When Brecksville-Broadview Heights headed to Bulldog Stadium Oct. 21, the football game figured to feature two of the Suburban League's best offenses.
After the first quarter, however, only one team's offense was in high gear -- and that was Stow-Munroe Falls.
The Bulldogs were tied 7-7 after one quarter with the Bees, but then scored 34 unanswered points to score a 41-7 win in a crucial game in the Suburban League National Conference.
Stow improved to 8-1, 5-1 in the National Conference, while Brecksville suffered its first loss of the season, falling to 8-1, 5-1 in the conference.
With the victory, Stow clinched its second straight trip to the Division I state playoffs. Heading into week 10, Stow was ranked third in the OHSAA's Division I, Region 1 computer rankings with 24.3944 points. The top eight teams in each region advance to the postseason with the top four teams hosting first-round playoff games.
Stow was set to close out the regular season at North Royalton Oct. 28, but results were not available at press time. A win by the Bulldogs would secure a share of the National Conference title.
Brecksville was set to host Hudson Oct. 28.
The Bees came in averaging more than 40 points a game. Thus, Stow coach Mark Nori was pleased with his defense.
"I think it's a credit to our defensive coaches for drawing up a great gameplan. The kids executed," Nori said. "We knew they had big-play ability."
The Stow defense's effort was even more impressive, considering the Bulldogs were without a pair of starters in the secondary against the pass-happy Bees. Already without Joe Andrassy due to a foot injury, Stow lost Jared Wright to a back injury during the game.
Stow took theopening kickoff and marched 62 yards in 12 plays, including a pair of fourth-down conversions.
The drive culminated with Bulldogs quarterback Kyle Vantrease hitting Logan Lindsay in the corner of the end zone with a 13-yard touchdown pass. Austin Burnham went 5-of-5 on extra points on the night.
Vantrease figured to be in a battle with Bees quarterback Luke Strnad all night.
Vantrease had a solid night through the air, going 10-of-18 for 101 yards and a touchdown.
However, Brecksville had a quick answer to Stow's opening touchdown.
Working with a five-wide-receiver set most of the night, Strnad marched the Bees down the field. He hit Kenny Ganley with an 11-yard touchdown pass with 4:46 left in the first quarter to tie the score.
However, Stow's defense came up big after that with a simple strategy: Rush the quarterback.
"We tried to get some guys loose and get after him [Strnad," Nori said.
One key play came when Strnad took a hard sack at the hands of Stow defensive tackle Matt Esterle late in first quarter.
"I just saw their quarterback and said 'I'm there,'" Esterle said. "It was a really big hit."
The sack killed Brecksville's second drive and Strnad didn't seem the same the rest of the night.
Strnad finished with more yards than Vantrease, but went just 13-of-28 for 175 yards and also threw two picks.
Stow's ensuing drive ended with Burnham hitting a 30-yard field goal with 10:22 left in the first to give Stow a 10-7 lead.
The Bulldogs' defense then forced a turnover on downs. On the ensuing drive, running back Terrian Wray did the damage for Stow, culminating with an eight-yard touchdown up the gut with 7:47 left in the half.
Stow's one-two punch at running back was working against the Bees, as both Wray (113 yards) and senior Joe Gobble (129) broke 100 yards rushing on the night with one touchdown each. However, Wray also suffered a shoulder injury in the win.
Another turning point came on Breckville's next drive.
Brecksville drove into the red zone, but on a screen pass from Strnad, Gobble jumped the route. He then returned the ball 88 yards for a touchdown, as the pick six gave a Stow 24-7 lead with 4:33 left.
"They were going in," Nori said. "For Joe to return that for a touchdown, it was complete momentum shift."
The Bulldogs then worked the clock perfectly on their final drive of the half. After calling time out with 27 seconds left, Vantrease pushed his way into the end zone on a one-yard quarterback sneak, making it 31-7 at halftime.
Both offenses stalled in the third quarter, until Stow ran a 16-play drive to eat up a bunch of clock. Stow got the ball back after Tyler Shaver intercepted a long ball from Strnad at the Stow 13.
The drive culminated with Burnham hitting his second field goal of the night -- a 26-yarder with 11:15 left in the game to make it 34-7.
Gobble administered the knockout blow with 5:23 left, as he ran a counter play in for a nine-yard touchdown.
Stow's running game proved decisive, as the Bulldogs finished with a 304-40 edge in rushing yards.