CANAL FULTON — Coming into the season opener Friday at Northwest, Cloverleaf football coach BobLake knew his team was raw on offense.
With just three full-time starters back and another that started late in the season, the Colts struggled to move the football against the bigger Indians and got blanked 19-0 in non-league play.
“It’s a tough one,” Lake said. “Defensively we did some good things in the first half, but (Northwest) is a good football team, and we knew coming in that their defense was real solid. We knew we had our work cut out for us, but we don’t think we played as well as we can offensively.”
No matter what Cloverleaf dialed up — running or throwing — it couldn’t find a way to move the chains, leaving the door open for the Indians to take advantage.
Cloverleaf’s offense produced just 45 total yards through the first three quarters. While those numbers increased in the fourth against a mixture of Northwest starters and reserves, the ball crossed midfield just three times, and two of those possessions started in Indians territory.
“We just couldn’t move them,” Lake said. “They were more physical on the line than we were. They had some big bodies up there and we’re not real big up front, so physically they just outmuscled us.”
Senior quarterback Garrison Flora (4-for-14, 35 yards) is one of those starters back, along with linemen Kevin Chester, Jon Keene and Jon Doty, but many of the other Colts were getting their first taste of varsity competition.
While Cloverleaf struggled to find its identity, Northwest kept the Colts in the game by committing a whopping 13 penalties for 112 yards and three turnovers. Cloverleaf running back Jared Talmon finished the game strong with 90 yards on 20 carries.
The Indians finally found some consistency in the third quarter, as they expanded on an early first-half score with touchdowns on consecutive possessions, one a 4-yard run from Michael Roman — his second TD of the night — and the other a 33-yard Jeff Shimko pass to Matt Ramsey, who carried three Colts into the end zone.
Shimko finished 21-for-27 for 246 yards, with 113 of those yards coming in the third quarter.
“We just had to clean up our mistakes,” Northwest coach Vic Whiting said. “We made a couple of adjustments to what they were doing and took advantage, but mainly it was cleaning up mistakes.”
Despite all the struggles, the Colts still found themselves in a ballgame thanks to some key defensive plays in the first half.
Starting with a fumble recovery by junior Kyle Hodges on the Indians’ first snap, Cloverleaf’s “D” played hungry and physical in the opening two quarters by stopping Northwest three times inside the 5-yard line.
The Colts’ Tyler Slavens also blocked a 29-yard field goal try by David Dill, giving Cloverleaf momentum heading into the locker room.
It wasn’t enough.
“It’s a four-quarter game, and I expect our kids to play for four quarters,” Lake said. “The most important play is always the next play, and we have to grow up and learn that. We can’t let our heads down and we can’t be disappointed. We have to play the next play and keep going.”
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Northwest 19, Cloverleaf 0
CLOVERLEAF 0 0 0 0 — 0
NORTHWEST 6 0 13 0 — 19
N — Michael Roman 4 run (kick failed), 4:28.
N — Roman 4 run (run failed), 7:13.
N — Jeff Shimko 33 pass from Matt Ramsey (David Dill kick), 1:50.