Thomas leads Tallmadge football to first win over Twinsburg

Steve Batko
Correspondent
Tallmadge running back Cole Thomas looks for room during the Blue Deviles' 24-20 win at Twinsburg Sept. 25. Thomas ran for a pair of touchdowns in the win.

Something had to give when Twinsburg and Tallmadge met at Tiger Stadium as both football teams were searching for their first win of the fall.

That something came in the form of unheralded Blue Devil junior Cole Thomas.

Thomas had a career rushing night, plus made two of the game’s biggest plays late with a fumble recovery and a halfback option pass.

Tallmadge had a slew of contributions to post a spirited 24-20 win to move to 1-3 overall.

“It has been 13 weeks since we have won and this was an inspired win as we came in down and out, and had every reason to be down, but these kids were not down,” said Blue Devil coach Mike Hay after the win.

“I am so proud of our resiliency,” said Hay, who was congratulated by Twinsburg coach Mike Bell, who travelled the length of the field to personally speak with him.

Hay revealed that he had been texted late in the game that this “W” could be a program-changing win.

“I hope it is a program-changing win,” said Hay. “I think it can be.”

Hay marveled at how his club fought adversity with six athletes out of action, including a pair of linemen, and succeeded against an improving Tiger unit (0-3).

Meanwhile, Bell was disappointed, but saw his club make huge strides after a poor first half and a 17-0 deficit.

Twinsburg senior Alex Branch attempts to shuck off a Tallmadge defender during the Tigers' 24-20 home loss to the Blue Devils Sept. 25.

“We obviously were not happy at the half as we did not play well,” Bell said. “I challenged the kids to play hard and focused and they responded.”

“The guys came pretty close in the second half with our play, but like we have said before, we need a complete game for 48 minutes, not just 36,” Bell said. “The guys made plays, but we are still having lapses.”

Coming into the game, Thomas had one carry for minus two yards.

That changed quickly as Thomas had 131 yards rushing on 28 carries and two touchdowns.

In addition, with Twinsburg threatening to score the go-ahead touchdown, Thomas recovered a fumble off of a high snap that went off the fingertips of outstretched Tiger quarterback Trevor Horvath with 4:06 left in the game.

Then after Dylan Crouch stopped Thomas for a loss, Tallmadge faced a third down and 12 when the Blue Devils made a gutsy call and Thomas delivered – once again.

Thomas got the ball on a run play, but he pulled up and tossed a perfect 35-yard halfback pass to Collin Dixon.

Tallmadge eventually had to punt, but the huge play chewed up a lot of the clock and pushed the ball deeper into Tiger territory. Taking over at their 34 with 1:31 left, Twinsburg had three incomplete passes and then Tallmadge vet Nate Amato intercepted a pass to seal the win.

“That was one of the biggest plays of the game and Cole had a really nice throw to Collin Dixon, who is a swiss army knife type of football player for us,” stressed Hay.

“Cole Thomas really stepped up and had a great game,” Hay stated. “It was so exciting because it was his first start and had never really carried the ball.”

Hay was pumped up about his offensive line and praised the work of senior Gunther Zehner, junior Ryan Haupt, junior Brian Blankenship, sophomore Caiden McCullough, and sophomore Zac Robinson.

Hay then got to some coaching points for his young squad that allowed Twinsburg to get back into the game.

The Blue Devil coach will look to clean up some things, but also realizes Twinsburg made plays in the second half.

With some athletic defenders, Twinsburg couldn’t negate perimeter running by Thomas, but the Tiger defense had a stellar second half, shutting down Thomas to just 26 yards on 17 carries after averaging 9.4 yards a carry in a 105-yard first half.

“I was a little surprise they ran outside on us, but our defense really shored things up in the second half,” said Bell.

Thanks to strong punting by Twinsburg’s Kyan Barnes, Tallmadge dug itself out of its territory by hitting some open receivers, but the first quarter remained scoreless.

Then a 48-yard TD run by Thomas was called back due to an illegal block in the back, but on the next play, sophomore Seth Yacobucci went up and won a jump ball on a 23-yard first down pass.

