WESTFIELD TWP. — The Cloverleaf football team got it about half right Friday.
The offense and special teams made some big plays, but the latter also failed on two occasions. Then there was the defense, which, after pitching a shutout in the first quarter, gave up one big play after another over the final three.
It added up to a 37-20 Suburban League loss to Copley, dropping the Colts to 3-4, 0-4.
“It’s the same old bugaboo,” Cloverleaf coach Bob Lake said. “The big thing is we’ve got to stop giving up big plays on defense. If we can do that, we can still make some noise.”
Despite playing without leading rusher Quincy Iverson, the Indians (3-4, 1-3) racked up 541 yards total offense and didn’t punt after their first two possessions of the game.
Diminutive but fast and hard-running tailback Aulden Knight rushed 29 times for 235 yards and a touchdown, while quarterback John Kromalic completed his last seven attempts to finish 13-for-20 for 277 yards, three touchdowns and an interception.
Will Thomas had 15- and 74-yard TD receptions and finished with five catches for 144 yards, Milton Greer had five catches for 59 yards and D.J. Johnson had two receptions for 58 yards, including a 24-yard TD.
Despite all that, Cloverleaf had its chances and even scored first after Tyler Hissom blocked a Copley punt.
With quarterback Garrison Flora (20-for-37, 197 yards, TD, INT) completing 7-of-16 passes for 99 yards in the first quarter, the Colts took a 7-0 lead when the junior hit Austin Smith on a quick slant that Smith turned into a 32-yard TD by breaking a tackle and maintaining his balance.
Copley regrouped to go up 10-7 in the second period, setting up a wild ending to the first half, which featured two interceptions and 14 points in the final 1:02.
It started when Cloverleaf’s Chase Werner picked off Kromalic at the Cloverleaf 37. On the next play, Copley’s Hayden Neal returned the favor by intercepting Flora at the Copley 34.
Kromalic hit two passes before a short Knight run, then found Johnson floating ridiculously open behind the Cloverleaf secondary for a 24-yard score with 28 seconds left to put the Indians up 17-7.
Just when it looked like Copley was taking total control, Smith returned the kickoff 87 yards for a TD to make it a three-point game at intermission.
Riding a wave of momentum, everything got away from Cloverleaf early in the third period.
The Colts tried an onside kick to start the second half, but Copley easily recovered at its 49. Three plays later, Kromalic hit Thomas for a 24-yard score to make it 24-14.
“That was big,” Lake said. “They had an opening on that onside kick and we practiced it during the week. We thought it was there, but it just didn’t work.”
With Devin Cunningham (17 rushes, 115 yards; 8 catches, 75 yards) gaining sizeable chunks of yardage out of the Wildcat formation, the Colts marched right back and had first-and-goal at the 7. After a short run, sack and incompletion, Kyle Sasinka’s 27-yard field goal attempt was blocked.
Compounding Cloverleaf’s problems, Kromalic rolled left on Copley’s third play and lofted a 74-yard TD pass to Thomas to make it 30-14.
“That was a big momentum swing,” Smith said. “We came out thinking it was going to be a fight, but they hit some big plays. We let the game get away somewhat there, but we never stopped. We kept pushing.”
The Colts gave themselves a chance when Brandon Zajaczkowski relieved Cunningham and scored on a 9-yard run with 10:40 left in the game, but they were called for illegal procedure on their initial two-point conversion try and then threw an incomplete pass, leaving them down 30-20.
Copley erased all doubt on its ensuing possession when Oliver Johnson scored on a 1-yard run.
The Indians wound up with 23 first downs and, until taking 12 yards in losses on two kneel downs to end the game, had 276 yards rushing and 277 passing.
Cloverleaf finished with 311 yards total offense, with Matt Vespucci making seven receptions for 47 yards and Smith adding three catches, also for 47 yards.
“The effort was there,” Lake said. “The kids played hard. We’re making some strides, but we’ve just got to eliminate some of the big plays.”
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @RickNoland.
Copley 37, Cloverleaf 20
COPLEY 0 17 13 7 — 37
CLOVERLEAF 7 7 0 6 — 20
Cl — Austin Smith 32 pass from Garrison Flora (Kyle Sasinka kick), 3:58.
Co — Aulden Knight 14 run (Austin Finley kick), 10:31.
Co — Finley 26 field goal, 3:54.
Co — D.J. Johnson 24 pass from John Kromalic (Finley kick), 0:28.
Cl — Smith 87 kick return (Sasinka kick), 0:16.
Co — Will Thomas 15 pass from Kromalic (Finley kick), 11:00.
Co — Thomas 74 pass from Kromalic (kick failed), 4:43.
Cl — Brandon Zajaczkowski 9 run (pass failed), 10:40.
Co — Oliver Johnson 1 run (Finley kick), 5:04.