Toppers Claim 2nd Straight Regional Crown
November 24, 2021 by Matt Jaworski

Chardon advanced to the state semifinals with a convincing 31-3 victory over Dover at Ravenna High.

Game photos click here.

Chardon advanced to the state semifinals with a convincing 31-3 victory over Dover at Ravenna High.

With the win, the Hilltoppers (14-0) claimed their second straight regional championship, and will take on the Millersburg West Holmes Knights Nov. 26 at 7 p.m. at Tiger Stadium in Twinsburg.

“It feels incredible,” said senior Nathaniel Sulka. “We knew all along we’d be back here again.”

Sulka, one of the few returning starters from last year’s state championship team, felt this regional title meant a little bit more to him.

“It’s a lot different because these (current teammates) are the kids I grew up with,” he said. “It’s a different feeling, a better feeling.”

The Knights (14-0) defeated Holy Name 31-21 to earn a spot in the final four.

Against Dover (12-1), the Hilltoppers played one of their most complete games of the season.

Tornado fans left Gilchrist Field at Portage Community Bank Stadium seeing blue – and not just because blue is the color of the stadium’s turf.

Chardon dominated Dover on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball so, early in the fourth quarter, their fans began to leave the stadium to start that long drive back home.

The Toppers outgained Dover 274 to 186 yards. Chardon racked up 255 rushing yards, while holding the Tornadoes to 65 yards on the ground.

However, despite gaining nearly 200 yards, Dover never really mounted a threat – even with its dual quarterback system of T.C. Molk and Ayden Hall.

Chardon Head Coach Mitch Hewitt said both Molk and Hall are good enough to start for any other school and credited his defense with limiting the Tornado air attack.

It had been tough to prepare for both quarterbacks, said junior defensive lineman Alex Kisley, who credited Chardon’s scout team for getting them ready.

Dover appeared to have momentum early as Connor McGarry ripped off a 35 yard-run on the first play of the game. But even as the Tornadoes eventually moved into field goal range, Chardon’s defense stepped up and limited Dover to just three points, which came as a field goal to start the game.

The Tornado offense featured multiple big-time playmakers who just weren’t allowed to make any big plays.

Chardon’s corners did a great job holding their opponents’ tall and fast receivers in check.

“(Joey) Farthing is a dude and real fast without the ball,” said sophomore cornerback AJ Bruce. “He ran some real good routes, but I was just stuck on him.”

Trailing 3-0, senior Trey Liebhardt took the kickoff and returned it back to the Dover 27.

On its first possession of the game, the Hilltoppers offense went straight to work and marched down the short field. When junior quarterback Alex Henry put his team on top with a 10-yard touchdown run, the pressure was on the Tornadoes.

Dover’s next series ended with a big Chardon play as sophomore Leo Colombi picked off a Tornado pass on the Chardon 32.

Henry went back to work and made a couple of nice runs. Fullback Sean Carr did the same and, four minutes later, the Toppers were sitting at the Dover 19.

Bruce then capped off the drive with a jet sweep to the right side to make it 14-3 with 2:04 in the first quarter.

Bruce, who began the season as solely a defensive player, has become an invaluable cog on the offensive side.

“Deep down, I was always an offensive player,” said Bruce. “It started with the Madison game when Coach Hewitt told me I better be ready to run jet and go score.”

One of the few players who goes both ways, Bruce said he is able to do so because of his selective use on offense. He’s not on the field for every offensive play, only for certain sets.

Senior Nathan Tager added a 32-yard field goal three seconds before halftime.

Heading into the locker room, Chardon had a 17-3 lead.

The field goal was pivotal, as Dover, a team who prefers to run the ball, was forced to throw more in the second half than it liked.

Both teams had a tough time putting drives together in the third quarter; the defenses did their job.

On one Dover possession, junior defensive lineman Ales Kisley recorded three sacks within four plays, including a sack on fourth down.

“We knew they were going to pass,” said Kisley. “That was a problem all game. We just worked in sets and made some adjustments at halftime.”

Late in the third quarter, Carr found the end zone on a three-yard run to make it 24-3.

He added a two-yard touchdown run with 4:14 left in the game to end the scoring.

Senior Ethan Gaspar put the exclamation point on the game when he picked off an overthrown Tornado pass at the Chardon 2 with under two minutes to play.

Henry led all runners with 129 yards and one touchdown. Carr ran for 60 yards and two scores, while Bruce added 49 yards and a touchdown.

Chardon did not turn the ball over, but did commit four penalties for 50 yards.

Hewitt said his team has not peaked.

“Last week we ran ’em,” he acknowledged. “It was a brutal film session for being undefeated. The calls don’t matter if we don’t have motors running full speed toward the football.”

But one week later, the motors were running in a physical game.

“There were helmet chips flying around out there; it was good to see,” Hewitt said.

Kisley also spoke on the Toppers momentum against Dover.

“As the game went on,” he said, “they started having that doubt in their head — what Coach calls a seed planted in their head, and we kept watering it all game. By the time the fourth quarter came around, they were done.”

“We played near perfection offensively, scoring on most drives,” Hewitt said. “We won collisions. That’s the thing about football, we still have areas to improve.”

And that might not be good news for the Knights this week.

“A lot of people have doubted us,” said Sulka. “We haven’t won anything yet, but we’re making a pretty good run. We have two more games to win.”