July 24, 2016

Mostly cloudy

Football: Failed conversion dooms Blue Devils in division opener

BRUNSWICK — The weather improved greatly in 19 hours. The Brunswick football team didn’t until it was too late.

Picking up where it left off when the game was postponed due to lightning at 8:30 p.m. Friday, a solid Hudson team registered a 22-13 Northeast Ohio Conference Valley Division victory over the Blue Devils on Saturday afternoon.

Richie Norman

Brunswick (2-2, 0-1), which was down 12-0 but could have easily trailed 20-0 when the game was halted with 4:42 left in the second quarter, had two interceptions, lost fumbles on its first two plays from scrimmage Saturday and failed on two key fourth-down plays.

The Blue Devils also allowed five sacks, gave up 388 yards total offense and defied conventional wisdom by unsuccessfully going for two when down nine midway through the fourth quarter.

“We’ve played two very good football teams the last two weeks,” Blue Devils coach Luke Beal said. “You can’t expect to beat teams like that when you make mistakes.”

Eight days after losing 28-14 to undefeated Austintown Fitch, Brunswick once again did some positive things and refused to quit, but also wasn’t nearly good enough against the Explorers (4-0, 1-0), who were ranked seventh in the initial Associated Press Division I state poll.

With a first down on the Hudson 21-yard line and a chance to build some momentum when play resumed Saturday, quarterback Steven Ficyk (13-for-25, 174 yards, 2 INTs) failed to complete a handoff on Brunswick’s first play and Hudson recovered.

“We felt like we had a good plan,” Beal said. “Toward the end of the first half (Friday) night, we were running the ball well and we wanted to come out and do the same thing. It wasn’t something the defense did. It was a mistake on our part. To start that way just completely deflates you.”

After an Adam Weber interception gave the ball back to the Blue Devils near midfield, tailback Richie Norman (29 rushes, 122 yards) lost a fumble — again on Brunswick’s first play.

Do-everything Hudson quarterback Mitchell Guadagni (19-for-31, 247 yards, INT; 16 rushes, 96 yards) made the Blue Devils pay, hitting Reid Robinson on a 25-yard slant to put the Explorers up 19-0 with 1:58 left in the first half.

Guadagni, who had a 9-yard TD run Friday, completed passes to seven different receivers in the first half.

“We knew he was the guy we had to stop,” Beal said. “He played really well and kept us off balance. One of the hardest things to do is defend a quarterback who can run and throw.”

To the Blue Devils’ credit, they battled back and eventually got within 22-13 — Hudson added a 48-yard field goal by Pierce Royster, who earlier was short on a 58-yard attempt — on a 30-yard TD scamper by Norman and a 5-yard run by Michael Bekeny, the latter coming with 6:09 left in the game.

Though conventional wisdom says to kick the extra point and get within a TD and two-point conversion of tying the game, Beal elected to go for two at that point. The 5-foot-7, 170-pound Norman was stuffed, leaving the Blue Devils down nine and completely changing the complexion of the rest of the game.

“We wanted to be aggressive,” Beal said when asked about his decision. “We felt like we had to keep the momentum.”

Brunswick got new life when Jake Ambrose recovered an onside kick at the Hudson 45, but three plays after the officials elected not to call a penalty on what appeared to be a crushing helmet-to-helmet hit by the Explorers, Ficyk threw incomplete while under heavy pressure on fourth-and-11.

Out of timeouts and still needing two scores, the Blue Devils got the ball back one last time with 1:35 to go, but Ficyk was intercepted by Matt Rightnour.

Brunswick finished with 328 yards total offense and 21 first downs, but also failed on two key fourth-down plays earlier.

Down 22-7 late in the third quarter and facing fourth-and-goal at the 4, the right-handed Ficyk rolled left on a naked bootleg, only to be sacked from behind before he ever got totally turned around to throw.

“They brought an extra defender off the edge,” Beal said. “That situation sometimes happens when you run a naked boot, but it was going to be there.”

On its next possession, Brunswick went for it on fourth-and-6 from the Hudson 42, but Zach Parker was unable to hold on to Ficyk’s pass.

Parker (3 catches, 39 yards) came back to make a nice fourth-and-13 grab for a 16-yard gain to the Hudson 5 on the Blue Devils’ next possession — it set up Bekeny’s TD — but it was too little, too late for the Blue Devils, especially when the two-point conversion try failed.

“When we need plays, it seems like we’re just not making them,” Beal said. “We’ve had opportunities, but we just haven’t made plays.”

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @RickNoland.

Rick Noland About Rick Noland

Rick Noland is the Cavs beat writer for The Gazette and the author of "Over Time," a compilation of stories he's written in more than 30 years as a journalist. He can be reached at 330-721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.