It had been quite a while since the Cuyahoga Falls football team won its first two games of the season.
It had been five years to be exact.
The Black Tigers ended that cold streak by improving to 2-0 with a 19-6 victory Sept. 6 at home over Akron Springfield.
"We were able to have some success offensively early on, and then our defense ended up winning us the game. The defense was great all night," Cuyahoga Falls head coach Shane Parker said. "The defensive guys were swarming to the football. They’ve been playing really good, sound defense.
"Because the defense was playing well, we didn’t really feel the need to do anything too crazy offensively after we got that early lead. We just wanted to get better at what we want to do, and I think we did that."
The Spartans threatened by advancing the ball into the red zone a few times, but on two of those occasions, Cuyahoga Falls stopped them.
"We had a pick in the red zone by senior defensive back Jacob Carleton, and Jacob also had a stripped fumble recovery in the red zone," said Parker. "Our defense stepped up when its back was against the wall. Senior defensive back Braunavan Arsenault also had an interception.
"Offensively, we were pretty balanced with running and passing. I think our kids were able to make the most of situations."
Cuyahoga Falls took the opening kickoff and drove about 70 yards and took a 7-0 lead on a 5-yard touchdown run by senior running back Rob Graves.
"It was a nice, methodical drive," said Parker.
Later in the first quarter, the Black Tigers upped their lead to 13-0 on a 16-yard touchdown run by Graves.
"Rob made a really nice stiff-arm in the hole on the first guy who came in for contact and was able to get out of that tackle and take it the rest of the way untouched," Parker said.
The Cuyahoga Falls lead ballooned to 19-0 later in the quarter when Graves took a short pass from Arsenault, also the quarterback, and raced 58 yards for a touchdown.
"It was kind of like a little wrinkle we have drawn up, a counter play off of one of our main plays," said the coach. "Instead of going one way, we go to the weak side and then Braunavan tosses the ball to Rob, kind of like a screen pass.
"It’s a misdirection play. The defense had keyed on our counter play and they all overcommitted, and we were able to get out of the gate on the back end. Rob caught the ball behind the line of scrimmage and went untouched down the left side of the field."
Springfield avoided the shutout when Logan Woods scored on a two-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
Graves rushed for 204 yards on 26 carries, including one for 24 yards.
"Rob ran the ball great," Parker said. "He’s one of those guys who gets better with every touch he gets. He doesn’t blow you over with his speed, but he leans on you and leans on you and makes the first guy miss. He’s got great vision and can also catch balls out of the backfield. He’s got good hands."
Arsenault completed five of 11 passes for 133 yards with two interceptions.
"One of Braunavan’s picks was because of a miscommunication between him and the wide receivers, and the other one was a tipped ball," said Parker. "Other than that, he had a really solid night. He was efficient, did a really nice job of taking what the defense gave him and, along with the wide receivers, was able to execute the game plan through the air efficiently."
Graves had three receptions for 93 yards. Junior wide receiver Christian Casto caught two passes for 40 yards, including a 29-yarder.
"We had big expectations for Christian coming into the season, and he has not yet disappointed us," the coach said. "He’s really playing at a high level."
Parker also heaped praise upon the Black Tigers’ offensive line.
"Those guys have really been grinding down in the trenches and playing a very physical brand of football, which is what we came in this season trying to do," he said.
Defensively, senior lineman Jaren King led the way with 11 tackles, including one for a loss.
"Jaren had a solid performance," said Parker. "He’s a high-motor kid who plays with sound technique, and he’s always where he’s supposed to be. He does a really good job of finishing plays when he gets there."
Junior safety Kobe Brown had eight tackles.
"Kobe had a good game," Parker said. "He’s a first-year starter, and things are really beginning to click for him. He had a breakout night."
Senior defensive lineman Donovan Mills recorded seven tackles, while freshman cornerback Vonte Jackson had six tackles. Each had a tackle for loss.
"This is only Donovan’s fourth year playing football. He didn’t start until his freshman year," said Parker. "His growth has been exponential week to week, month to month and year to year. He just grows and understands the game and continues to play at a higher and higher level every week.
"Vonte started because we had a couple guys who were banged up. He did an outstanding job for his first time underneath the lights."
With five tackles apiece were senior lineman Jordan Tuttle and junior linebacker Jared Andrews.
Jackson Kunze, a first-grader at Richardson Elementary School, was an honorary captain for Cuyahoga Falls. Kunze has neuroblastoma, a form of brain cancer.
"Jackson has been really close to the program," Parker said. "He’s around quite a bit. All the guys know him. He was on the sideline the whole night."
Cuyahoga Falls is scheduled to play at Barberton Friday at 7 p.m. The Black Tigers are set to open Suburban League National Conference play at North Royalton Sept. 20 at 7 p.m.