TALLMADGE — They committed far too many penalties, had two too many players tackled in their own end zone and more players saw their legs wobble due to lack of hydration.
And yet, the Blue Devils’ debut on their new field nearly had a sensational ending.
However, a costly miscue in the final minute proved costly for the Tallmadge football team.
The Blue Devils suffered a heartbreaking 25-20 defeat to Ravenna Friday at Tallmadge Blue Devils Stadium.
Tallmadge had first-and-goal from the Ravens’ 9-yard line with about a minute remaining. A win for the home team seemed just about inevitable when running back senior running back Jesse Kanatzar scampered eight yards to the 1.
And then, just like that, everything fell apart for the Blue Devils.
Tallmadge was called for a false start, which moved the ball back to the 6, and then had two fade passes in each corner of the end zone fall incomplete.
"That put us in a play we shouldn’t have been," Blue Devils’ first-year head coach Mike Hay said. "We were ready to call a different running play and then all of a sudden, I look up and we’re on the 5 1⁄2-yard line, so we had to change the play really quick."
It was a fitting conclusion to a three-hour showdown that featured many injuries and many infractions.
Tallmadge had numerous players temporarily leave the field because of cramps. The Blue Devils also committed several penalties, which mainly took place before the ball was snapped.
Nevertheless, Tallmadge somehow managed to make things incredibly interesting even though it seemed like the Blue Devils were left for dead more times than Dracula.
Tallmadge got inside the red zone, thanks to a hook-and-ladder play.
On third-and-18, quarterback Drew Cross completed a pass to Nate Amato who then flicked the ball to Jesse Kanatzar. By the time Ravenna’s defense brought Kanatzar down, the Blue Devils had first-and-goal.
"Obviously, the kids fought until the very end," Hay said. "Our defense flew around and made plays all night long. They kept us in the game. Our offense didn’t get a first down until the first quarter and a half. The defense was amazing that second half."
Things started out pretty well for Tallmadge too.
The Ravens were forced to punt after going three and out. The Blue Devils made sure Ravenna’s kick went backwards as Amato blocked the punt and raced into the end zone untouched from 27 yards away.
Unfortunately for Tallmadge, Ravenna regained the momentum and held it the rest of the way.
The Ravens put together a 10-play, 68-yard scoring drive that featured a 33-yard conversion on a fake punt. They finished the job when quarterback Anthony Lunardi completed a 22-yard touchdown pass to Paul Henderson on fourth down.
Lunardi added a 42-yard TD pass to Donovan Kelly late in the first quarter to give Ravenna the lead (14-7) for good.
The Ravens also got a safety and then a blocked punt that was recovered by Zephaniah Robinson, who scored from 11 yards away to build Ravenna’s advantage to 16 (23-7).
The Blue Devils got some much needed momentum at the end of the first half. Tallmadge put together an eight-play, 68 yard scoring possession to cut the Ravens’ lead to 10.
The drive featured a 33-yard pass play from Cross to Evan Teeling. The Blue Devils scored when Cross completed a pass to 6-foot-4 receiver Brandon Heigelmann in the back of the end zone with 30.6 showing on the clock.
While the two scoring drives were nice, Tallmadge had much trouble moving the ball for much of the evening.
The Blue Devils gave away two more points midway through the third quarter when a snap on a punt attempt got away. Since a safety was inevitable, Tallmadge punter Eli Zander kicked the ball out of the end zone. That miscue gave Ravenna a 25-13 advantage.
But the Blue Devils refused to go away.
Tallmadge made it a one-score game with a seven-play, 62-yard possession that ended with a connection from Cross to Heigelmann for a 33-yard score.
Unfortunately, the Blue Devils couldn’t punch it in one last time.
Although Tallmadge got inside the red zone on its first possession of the fourth quarter, the drive stalled when it had a pass fall incomplete on fourth down.
Since the Ravens had the lead, they could eat up some clock down the stretch.
"We’ve played Tallmadge nine or 10 years and it usually comes down to the last minute," Ravenna head coach Jim Lunardi said. "For their community, what a wonderful place this is. They should be very proud of this place. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Their kids played hard."
Heigelmann finished with three receptions for 92 yards. Cross completed 13 of 23 passes for 207 yards. The Blue Devils finished with just 15 yards rushing.
Kanatzar led Tallmadge’s defense with 12 tackles, including three tackles for a loss. Ben Blankenship added eight tackles, including 3 ½ tackles for a loss.
Hay could take some solace in the fact that his feisty team made things extremely interesting in the end.
Then again …
"No, not at all," Hay said. "The effort is encouraging. I learned that we’re going to fight until the end. We have a bunch of guys that want the ball. We have to find a way to spread it out a little bit."
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, firstname.lastname@example.org or @FrankAceto_RPC.