TALLMADGE - The host Tallmadge football team’s despair turned to elation quickly with seven minutes remaining in its 20-14 victory over Akron Ellet Friday evening at Thomas Rossiaky Stadium.
Orangemen quarterback Josh Merring had just thrown what appeared to be a go-ahead 4-yard touchdown pass to senior Christian Whack, but a holding penalty nullified the play, backing Ellet to the 14-yard line.
Two plays later, the Orangemen ran a double reverse, but fumbled the ball on the second exchange.
The Blue Devils’ Jason Grassie recovered and Ellet didn’t get another shot at the end zone the rest of the game.
Tallmadge defeated the Orangemen 31-7 last year.
"They [the Orangemen] absolutely are improved from last year," Blue Devils head coach Alan Vanderink said. "They had a lot of the same guys and they are a year older and better."
The Tallmadge defense held firm for much of the second half, allowing just 123 total yards and holding Merring to 10-for-29 passing in the last two quarters.
The Orangemen recovered two Blue Devil fumbles in the second half, including one that set Ellet up at Tallmadge’s 34, but the Blue Devils’ stout defensive line led the team to pitch a second-half shutout.
"We had a lot of sequences where we kept turning the ball over," Vanderink said. "I think they had 46 snaps to our 18 in the second half. It wasn’t a very clean game. We would run for a 20-yard gain and then we would fumble."
The Orangemen’s most effective offensive drive was its first one when junior running back Travon Walker chewed up 38 total yards, culminating in an 8-yard touchdown run to give Ellet a 7-0 lead.
Tallmadge (1-1) responded on the next drive with a 46-yard quarterback keeper from senior Sam Seeker. A missed extra point kept Ellet in the lead, 7-6. Seeker finished the game with 90 yards rushing on 11 carries and a touchdown and also threw for 65 yards on 7-of-14 passing.
The Blue Devils took the lead in the second quarter on a 1-yard run by senior fullback Mike Yamokoski, set up by a 30-yard carry from senior running back Rich Eyre. Eyre led the Blue Devils with 140 rushing yards on 20 carries.
Walker was a problem for Tallmadge again later in the quarter, when Merring floated a deep ball over the safety to the junior running back for an 85-yard score to give Ellet (0-1) a 14-13 advantage. Walker finished the game with 124 total yards and two touchdowns, but was stymied in the second half, rushing for minus 13 yards on two carries.
After a slip screen from Seeker to Eyre set the Blue Devils up in Orangemen territory, a 28-yard touchdown on a jet sweep to Evan Teeling — the junior’s only carry of the game — put Tallmadge ahead for good.
Whack finished the game with two receptions for 61 yards and senior Andrew Bordenkircher ended with four catches — all in the second half — for 28 yards.
"I was proud of the kids and I told them to enjoy the win," Vanderink said. "But we got lucky. We need to get a lot better. If we play that way against a really good opponent, it’s going to be hard to win."