They were red-zone regulars, but due to mental errors, the Cuyahoga Falls football team came away with just a single touchdown Aug. 31 in a 13-6 loss at Norton.
"We had several opportunities, but for the second game in a row, we left quite a few plays out on the field," said Black Tigers head coach Shane Parker, whose team fell to 0-2. "We need to keep the peddle down. That was a point of contention all last week.
"We had quite a bit of success offensively until we got inside the 20-yard line. We just couldn’t make a few plays to finish off some drives.
"We missed a wide-open wide receiver for what would’ve been a touchdown. We also had a few untimely dropped passes by our receivers that would’ve extended drives. So it was kind of an offensive team effort in terms of breaking down at key moments."
According to Parker, both his team and the Panthers came in with good game plans.
"We battled it out, but when it came down to it, they made one more play than we did," he said. "A big point of contention this week in moving forward is focusing more on the little things and being more consistent."
Just like the week before against Kent Roosevelt, Cuyahoga Falls took an early lead.
On their first possession, the Black Tigers drove 55 yards to a 6-0 lead when senior quarterback Tyler Vassalotti completed a 4-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Braunavan Arsenault.
"It was a play that we ran all week and a play that we knew was going to be there," said Parker. "Braunavan was wide open and Ty was able to step up and make a good throw to him, and he walked into the end zone."
Later in the quarter, two busted coverage plays on defense resulted in 12- and 30-yard touchdown passes for Norton.
About midway through the fourth quarter, Vassalotti went down with a slight tear of his left hamstring and will be out for a while.
"It was just one of those freak things," Parker said. "He was running, trying to stretch out for a couple extra yards."
Arsenault, the backup quarterback, replaced him and led a late drive down to the Panthers’ 30-yard line that unfortunately ended with him throwing a tipped-pass interception as time ran out.
"Braunavan made a couple nice plays with his feet and a couple nice throws, and we were able to move the ball a little bit," said Parker. "He managed the clock well, but we just came up a little short."
The coach said he and his staff pride themselves on preparation and getting their players prepared.
"Whether you’re a starter or a guy at the end of the bench," he said, "I want everybody to go into a Friday night feeling like, if something happens and their number is called, they can step in and get the job done.
"And Braunavan did that. I can’t say enough about him for stepping up in that moment, taking charge and being able to rally our team in an adverse situation."
Before he was injured, Vassalotti was 16-of-29 for 139 yards.
"Ty is a gamer, a competitor," said Parker. "He’s a guy who means a lot to our team both through his talent and his leadership.
"We’re going to miss him on the field until he gets back, but he’s also a guy who is going to be around and take his role as a team captain and leader in our locker room very seriously."
Senior wide receiver Daizhaun Brazile had six receptions for 87 yards, while senior wideout Eric Rosiak caught six passes for 47 yards.
"Daizhaun is one of our go-to guys," said Parker. "He had a pretty good game and made some good plays for us.
"Eric had another great week catching, blocking and doing all the intangibles that don’t necessarily make it into the stat column. He’s a guy who really works his butt off."
Junior running back Robert Graves rushed the ball five times for 22 yards.
Defensively, Parker was pleased with his team’s performance.
"We did a pretty good job of shutting down Norton’s run, which is what they do," he said. "They’re three yards and a cloud of dust. We just couldn’t stop a few pass plays when it mattered most."
Vassalotti, doubling as a defensive back, had 13 tackles. Senior linebackers Tyler Hitchings and James Cross each recorded 10 tackles. One of Hitchings was for a loss.
"Both Tyler and James had great games defensively," said the coach. "They played really well against a team that had a pretty talented tailback who they wanted to run the football a lot. They both stepped up and were very stout against the run."
Senior defensive lineman Jacob Barnes contributed six tackles, three for a loss.
Said Parker, "With the game plan that we had and the scheme that Norton ran, Jacob was able to pin his ears back a little bit and have some fun out there. It ended up showing in the stat column."
Parker sees good things ahead for his team.
"We could be 2-0 now and certainly 1-1," he said. "We’re just one step away. We’re at the precipice right now, and we just need to take that one more step to get over the hump, and I think things are really going to start rolling for us."
Cuyahoga Falls was scheduled to play at Suburban League cross division rival Barberton Friday.
The Black Tigers are scheduled to open National Conference play Sept. 14 at Twinsburg.
Both games are set to kick off at 7 p.m.