MACEDONIA — Both Nordonia and Cuyahoga Falls football has seen their fortunes rise and fall this season.
On Nordonia’s Senior Night Friday at Boliantz Stadium, the Knights looked to send the Class of 2020 out on a high note vs. the Black Tigers.
As has often been the case this season for Nordonia, turnovers helped determine the outcome, but this time its was the Knights who won the battle.
Four Cuyahoga Falls turnovers proved to be the difference in the game, as Nordonia overcame a scrappy effort from Falls to win 42-28.
Nordonia improved to 4-5, 3-3 in the Suburban League National Conference, while Falls suffered its seventh straight defeat, dropping to 2-7, 0-6 in the National Conference.
Knights senior captain Collin McConahy, who finished with two turnovers on the night, said winning the home final was big.
"It think it was pretty important," McConahy said. "It’s been a down year at times. A win here really boosted the morale for the whole team."
Falls coach Shane Parker said he could not fault his team’s effort, although ball security proved to be the Black Tigers’ downfall.
"We gave them a couple of easy scores and that turned out to be the difference in the game," Parker said. "The kids played their tails off tonight, especially in the second half. When you’re playing from behind all night, it’s a bit difficult."
Nordonia chose to open the game with the first of five onside kicks on the night, but a penalty gave Falls the ball. The Black Tigers opened the game with an 11-play drive, which took nearly eight minutes off the clock.
Running back Robert Graves capped the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run to make it 7-0 with 4:19 left in the first. Graves had a solid night, rushing 31 times for 141 yards and a touchdown.
Unfortunately for Falls, not much else went right for the rest of the first half.
Nordonia was able to answer with a 10-play drive of its own, capped by a 6-yard touchdown run by running back Sal Perrine.
Perrine only ran 13 times, but put up 157 yards rushing and two touchdowns, as well as converting a couple of fourth-down runs for Nordonia
"I was very pleased with how Sal ran tonight," said Nordonia coach Jeff Fox. "I was pleased with our offense overall."
With the game tied at 7-7, Nordonia chose an onside kick after a 15-yard personal foul penalty on Falls and got the ball back.
The ensuing drive ended with quarterback Billy Levak hitting Cooper Rusk with a 4-yard touchdown pass to make it 14-7 with 9:37 left.
That’s when Falls’ self-destruction started.
On the next play from scrimmage, Falls quarterback Braunavan Arsenault was sacked and fumbled. Nordonia linebacker Jaret Maciejowski scooped up the loose ball and ran it in for a 16-yard touchdown return.
Falls’ next drive ended when Graves fumbles and McChonany came up with the loose ball. Two plays later, Perrine swept right and ran down the sidelines for a 62-yard touchdown run.
Nordonia nearly got more points before halftime after recovering another fumble by Graves, but Andrew Lastovka’s 43-yard field goal attempt fell short, sending the Knights to the half with a 28-7 lead.
The Knights looked to be primed to land the knockout blow off the second half kickoff, but their drive ended when Dominic Stockle fumbled and Falls’ Hunter Stanley recovered at the Falls 10.
From there, Falls found something that its been missing most of the year: An explosive passing game. Arsenault hit Christian Castro with a 78-yard bomb to make it 28-14.
Parker noted Arsenault had his best night throwing the ball of the season, going 7-of-12 for 226 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
"I think this has been coming for him," Parker said. "I think our offensive line did a great job protecting him tonight."
Nordonia was able to respond, as Levak hit Joel Jones with a 40-yard wheel rout down the sideline for a touchdown, giving Nordonia a 35-14 advantage after three quarters.
Levak had one of his most efficient nights of the season, going 18-of-21 for 188 yards and three touchdowns.
Both offenses kept coming, despite Fox getting some his reserve seniors into the game in the fourth quarter.
Arsenault used his legs to cap an 11-play drive for Falls with an 8-yard touchdown run with 7:58 left in the game, but Nordonia responded again, as it recovered the onside kick.
Levak hit a 10-yard touchdown pass to Caleb Zender with 4:54 left, making it 42-21.
Falls still refused to go away. A couple of big plays were followed by Arsenault’s second rushing touchdown of the quarter, this time coming from 19 yards out with 4:02 left in the game.
After forcing Nordonia into its only punt of the game, Falls had a chance to make it a one-score contest, thanks to a couple long passes from Arsenault.
However, it was McConahy who ended Falls’ hopes. On second-and-goal from the Nordonia 6-yard line, the 6-foot-7 defensive linemen used his long arms to snag an interception.
"I was just trying to rush him," McConahy said. "I just saw the quarterback’s eyes, so I jumped up and got it."
"For Collin McConahy to end the game like that, it’s pretty special," Fox said. "He’s been a four-year player for us. He’s actually on our ‘hands’ team [for onside kids], because he’s got such soft hands."
Nordonia will look to finish the season at .500 next week when it travels to North Royalton next Friday at 7 p.m.
Meanwhile, Cuyahoga Falls has a date with archrival Stow-Munroe Falls next Friday at Clifford Stadium at 7 p.m.
Reporter Michael Leonard can be reached at 330-541-9442, email@example.com or @MLeonard_GHO