On third and-9, sophomore QB Ty Hurst found a wide-open Dixon (five catches for 89 yards) in the flat for 14 yards.

Hurst, who hit 16 of 32 passes for 237 yards, hit Yacobucci on a 5-yard play action TD pass to make it 7-0 at the 10:06 mark of the second quarter. Yacobucci had five catches for 89 yards.

An alert Griffin Willmott recovered an onside kick attempt for Twinsburg, but Barnes was forced to punt and had another kick inside the 20.

Tallmadge quickly moved down the field, keyed by a 42-yard pass from Hurst to Mason Dexter (three catches for 70 yards).

On the next play, Thomas ran around the left end for a 25-yard TD jaunt and a Reece Parry PAT pushed the lead to 14-0 at the 7:20 mark.

Aiden Corrigan had a twisting 7-yard first down run on fourth-and-1 to move the Tiger ball to the Tallmadge 37, but a few plays later, Dexter got inside position and picked off a Tiger pass to thwart the scoring threat.

Two plays later, Thomas raced 37 yards as Twinsburg had three missed tackles.

It was a run that led to a critical field goal with 19 seconds left as Parry booted a 43-yard field goal.

The senior had plenty of distance as Parry’s boot tied the school record held by Dave Staszak.

Parry then promptly had a perfect onside kick and high bounce that was recovered by special teams’ ace and linebacker Nick Cuva at the Tiger 45 with 15 ticks left.

That’s when Twinsburg’s Chris Wilson intercepted a pass as the first half expired.

Tallmadge started the second half with a nice 13-play drive, but a TD pass was called back due to pass interference and missed a 32-yard field goal.

Just two plays later, Twinsburg’s Alex Branch showed his raw speed as he took a jet sweep and raced 80 yards for a TD to cut the lead to 17-7.

Manny Curtis then intercepted a long Blue Devil pass in solo coverage, but Twinsburg’s momentum was negated two plays later when Amato recovered a fumble at the Tiger 39.

Fueled by a pair of Tiger personal fouls, Thomas scored on a 9-yard TD run to extend the lead to 24-7 with 2:58 left in the third.

Logan Genos had a big 47-yard kickoff return and coupled with a personal foul by Tallmadge, Twinsburg had the ball at the Tallmadge 28 with a golden opportunity.

However, Twinsburg had two dropped passes and a 10-yard loss on a fumble on a reverse.

Twinsburg’s playmakers had a big-time fourth period.

Horvath (187 yards on 6-of-18 passing) hit a streaking Branch near the sideline, who exploded for an 84-yard scoring catch and run.

In a clash featuring two gifted young signal callers, Horvath rolled out under pressure and beautifully flicked a perfect side-arm toss to the speedy Branch.

Twinsburg’s defense then halted a Blue Devil drive that stalled on downs at the Tiger 33.

On the next play from scrimmage, Horvath had a pump fake and threw a perfect strike to a wide-open Genos, who scampered 67 yards for a TD, but on the extra point, Genos has a failed two-point conversion run.

“It was good to see some big plays on offense,” said Bell. “We always see it in practice and we know the kids are capable.”

The Tiger defense forced another punt and a 12-yard return by Genos gave Twinsburg another superb situation to score at the Blue Devil 28 with 6:03 left.

Keyed by a nice 23-yard catch by Nathan Christenson, Twinsburg had first-and goal from the Devil’s 2-yard line. That’s when Thomas recovered the fumble off the shotgun snap.

Tiger seniors include Colin Bowser, Alex Branch, Xavier Branch, Antoine Brown, Corrigan, Crouch, Amaree Cunningham, Curtis, Quran Franklin, Genos, Calvin Gibson, Keith Golphin, SirRonte Hobdy, Patrick Holmes, Daryl Kirkpatrick, Cade Laverdiere, Jordon Maxwell, Tacarda Patterson, Michael Penny, Dylan Perich, Mario Piccolomini, Geshaun Robinson, La Tel Rush, Grant Sayoc, Jaylan Shabazz, Ramandeep Signh, Aaron Wallace and Wilson.