Senior Tyler Vassalotti did it all for the Cuyahoga Falls football team in the season opener Aug. 24 at home against Suburban League cross division rival Kent Roosevelt.
Unfortunately, a 7-3 halftime lead for the Black Tigers turned into a 23-7 loss to the Rough Riders.
On offense, Vassalotti completed 21 of 37 passes for 177 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He also had his team’s longest rushing gain, an 18-yarder. On defense, he led the way at linebacker, recording 15 tackles.
"Ty did a good job of managing our offense and putting us in a position to be competitive and have a chance to come up with a win," said Cuyahoga Falls head coach Shane Parker. "Ty is a gamer. He has a competitive streak like no other.
"When the lights go on, he hits another gear. If you look at him, he doesn’t look like the most physically intimidating young man, but he plays a lot bigger, stronger and faster than what he is. We’re happy to have him lead our offense and our defense. The fact that Ty led our team in tackles plus the way he’s running our offense, running the football and throwing the football … you just can’t say enough about him."
As for Cuyahoga Falls’ performance as a whole, Parker was relatively happy – at least about the first half.
"We came out and the kids executed fairly well," he said. "But we still had quite a few mis-executions and left quite a few points on the board. You just can’t do that. You have to capitalize on every opportunity you get. It obviously ended up coming back to bite us.
"Two turnovers and almost 100 yards in penalties didn’t help either, but I thought we did a really good job of controlling our response to those turnovers and to some of the mistakes we made. We did a really good job of bouncing back and coming up with stops.
"The defense played great in the first half. Roosevelt took a 3-0 lead late in the first quarter, but they got that field goal on a short field."
Cuyahoga Falls took a 7-3 lead with less than 10 seconds to go in the first half on a 3-yard touchdown pass from Vassalotti to senior wide receiver Eric Rosiak.
"That was a great route, great throw and great read," said Parker. "It was an example of all 11 guys out there being on the same page with one another and firing on all cylinders.
"On the drive leading to that touchdown, we were pinned back almost the length of the field. To punch one in almost as time expired showed the ability of this team when it’s executing and eliminating the mental mistakes.
"We did a really good job of managing the clock on that drive. We marched the ball right down the field. We had a minute and 15 seconds or so to work with. We’re really tough to defend when we’ve got it rolling like that."
At halftime, Parker had a message for his team: Stay hungry.
"This is a group of young men who haven’t necessarily had the ability to experience winning a whole lot at the varsity level," he said. "It takes a certain mindset to keep that hunger and to keep that pressure on the opposing team for the remaining two quarters to make sure you end up on top."
Kent Roosevelt took a 10-7 lead early in the third quarter on a 30-yard Hail Mary pass on fourth down.
"Their quarterback threw it up in the air and was hoping for a prayer," Parker said. "We had two guys there, and they both went up to get the football but ended up hitting one another, which resulted in the ball being tipped up in the air.
"One of their guys just happened to be in the right place at the right time and caught it for a touchdown. It was just a really bad break for our guys.
On the ensuing kickoff, a Cuyahoga Falls player fumbled the return away to Kent Roosevelt.
"Our kid got hit from behind, and the ball just popped out and they jumped on it," said the coach.
That mishap resulted in a 29-yard touchdown pass play that upped the Rough Riders’ lead to 16-7.
"That was a blown coverage on our part," said Parker.
Kent Roosevelt put the game on ice towards the end of the fourth quarter on a 4-yard touchdown run by its quarterback, which capped a long drive.
"We’ve got quite a few guys going both ways, so they get winded," Parker said.
Senior wide receiver Daizhaun Brazile had six receptions for 66 yards, including a 23-yarder.
"Daizhaun is one of our playmakers and one of Ty’s favorite targets," said the coach. "He’s a guy who understands the finer nuances of playing the position of wide receiver and understands how to always leverage the defender to the best of his ability."
Junior Alex Rowan had four receptions for 35 yards, including a 26-yarder, while Rosiak had five catches for 31 yards.
"Alex was hurt for quite a bit of the season last year, so he didn’t really get to play much," said Parker. "So this was his first time under the lights. We’re looking for big things from him.
"Eric has really stepped up. His blocking was outstanding, which is a hard thing to ask a wide receiver to do, to block guys in space. He was handling guys. We were really proud of his efforts."
Senior linebackers Tyler Hitchings and James Cross both gave fine defensive efforts. Hitchings had 10 tackles and Cross had eight, including one for a loss.
Tyler is a leader on the defense. He’s an emotional leader as well," said Parker. "James, despite battling through some injuries throughout the week, had a heck of a game."
Hitchings also had a 53-yard kickoff return. Junior Robert Graves returned one 47 yards.
"Special teams is a third of the game and something that we take serious and take pride in," Parker said. "We have some explosive guys, and I think we were just one or two blocks away from breaking those two returns."
According to Parker, the Black Tigers have the talent to compete. They just need to be more focused.
"We need to constantly bring full effort and pay attention to the little things," he said.
Cuyahoga Falls is scheduled to play at Norton Friday at 7 p.m. The Black Tigers will then travel to Barberton Sept. 7 at 7 p.m,.