MACEDONIA — When Nordonia played host to Stow-Munroe Falls Friday at Boliantz Stadium, it was a contest between two teams in need of a turnaround.
What took place was an instant classic between the Suburban League American Conference rivals.
A reverse play on a kickoff return produced a 90-yard touchdown for Nordonia’s Jon Banks with 27 seconds left. That score produced the last of eight lead changes as the Knights scored a 31-28 win.
Nordonia improved to 4-3, 2-2 in the National Conference, while Stow dropped to 4-3, 1-3 in the National Conference.
Nordonia coach Jeff Fox paid tribute to his team’s ability to keep fighting through adversity.
"I’m just so proud of our young men," Fox said. "Trust and maturity have been two of our themes all year. We’ve been dealing with the bad excuse of us being a young football team all year. To win a game like that shows we’re maturing as a team."
Stow coach Tom Phillips said his team was not living up to its expectations.
"We absolutely performed bad," Phillips said. "There’s no excuses for what happened. We weren’t clicking on all cylinders because we had to shift some people due to injuries.
"They kept fighting, but the whole team did not perform," he added. "We had breakdowns on offense, defense and special teams."
The first half saw both offenses work in fits and starts.
After Nordonia’s Geo Loya picked off a pass from Stow quarterback Owen Bainbridge, the Knights capitalized with a 12-yard touchdown pass from Billy Levak to Cooper Rusk with 6:28 left in the first quarter. However, a bad snap foiled the extra point.
Nordonia forced two turnovers and had every first-half drive reach Nordonia territory, but the Knights could not find anymore points.
By contrast, Stow was on the wrong side of the field position battle for the entire half, but found its way to the lead just before halftime.
Bulldog defensive back Jack Bryden picked off Levak at the Stow 15. That led to a 14-play, 85-yard drive, capped by a 6-yard touchdown run from Josh Andrassy from the fullback position.
Chris Miller’s extra point gave Stow the 7-6 halftime lead.
Running back Xavier Preston was the impetus for Stow’s offense, as the sophomore ran for 190 yards on 26 carries.
After playing with a short field in the first half, the Knights opened the second half with a 16-play, 80-yard drive.
Sal Perrine capped the drive with a 6-yard touchdown run. Levak then has his two point conversion pass tipped, but Jon Henderson caught to make it 14-7.
Stow had only eight total yards in the third quarter and needed two fourth-down conversions to get back in the end zone early in the fourth quarter.
That’s when the fun really began as the two teams traded the lead five times in the final eight minutes.
Preston broke loose for a 28-yard touchdown with 9:18 left in the game. Stow then chose to go for the lead and it worked as Bainbridge hit Jack Costa open for a 2-point conversion pass to make it 15-14 Stow.
Nordonia answered with a 51-yard bomb from Levak to Joel Jones. However, the Knights had to settle for a 26-yard field goal from Andrew Lastovka, giving Nordonia a 17-15 lead with 5:30 left in the game.
A reverse run by Stow’s Jack Costa set up Stow’s next score as Bainbridge ran in a 15-yard touchdown run on the next play. The 2-point conversion run was no good, but Stow led 21-17 with 3:17 left.
Bainbridge finished 15-of-25 for 116 yards, one touchdown and one interception, while Levak went 14-of-19 for 224 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
A 42-yard bomb from Levak to Henderson set up Nordonia’s next score, as Perrine burst open for a 28-yard touchdown run with 2:12 left. Perrine finished with 123 yards rushing on 23 carried.
Once again, Stow answered, aided by a couple of Norodonia penalties. Bainbridge hit Dalen Stovall with a 12-yard touchdown pass with 44 seconds left and Miller’s extra point made it 28-24.
"I was just telling the guys, ‘one play a time,’" Fox said. "I was getting our offense to get into two-minute mode."
Nordonia went to a kickoff play it has used several times in the Fox era. Dom Stockle caught ensuing kickoff at the 3-yard line and ran diagonally across the filed. At the 10-yard line, Stockle flipped the ball to Banks running the other direction, opening a hole.
Banks sprinted 90 yards for the winning touchdown setting off wild celebrations for Nordonia.
Stow had on last chance, but Banks ended up recovering a fumble on Stow’s next play from scrimmage.