By Chad Bryan
BRUNSWICK, OHIO – The Chardon Hilltoppers got off to a fast start on Friday night in a wild first quarter and never looked back as they topped the Tornadoes 47-7 in a Division III State Semifinal game at Brunswick Auto Mart Field and earned their spot in the title game next week.
Chardon got on the board early thanks to a 69-yard touchdown run from James Pettyjohn on the third play of the game to take an immediate 7-0 lead as the clock still read 11:05.
The two teams would go on to trade interceptions on back-to-back plays as Senior Defensive Back Kevin Doyle would get up to intercept Columbian Quarterback Logan Beaston on a throw that Beaston left a little short down the left sideline.
On the very next play, Chardon Quarteback Drew Fetchik threw a pass that Junior Defensive Back Gunther Kissell would pick off over the middle for Columbian.
The Tornadoes would fall victim to a strip sack just a few plays later and the Hilltoppers were able to recover the loose ball.
The Columbian defense appeared to be taking some running lanes away from Chardon until Pettyjohn struck again, this time on a 35-yard jaunt around the left end that saw him execute a nice cutback to avoid the pursuit allowing Pettyjohn to find the end zone for the second time in the quarter. A Nathan Tager extra point made it 14-0.
Columbian was then whistled for their second block in the back penalty on a kickoff in the quarter, putting them at a huge field position disadvantage against a very tough Chardon defense. The Hilltoppers would capitalize, as a sack from Evan Gardner on 3rd down forced the Tornadoes to punt.
The resulting punt traveled just 11 yards officially and Chardon would take advantage once again. Quarterback Drew Fetchik called his own number, scoring from 13 yards out on a keeper to push the lead to 21-0 after the extra point from Tager. There was still 4:45 remaining in the first quarter and Chardon was rolling.
After the teams traded turnovers once again to end the quarter, it would come to a close with Chardon still holding on to the 21-0 lead.
The second quarter would be more of the same. The Hilltoppers added a 33-yard field goal by Tager to take a 24-0 lead with 11:11 to go.
Tiffin Columbian would be whistled yet again for a block in the back on the kickoff return and it would cost them dearly this time. Trying to elude relentless pressure, as was the case for most of the night, Beaston was flagged for intentional grounding in his own end zone. The result of the play was a safety, giving Chardon two more points and the ball.
In a microcosm of the night, the Hilltoppers were whistled for a block in the back on the ensuing return but it actually helped them to chew more time as they would go 84 yards and run almost eight minutes off the clock on a drive that ended with yet another Pettyjohn touchdown run.
He found paydirt this time from four yards out and after the extra point, Chardon had a commanding 33-0 lead with just 2:46 to go in the half.
The Hilltoppers appeared to be on their way to scoring once again at the end of the half, but a high snap got away from Fetchik and the Tornadoes were able to come up with the turnover with 1:34 left in the half.
Columbian put in Freshman Quarterback Brayden Roggow to try find a spark and he injected life into the Tornado offense, eventually finding his twin brother Bryce on a 15-yard touchdown strike to get on the board with just 45 seconds left in the half.
More importantly, if Columbian was to have any hope of a comeback, they needed the score to avoid the second half starting with a running clock.
Chardon, though they hadn’t played their cleanest game to date, would still take the 33-7 lead into halftime.
The Tornadoes were able to find a little success moving the ball against Chardon’s defense with Roggow in at quarterback but they couldn’t quite find the big play when they needed it.
On a 4th and 5, Chardon’s defense held up and knocked down a pass attempt from Roggow at the first down marker, giving the ball back to the offense.
The Hilltoppers made it hurt once again, as Fetchik scored on a 19-yard keeper that featured some tough running at the end as he was able to fight through a tackle at the goal line and dive for the score. Chardon led 40-7.
The drive was previously extended by an additional tough run by Sean Carr on a 4th and 3. Carr was met close to the line to get, but battled through and pushed the pile ahead at least another ten yards to ensure the first down.
Late in the third quarter, the Tornadoes had the ball and were once again on the move, appearing to have converted on a 4th and 7 on yet another nice ball from Roggow. The back judge, however, ruled the play an incompletion as the ball had skipped into the receiver’s hands.
As Chardon did all night, they would yet again capitalize on the opportunity, with Pettyjohn taking the ball 68 yards to the house on the very next play. The extra point pushed the score to 47-7 with 1:41 to go in the third.
Head Coach Mitch Hewitt was able to get his second teamers in for a majority of the fourth quarter, which is invaluable in a state semifinal, and the Hilltoppers would cruise to the win to move to 11-0 on the season. More importantly, they reserved their spot in the Division III State Championship.
Tiffin Columbian falls to 9-2 on the season and will look to the future, which is undoubtedly bright for this team which fielded just 12 seniors.
Pettyjohn finished with 231 yards rushing on 16 carries and scored four times. Fetchik also added two scores and 74 yards on the ground. As a team, Chardon rushed for nearly 500 yards while holding the Tornadoes to 121 total yards on offense.
Chardon will be looking for their second state football title in school history as they take on Columbus St. Francis DeSales next Saturday at Fortress Obetz.
Kickoff is slated for 7:00 pm.
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