It would be easy for second-year head coach Dan Larlham and his Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy football team to feel sorry for itself after a heartbreaking 35-34 loss on the road to Pepper Pike Orange High.
CVCA fought back in the Sept. 9 non-league road battle, only to be denied because of a blocked game-tying extra point, it would also be easy to call it a moral victory.
Larlham, seeking his first win as head coach, will have none of it.
"There is no such thing as a moral victory," Larlham said. "I told the kids that all of their parents will congratulate them on a well-fought game, and all their teachers and classmates would be so proud of them, but really, it is just another chance for us to get tougher."
A 21-0 lead was squandered by the young Royals.
Orange moved to 2-1 while CVCA dropped to 0-3. CVCA was set to open Principal's Athletic Conference play Sept. 16 at Zoarville Tuscarawas Valley, but results were not available at press time.
Orange blocked the game-tying extra point kick attempt by freshman Chris DeLucia with 2:30 left in the game.
CVCA actually led 21-0 early against the Lions, who cut the lead to 21-14 at the half. Orange grabbed its first lead in the third period only to have CVCA tie it 28-28 at the end of the third stanza.
The Royals fought hard and the defense responded late in the game, but Orange back Jake Sonkin (19 carries for 163 yards) would score his third rushing touchdown on a 37-yard burst to push the score to 35-28 with 3:00 left.
That set the stage for CVCA's improving offense.
The sophomore connection of quarterback Brock Simmons and Tre Tucker struck again. Simmons found Tucker on a hitch route in the slot into the boundary on the right sideline, and Tucker avoided tacklers for a lightening quick 67-yard TD strike.
Tucker's huge catch and run made it 35-34.
After considering a two-point play, Larlham elected to be safe and kick the ball, but a bobbled long snap forced DeLucia to adjust his steps, and the PAT was blocked. Orange then ran out the clock.
"Really, it came down to the operation of the PAT," explained the coach. "Chris delayed his approach, when he saw a bobbled snap."
"Since we share our kicker with the soccer program, it came down to him [DeLucia] not having enough reps with our PAT unit, and trusting the hold would be true."
DeLucia and the PAT crew were perfect on the other four kicks.
The loss spoiled a brilliant performance by the offense and Tucker, in particular.
Tucker may have amassed the second most yards in a single game by a Royal. Although all-purpose yards are kept in the CVCA record books, Tucker had 23 touches for 382 yards at Orange.
In all, Tucker had four catches for 131 yards and 2 TD's, 17 rushes for 150 yards and one TD, plus two kickoff returns for 101 yards and a TD.
Former Royal back Alex Utley had a school record 398 yards rushing in a 2010 win over Tusky Valley.
"Getting the ball in his hands is important to us," said Larlham. "On the final TD, he made three unblocked players miss. It was a simple play call, but special players do special things.
"He [Tucker] is a guy that other teams have to have a plan for," added Larlham. "Now, we have to have a plan for the best way to get him the ball and use him as a decoy."
Tucker got CVCA going by returning the opening kickoff 92 yards for a TD.
"We have enough talent around him that he shouldn't have to be all of our offense," added the mentor. "Senior tailback Jay Woodlee will have running lanes open up for him as teams try to stop Tucker. That is a good thing for us."
CVCA amassed 383 total yards, 16 first downs and rushed for 253 yards.
Simmons also had a 58-yard TD strike to Tucker later in the first stanza and it was 14-0. A 27-yard scoring run by Tucker made it 21-0 in the second, but Orange closed to 21-14 at the half.
In the third period, Sonkin had a 19-yard TD burst and Orange took the lead on a 55-yard interception return by linebacker Pablo Garcia. The screen pass was overthrown as Garcia got the pick and raced into the end zone.
However, CVCA fought back as Woodlee scored on a 26-yard run to pull CVCA even 28-28 heading into the fourth period. That set up Sonkin's eventual gam winning TD run.
Woodlee had a strong game with 10 totes for 77 yards, while Simmons was 5-of-14 passing for 130 yards, two TDs, and two interceptions. Junior Jack Atwood had two rushes for eight yards.
Junior defensive end Pat Kearney and sophomore end Noah Bishop each had a fumble recovery for CVCA.
CVCA will next host Orrville Sept. 23 at 7 p.m.