It was anyone’s game until the very end Sept. 8, when the Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy football team suffered its first loss to the Canton South at Royals Stadium.
With a final score of 33-21, the Wildcats proved to be CVCA’s toughest opponent yet this season.
Although the loss was tough, the Royals took it in stride and are staying focused.
"We want to celebrate the game itself, because that’s a hard-fought football game," said CVCA coach Dan Larlham. "But at the same time, even though the scoreboard isn’t what we want, we’re about something bigger here and I thought that was pretty cool."
It was a physical game from both sides.
The Royals put the first points on the board on the first drive of the game with a 28-yard carry by Junior Tre Tucker. The Wildcats answered with a nearly-intercepted 48-yard touchdown pass to junior Riley James the following drive.
The teams traded touchdown drives once more, making the score 14-14 at beginning of the second quarter.
Both teams were able to prevent any more points until the end of the second quarter. On a 40 yard-drive from Canton South, the Wildcats took the lead with a 2-yard touchdown carry from junior Wildcat Nicholas Blackmer. It was the first time the Royals were down this season, as the Wildcats led 21-14.
Blackmer led all rushers with 101 yards rushing on 21 carries and two touchdowns. Tucker led the Royals with 49 yards on eight carries with three touchdowns.
"We knew this was the best team we played. We also knew that we were more capable than we showed. We have to get back and answer some things tomorrow morning," said Larlham.
It seemed the Royals would swing the game’s momentum in their favor after half with a interception by Tucker. This started a drive that would end in a tying touchdown, again by Tucker, to make it 21-21.
Preceding a penalty-stricken drive by CVCA, Canton South recovered their punt which slipped out of the hand of the Royal set to return. They took advantage of their second-chance drive and took the lead once again.
CVCA committed seven penalties for 72 yards, while the Wildcats had nine penalties for 69 yards.
"Mistakes: costly mistakes, mental mistakes," said Larlham. "And It might’ve been a lot of adversity we haven’t seen yet. It’s been pretty easy so far, and I’m not sure we responded the best way."
Junior Josh Junko closed the third quarter with an interception, but CVCA was forced to punt their following possession.
"I knew we had to get a stop there. They were driving again. If we were able to get some sort of turnover I knew we were going to be able to hopefully score again. Just a momentum shift, really," said Junko. "We just didn’t get enough stops on defense."
CVCA quarterback Elijah Payne went 10-of-23 for 175 yards passing. Issac Strausser was Payne’s favorite target, snagging four catches for 51 yards.
"It’s a hard lesson to learn right now," said Larlham, "But at the same time our guys are tough enough to learn it."
"The fact of the matter is that we sent home 36 Bibles back home to Canton South," added Larlham, speaking of presenting their opponents with Bibles after home games.
CVCA is set to open play in the Principals Athletic Conference by traveling to Navarre to face Fairless Sept. 15 at 7 p.m.
The Royal will play host to PAC newcomer Canal Fulton Northwest Sept. 22 at 7 p.m.