said Washington. “That first drive they started to move the ball, but we buckled down and we got them.”

Chardon picked up 24 first downs and limited Streetsboro to 7 first downs.

Henry finished the night with 132 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns. He also threw for 46 yards.

Carr added 116 yards and two scores, while Fay chipped in with 103 yards – all in the third quarter.

For the seniors, the game could not have turned out better.

“It’s sad for us as seniors to play our final game here,” said Perrico.

The good news for the seniors is they have at least one more game to play.

The Hilltoppers will face Canfield on Friday night in Girard, with the winner advancing to the Division III, Region 9 regional finals.

“Next week is gonna be a fistfight,” Hewitt said of the week 13 matchup with Canfield. “Two similar programs, similar kids who were raised in the weightroom. It’ll be a lot of collisions for sure.”