Nordonia football hangs on to win thriller over Barberton at home

Michael Leonard
Kent Weeklies
Nordonia wide receiver Matt Hayes breaks loose for a 67-yards touchdown during the Knights' 41-40 win over Barberton Sept. 4 at Boliantz Stadium.

MACEDONIA — It may have felt different with the restrictions due to COVID-19, but football returned to Boliantz Stadium in Macedonia Friday when Nordonia played host to Barberton.

Fans who came to Boliantz were treated to an instant classic.

Nordonia hung on late for a wild 41-40 win over the Magics in a game that featured four lead changes. The Knights improved to 1-1 on the season, while Barberton dropped to 0-2.

Nordonia receiver Joel Jones breaks free of the defense during the Knights 41-40 win over Barberton on Sept. 4 at Boliantz Stadium. Jones had eight catches for 153 yards in the win.

The contest turned into a clash of styles: Barberton was unable to stop Nordonia's up-tempo passing game, while Knights had huge difficulties with Barberton's power running game.

"That's two good, tough high school football teams," said Nordonia coach Jeff Fox. "Having a balanced offense for us doesn't mean everything is 50/50. It means that we have the ability to attack every team different ways. If that means we have to pass every down, that's fine.

"Barberton is big up front and they used their line very well," Fox added. "They found something that worked and they are physical. We just had to do things our way."

Barberton usually runs a spread offense, but after an ineffective first quarter, the Magics switched to the I-formation — and sometimes the power I — for the rest of the game.

"I'm proud of my guys," said Barberton coach Tony Gotto. "We don't usually run that. I'm just trying to find something that works. I had running backs playing fullback tonight.

"Usually, the more physical team wins in football. The more physical team didn't win tonight, but that's the game of football."

Fox noted kicker Andrew Lastovka was a key element to the Knights' win, as the margin of victory proved to be two missed extra points by the Magics.Lastovka all five of his extra points, as well as field goals from 43 and 31 yards out,

The first half was a tale of two quarters. In the first quarter, Barberton's offense was stuck in neutral, while Nordonia's passing game got rolling.

After completing six passes in a 90-yard drive, Nordonia quarterback Billy Levak pulled the ball down and scrambled for a 6-yard TD run with 6:44 left in the first quarter.

It was the start of huge night for Levak, who went 29-of-47 for a career-high 499 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions. He also led the Knights rushing with 14 yards and touchdown.

"I just told the guys we've got to keep doing what we're doing," Levak said. "My offensive line did a great job. I don't think I got sacked tonight. The weapons we have make it easy for me."

Nordonia next drive culminated with Levek hitting wide receiver Joel Jones on perfect crossing route. Jones turned it into a 36-yard touchdown with 3:54 left in the first quarter.

While Levak spread the ball around, Jones was his favorite target, as he finished with eight catches for 153 yards.

Down 14-0 after one quarter, a turnover and a switch to a power running game allowed Barberton back in the game.

Barberton's Dylan Sutton snatched the first of his two interceptions with 8:03 left in the first half, snatched the ball out of the Nordonia receivers hands and returning it to the Knights' 9.

Two plays later, Barberton running back Cam Macon plunged into the end zone from a yard out. It was the start of huge night for Macon, who finished with 268 yards rushing and four touchdowns for the Magics.

Barberton tied the game with 2:18 left in the first half when Asim Lateef plunged into the end zone from four yards out. However, Nordonia when Lastovka nailed a 43-yard field goal with 1:06 left in the half.

The back-and-forth was just getting started.

Barberton sophomore Glen Parker opened the second half by returning the kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown. However, kicker Eston Brown missed the extra point.

Nordonia responded with its biggest play of the night, as Levak hit junior Matt Hayes a on a slant route, which turned into a 67-yard touchdown.

"Matt Hayes is awesome," Levak said. "He's been working so hard."

After Lastovka's second field goal made it 27-20, Macon scored his second 1-yard touchdown of the game to tie it at 27-27 with 1:17 left in the third.

Nordonia answered with 50-yard bomb from Levak to Cooper Rusk, which set up a 12-yard touchdown pass from Levek to Rusk with 15 seconds left in the third.

Rusk would finished with seven catches for 93 yards and two touchdowns.

Despite being down 34-27 to start the fourth quarter, Barberton looked to have the momentum early in the fourth, thanks to a pair of short touchdowns from Macon.

Macon fought through leg cramps to score a 3-yard TD run with 7:14 left in the game. However, Nordonia would block the extra point to keep the score at 41-34.

Once again, the Knights would answer. A six-play, 67-yard drive culminated with Levak hitting Rusk on a seam route for a 32-yard touchdown.

Lastovka's extra point gave Nordonia the 41-40 edge with 5:03 left in the game.

Barberton final drive saw the Magic's convert a pair of fourth-plays to keep the drive alive, including a 10-yard pass on fourth-and-8 from Magics quarterback Chanden lead to Charles Hornacek. It was Lee's lone completion of the second half.

However, two straight penalties in the last minute of the game left Barberton facing a fourth-and-30 situation. Lee was sacked and fumbled, which Nordonia's Michael Westbrooks recovered as time expired.

Fox lauded the Magics, who converted four fourth-conversions on the night.

"When they're playing like that, you've got to make them earn it," Fox said. "We made some adjustments, which were at least able to slow them down."