Falls fights back but comes up just short against Westlake

Roger Gordon
Correspondent
Cuyahoga Falls' Christian Casto, left, caught a touchdown pass against Westlake.

A never-say-die attitude nearly earned the Cuyahoga Falls football team its first victory of the season.

The Black Tigers fought back from a 15-point deficit with 3:30 to go in the game Sept. 18 at Westlake to pull within two points with about 30 seconds left.

On the 2-point conversion play, Cuyahoga Falls tried a run-option.

“We’d had some success with it. It was one of our most successful plays throughout the game,” Black Tigers head coach Shane Parker said. “Vonte Jackson, our sophomore quarterback, threw the ball up, but there was a breakdown in execution. One of our players messed up his route, and the ball fell incomplete. It was kind of a bummer, but it was something to learn from.”

Cuyahoga Falls tried an onside kick that failed, and Westlake ran out the clock in a 28-26 victory over the Black Tigers, whose record dropped to 0-3.

The Demons took a 7-0 first-quarter lead on a short touchdown run. The Black Tigers made it 7-6 on a short touchdown run by Jackson on fourth down. Later in the first, the home team upped its lead to 14-6 on a long pass play.

“It was a busted coverage,” said Parker.

Cuyahoga Falls pulled within 14-13 in the second quarter when Jackson threw about an 18-yard touchdown strike to senior wide receiver Christian Casto.

“It was a soft route, and Christian ended up making a guy miss and took it all the way to the house,” Parker said.

Westlake increased its lead to 22-13 in the third quarter on another long pass play on a busted coverage. The Demons extended their lead to 28-13 on a short TD run in the fourth quarter.

Cuyahoga Falls made the score 28-20 when Casto caught a 65-yard touchdown pass from Jackson.

“It was a fade, and Christian got behind the coverage,” said the coach. “Vonte threw a great ball, dropped it right in the basket, and I don’t think anyone touched Christian all the way to the end zone.”

The Black Tigers scored the game’s final points on a short touchdown pass from Jackson to senior wide receiver Elijah Hicks.

“It was contested coverage,” Parker said, “and Elijah caught the ball and dragged his feet into the end zone. It was a really good play.”

The third quarter was the difference in the game, according to Parker.

“We came out and made some crucial mistakes in the third but then kind of turned it back on again in the fourth,” he said. “We weren’t able to string it together for 48 minutes. We have to be able to start the way we finish. If we play with the same sense of urgency that we did in that last three-and-a-half minutes, I think we can be successful.

“The guys refused to quit and were relentlessness. They kept us in the game when our teams of the past probably would’ve hung them up," he continued. "I’m tremendously proud of the poise they showed.”

Jackson completed 15 of 23 passes for 226 yards with the three touchdowns but also two interceptions. He ran the ball 14 times for 76 yards with the touchdown, including a 36-yard scamper.

“That was Vonte’s first start at quarterback, and I thought he answered the challenge pretty well. He stepped up and won the moment for the most part,” said Parker. “He made a couple mistakes that I think he’s learned from after watching film. His preparation has been great, and I think he’s stepping into that role rather nicely.

“Vonte’s ability to run the ball is one of the things he brings to the table. He can run and pass. He’s bringing a lot of the intangibles to our offense, which is helping us be a little bit harder to prepare for. I’m really happy with the way he’s performed. He needs to continue to grow and get better. I foresee that happening.”

Senior running back Kobe Brown carried the ball 16 times for 80 yards, including an 18-yarder. Senior running back Isaiah Campbell had 12 rushes for 46 yards.

“We kind of have a multi-headed rushing attack with Kobe and Vonte. Both of these guys are bringing their ‘A’ game when they’re toting the football,” Parker said. “We have to clean up ball security a little bit because we had another crucial fumble, but overall, I’m really happy with the way they’re progressing at the position and the way they’re progressing within their roles of the offense.

“Both Kobe and Vonte are being very unselfish and are putting the team first, which is a testament to the program we’re running and the kind of men these guys are.”

Casto had five receptions for 101 yards with the two touchdowns, Hicks had six catches for 83 yards, including a 26-yarder, and senior wide receiver Xavier Beasley caught two passes for 33 yards, including a 20-yarder.

“We had Elijah at tailback the first two weeks, but we kind of like his performance better at the wide receiver spot,” said the coach. “So we put in a package of plays to highlight his athleticism. Christian is one of our better athletes as well. He sells out and is always giving his best.

“In our offense, blocking comes before receiving, and both of them are very physical players who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty and block when they need to. Those guys both had a great night.”

Defensively, senior outside linebacker Isaac Puchajda and Brown, doubling at safety, led the way. Puchajda had 11 tackles, while Brown managed eight tackles, including one for a loss.

“That’s two weeks in a row that both Isaac and Kobe had pretty solid defensive performances,” Parker said. “They had a couple mental errors that led to Westlake scoring touchdowns that they shouldn’t have, but other than that, I think that both of these guys are growing tremendously and continuing to improve every single week. They give it their all. That’s all we can ask of them.”