Hilltoppers Fall to Greenmen
Friday night. Chardon Hilltoppers vs. Aurora Greenmen. State Playoffs. Division II Region 5 final. Those were just a few of the thoughts going through my head as we entered Twinsburg Tigers Stadium. I knew no matter how this game went, I was proud to be a part of this amazing ride. Having the opportunity to be right on the sidelines with this team full of heart was the perfect way to be part of this game. Chardon’s fans filled the stands, signs of support covered the fence and anywhere it was possible to hang them, Crazies were in full out insanity mode, and the Hilltoppers were ready to battle. Battle is exactly what they did.
Going into the game, I knew that this battle was going to consist of who could run the ball the best. Both schools had quarterbacks that could run alongside any running back in their division. Both teams had strong offensive lines that were able to make holes out of nothing for the ball carriers to pick up yards. Both teams had strong defensive lines that were able to read a run and stop a runner in his tracks. Both teams were full of determination to defeat their opponent and win the Region Championship. Chardon had T.J. Benenati and Aurora had George Bollas.
Aurora Leads in the First Half
Bollas struck first with a possession that felt like it was never going to end. The Greenmen took off over 9 minutes of the quarter with a 20 play drive before Bollas ran the final 2 yards to bring in the first touchdown of the game. Joey Melchiori put the ball through the uprights giving Aurora the lead 7-0. Chardon’s first possession didn’t go the way they were hoping for. At Aurora’s 27 yard line, Benenati had the ball stripped out of his hands and the Greenmen recovered the ball. Bollas took advantage when he ran across the field going left and then cutting to the right with a 55 yard touchdown run in the second quarter. Chardon wanted to send the message that they were never going to give up in this game when they blocked the point after attempt by Melchiori, holding Aurora at 13-0. Benenati and Matt Bolden went to work on the field, chipping off yards after yards with their runs on the next possession. After converting a fourth down, Benenati took the ball in the final yard to put the Hilltoppers on the board. Bobby Bukovec made the point after attempt making the score 13-7 going into halftime.
Chardon Fights for the Lead in the Second Half
Usually at this point, I talk about the marching bands and their half time performances. Although both school’s were entertaining, I couldn’t wait to get back to watching the dream team leave everything they had on that field. I didn’t have to wait long for Chardon’s team to take the lead. Reilly Hawkins wasn’t going to go home without scoring one more touchdown in his final high school football game. He dove over Aurora’s line to bring in the Hilltoppers second touchdown. Bukovec put the ball right between the posts giving Chardon a 14-13 lead. Bollas and his Greenmen were not going to let that go unanswered. Bollas took back the lead with a 55 yard touchdown run. Aurora attempted to go for a 2 point conversion but Chardon wasn’t going to let that happen, holding them to a 6 point score.
Having a 19-14 lead going into the final quarter of the game, the Greenmen kept their momentum going. Pete and Jack LeMaster along with R.J. Pikus, Anthony Cantanzriti, Joe Connick and the rest of the Hilltoppers defense weren’t able to hold off Aurora despite their best effort. With a 38 yard run Bollas, scored his fourth and final touchdown of the game. Kirk Janoch completed the 2 point conversion making the score 27-14. Aurora’s Jake McVay secured the win for Aurora on a 24 yard touchdown with only a little more than 2 minutes left in the game. Melchiori made the point after making the final score 34-14.
Chardon Comes Out on Top Despite Loss
Aurora may have won the Region Championship game, but Chardon won the hearts of so many people from their own town to across the nation. Overcoming what they have this year, showed us all what strength and determination mean. People twice the age of the boys on that team couldn’t ever imagine coming back from the tragedy that the students of Chardon High School endured in February to make it to the Final 8 in State Playoffs. Coach Mitch Hewitt said it best to his team after the game. He told them that they should be proud of what they did on the field and what they did for their community. The 2012 Hilltopper football team brought hope back to their community. Wearing the memorial ribbons so many of us recognize on their helmets, the boys played for those that were lost on that day. They played for their friends, their families, their community and for each other.
I have never been more proud of a group of young men. I am thankful that I was able to be part of this inspirational journey. This is the fourth article that I have written about the Hilltoppers’ season. I have seen the smiles, heard the cheers, felt the heart of many throughout this season. Friday night, I witnessed a team that will always be remembered for what they did on that field and what they did for their community. Standing on the sidelines with them during the game was an honor that I will always hold in my heart. Chardon Hilltoppers football team taught me what “One Heartbeat” means. For that, I thank you all. It has been a pleasure writing about you and your games and having the opportunity to watch you first hand. Be proud of yourselves. You deserve it. Congratulations on a great season, Hilltoppers!