I saw my first snow of the season Friday night, and I got to watch an amazing football game as well. It was absolutely worth enduring the cold weather. With multiple layers, scarfs, gloves, and hand and toe warmers, we made the trip to Chardon High School to watch them take on the Howland Tigers in the first round of playoffs. The crowd was loud and excited, and the Chardon Crazies were definitely crazy. Chardon had support from some of our local schools during the game as well. Riverside, Madison, Ledgemont and NDCL were on hand to cheer on the Hilltoppers. The Hilltoppers played hard and with heart. I was glad to be a witness to their win.
The game started off with Chardon receiving the ball on the kickoff. They didn’t wait long to put points on the board. Two minutes after the kickoff, T.J. Benenati kept the ball for himself, running 24 yards for the first touchdown of the game. That wasn’t going to be the only score by Benenati for the game. Bobby Bukovec put the ball through the uprights, making the starting score 7-0. Very early in the first quarter, Anthony Cantanzriti made it clear that he was going to be a huge defensive force in the game. He snagged an interception from Howland’s Eric Loekney, giving the ball back to the Hilltoppers. Matt Bolden put the next points up with a 27 yard touchdown run and with Bukovec’s point after, Chardon finished the first quarter with a score of 14-0.
Usually I don’t write about games quarter by quarter, but there was just too much excitement and scoring going on to not write like this. The Hilltoppers didn’t start off the second quarter very well. On a bad punt snap, punter Drew Gittins had no choice but to kick the ball out from the back of the end zone giving Howland 2 points on the touchback. The Howland Tigers scored on their next possession when De’Veon Smith ran the 2 yards for the Tigers first touchdown of the game. Kyle Noble made the point after, making the score 14-9. Benenati wasn’t going to let that score go unanswered. He ran the 13 yards scoring his second touchdown of the night with a minute left on the clock. Bukovec’s kick was good, putting the Hilltoppers up 21-9. On the ensuing kickoff, Howland fumbled the ball and Chardon recovered. With seconds left on the clock, Andrew Gray caught a 2 yard pass in the end zone from Benenati, giving the Hilltoppers their second touchdown in one minute. Bukovec made the point after, giving Chardon a 28-9 lead going into halftime.
The Hilltopper Marching Band definitely entertained us during halftime. They started out the show rocking with a Led Zeppelin hit, Kashmir. They finished it off with a little dancing! The Ohio University Marching 110 made a youtube hit with their Party Rock Anthem performance. Chardon’s band took note and gave us their rendition of the hit. They got the crowd on their feet and ready to start the second half! After the fight song was played, it was time to get back to the game!
Howland received the opening kickoff of the second half. Pete Lemaster took the ball back from the Tigers when he caused an interception on a tipped ball. Benenati took advantage of the turnover, scoring his third and final touchdown of the night with a 4 yard run. He ran for a total of 142 yards during the game. Bukovec kept his streak alive scoring the point after making the score 35-9. The Hilltopper defense was able to hold the Tigers scoreless in the third quarter whether it was tipped passes from Jack Lemaster and Cantanzriti or the line from stopping Smith.
Chardon’s Roger Davis wanted his turn at putting points on the board. He did so by running the ball into the end zone on a 6 yard run. Bukovec put the final points for the Hilltoppers on the board with his point after kick, making the score 42-9. Smith wasn’t going to finish out his final season at Howland without one more touchdown. The senior took the ball in 5 yards for the Tiger’s final touchdown of the year. Noble made his point after attempt, bringing the score to 42-16. The Tigers attempted an onside kick but were unable to gain possession. Chardon ran down the clock, winning the game 42-16 and moving on in the playoffs!
Coach Mitch Hewitt has worked hard with his team, preparing them for this game and for De’Veon Smith, a top running back for Howland, who is headed to Michigan next year. I would say that the Chardon defense did an amazing job holding Smith for only 2 touchdowns. In his second year as Head Football Coach, Hewitt couldn’t be more proud of his team and Benenati. Keeping Coach Frank Hall’s Wing T offense, the Hilltopper’s have confused defenses across the PAC and non-conference teams.
This Friday, the Chardon Hilltoppers will be taking on the Kenston Bombers at Mentor Jerome T. Osborne Sr. Stadium at 7:30 p.m. Kenston beat Tallmadge in the quarterfinals 26-23 in an upset to advance in the playoffs. The two teams have met already once this season. Chardon came out on top with a close score of 29-28. Both coaches predicted this matchup after the game. I can guarantee both teams are going into this game ready to leave everything out there on the field. I am excited to see Chardon’s Cantanzriti playing the hard defense he played this game and Benenati’s offense. If those boys and the rest of the Hilltoppers play like they did Friday night, Kenston has their work cut out for them. Kenston’s Darryl Richards and Nick Lombardy are going to be ready to put some points on the board, and Ryan Snedeker is going to have T.J. Benenati in his sights.
No matter where you are from, we have two great Geauga high school teams going head-to-head Friday night with the hopes of keeping their playoff drive alive. Come out and support our boys Friday night in what is sure to be a great football game! I will be there writing about our great schools. Don’t forget to check our Facebook page throughout the night for updates on the game! You can also see more photos from this game HERE.