It was a matchup of arguably two of the most improved gridiron teams in the Suburban League National Conference this season, but Nordonia is the hottest after a 48-12 victory over improving Cuyahoga Falls.
Wins just aren't coming easy for the young Black Tigers and just as it has been throughout the 2018 campaign, host Falls showed some tremendous positives in the Oct. 12 contest.
Facing a new-look Falls offense, the red-hot Knights had to make some adjustments to best the Black Tigers.
Falls used senior quarterback Tyler Vassalotti in a single backfield alignment.
The move worked and created a lot of strong ball control for the Falls offense, but Nordonia's defense is the most improved unit in the league.
Nordonia, which moved to 7-1 overall, disrupted Vassalotti in the pass game with six sacks, a lot of pressure, and an interception return for a 51-yard touchdown by Julius Jones in the fourth quarter.
"Nordonia is definitely a hot team and kudos for them and the job Jeff Fox does, but … our plan was to eat up some clock with ball control, and keep the ball out of their hands," said Falls head coach Shane Parker.
"I think that Nordonia has a lot of weapons, and we wanted to move the ball, but we didn't capitalize on all of our drives," he added.
Offensively, the Black Tigers posted an impressive 16 first downs in the game, a whopping 32-plus minutes of ball possession, and were a respectable 5-of-13 on third down conversions.
Vassalotti accounted for over 300 total yards and two touchdowns in the loss on a whopping 67 touches.
It was a career best total for Vassalotti, who rushed 33 times for 121 yards and one TD and was 22-34 passing for one score.
By the way, Vassalotti also chipped in 15 tackles on defense for the Black Tigers.
"Tyler does so much for us," said Parker, of his defensive work at safety.
"We have had some big injuries to our backs and we had to make best with what we have; he is always so important to us that we always want to try and limit the hits he takes, but we had to go with this, and he had over 300 yards."
Falls has been plagued with injuries, including at running back with battle-tested senior James Cross and speedy junior Robert Graves. Cross was also a fixture at linebacker.
Nordonia veteran QB Robby Levak was sensational as he passed for four touchdowns and ran for another for five scores.
Levak connected with eight different receivers as he was 15-of-27 passing for four TD's and no interceptions. He had six rushes for 36 yards and a 4-yard TD scamper.
To start the game, Levak had 40-yard and a 23-yard TD strikes to wide receiver Jordan Jones and O'Donnell, respectively.
Making it 27-0 at the half, Levak had a 15-yard TD pass to Julius Jones and his TD run.
For the game, Nordonia had an average starting field position of their own 46-yard line. It's tough to beat teams that have that kind of field position.
Falls (1-7, 1-4) was set to play a league battle at arch-rival Stow-Munroe Falls (3-5, 3-2) Friday.
The Black Tigers host North Royalton in a league game in the season finale Oct. 26.
Another bright spot for Falls was junior wide out Braunavan Arsenault, who had eight catches for 79 yards.
"I think Braunavan understands the nuances of playing wide receiver because he filled in so well for Vassalotti at quarterback," said Parker.
Eric Rosiak, a 6-foot-3 senior wide receiver, had a 4-yard TD catch from Vassalotti on a 12-play, 68-yard scoring drive with 3.0 seconds left in the third stanza. The score cut the Nordonia lead to 34-12.
Prior to Rosiak's scoring reception, Falls had an impressive five-minute scoring drive that churned out 59 yards in 12 plays as Vassalotti had a one-yard keeper for a touchdown.
On defense, veteran senior linebacker Tyler Hitchings also was praised for his overall play while sophomore cornerback Isaiah Campbell has shown flashes.
"Tyler (Hitchings) had a very good game and Isaiah Campbell has come on the past few weeks and is really competing at a high level for a sophomore," said Parker.
Senior Daizhaun Brazile had five catches for 35 yards for the Black Tigers while sophomore Christian Casto caught five passes for 30 yards. Senior Alex Rowan had three catches for eight yards.