The Chardon Hilltoppers defeated the Ursuline Fighting Irish 36-27 on Sept. 3 at Chardon Memorial Field. The game was a tale of two halves for the Hilltoppers.
The Chardon Hilltoppers defeated the Ursuline Fighting Irish 36-27 on Sept. 3 at Chardon Memorial Field. The game was a tale of two halves for the Hilltoppers. Chardon, in control of the first half, led 33-13 at the end of the second quarter, but Ursuline roared back after halftime, battling to within six points of the Hilltoppers before simply running out of time.
Chardon received the opening kickoff and showed its dominance early.
Sophomore Andrew Bruce returned the kick to Ursuline’s 20-yard line. A few plays later, junior quarterback Alex Henry rushed across the goal line for Chardon’s first touchdown of the game, giving his team a 7-0 lead less than one minute in.
Chardon did not slow down. After quickly stopping Ursuline’s first offensive drive, Henry ran for another touchdown to extend the Hilltoppers lead to 13-0.
Chardon’s offense was unstoppable in the first quarter. Henry credits that to preparation.
“I felt like, as coach was saying every single day this week, we’ve got to come out hard,” Henry said. “I feel like we came out hard, and they were not expecting that.”
Henry was the star of Chardon’s offense early in the game. The Hilltoppers quarterback scored three rushing touchdowns in the first quarter. Chardon head coach Mitch Hewitt is encouraged by what he is seeing from his young quarterback.
“He’s just a pup,” Hewitt said. “He’s a kid who’s only got three starts under his belt against three really good teams, so he’s only going to get better. The sky’s the limit for him.”
While Henry was adding to the Hilltoppers lead on offense, Chardon’s defense had playmakers stepping up as well. In the middle of the first quarter, after Henry had scored his second touchdown, Chardon quenched another Ursuline drive by way of an interception from senior linebacker Ryan Petersen.
Petersen’s interception set the Hilltoppers up with great field position and ultimately led to a touchdown run by senior fullback Sean Carr.
Petersen was prepared for the moment when the ball was thrown his way.
“We were going over film all week, and we saw that whenever they run that bunch formation I need to line up, head-up on it, and get through on it,” Petersen said. “So I just saw it, I got through it, and then I got the (interception).”
With a mix of powerful offense and highlight plays on defense, Chardon entered halftime with a 20-point lead over Ursuline.
The first half was a surprise for the Hilltoppers. Ursuline had scored 112 points in two games before its matchup with Chardon. Game preparation led Hewitt to believe that his team may have found itself in a halftime deficit against the Fighting Irish, but that was not the case.
“I think I ill-prepared them for that type of first half,” Hewitt said of his team. “You try to visualize being down, you try to visualize adversity, and it was a unique way of seeing momentum change at the end of the first half that I had failed to prepare them for.”
Ursuline struggled in the first half while Chardon shined. But those roles were reversed at the start of the third quarter.
Early in the second half, Marc Manning ran in a touchdown for the Fighting Irish to cut Chardon’s lead to 33-20. Ursuline quickly found the end zone again with running back Demarcus McElroy to cut the Hilltoppers lead to 33-27 entering the fourth.
Henry believes his team let its guard down in the second half.
“Honestly, we were up (33-13) at halftime and we were all laughing on the sideline,” Henry said. “That cannot happen.”
The fourth quarter was a battle between the high-flying offense of Ursuline and the gritty defense of Chardon. With their speed and size, the Fighting Irish continued to move the ball down the field. But in key moments, the Hilltoppers defense stepped up.
Midway through the quarter, Chardon senior Michael Washington had a sack that forced a fourth-and-long for Ursuline that they could not convert. Later in the quarter, junior Trey Leibhardt and sophomore Leo Colombi both had crucial interceptions for the Hilltoppers.
Chardon’s biggest play of the fourth quarter came on special teams. After the Hilltoppers offense was stopped by Ursuline, the Hilltoppers put faith in their kicker, Nathan Tager. With momentum still in the hands of Ursuline, Tager stepped up and calmly nailed a 39-yard field goal to extend Chardon’s lead to 36-27.
Hewitt was impressed with the poise of his kicker.
“It was huge,” Hewitt said of Tager’s kick. “It was a big field goal no matter what the circumstances.”
When big plays were needed, the Hilltoppers found a way to get the job done. Chardon stopped Ursuline’s second-half surge and walked away with a 36-27 victory.
Camaraderie saved the Hilltoppers when adversity struck, Petersen said.
“We just came together. It’s a brotherhood,” Petersen said. “We’ve been playing with each other all our lives…this is what we do. We just came together, we put our feet in the ground. This is our home field, first game back. We couldn’t let it slip away.”
Chardon was unsure if it would play at Memorial Field in Week 3 due to delays in the replacement of the field turf.
With the win, Chardon improved to 3-0 and is set to play Riverside at home this Friday.