Nordonia football dominates Lakeside in playoff opener

Eric Clutter
Correspondent
Nordonia wide receiver Matt Hayes breaks loose for a touchdown during a game against Stow-Munroe Falls earlier this season. Hayes scored a 27-yard touchdown in the Knights' 48-7 Division II playoff win at home Oct. 9 over Ashtabula Lakeside.

The unique playoff format of this 2020 season presents scenarios like the one that unfolded Oct. 9 at Nordonia's Boliantz Stadium -- a complete mismatch.

The Knights, behind a 45-point first half onslaught, easily dispatched Ashtabula Lakeside 48-7 in a Division II, Region 5 first-round contest.

It was the Knights' first postseason victory since beating Aurora in the first round of the Division II playoffs in 2015.

This classic battle between Knights and Dragons turned out to be a fairy tale for Nordonia fans.

"It was great to see our kids come out and execute," said Nordonia coach Jeff Fox. "I just told the team, you don't take it for granted. It's a playoff victory and you earn the right to be in a position where you feel you are the better team and you just play well. It was great to see that.

"Behind our offensive line, we were able to establish the run and attack it. Defensively, to see our kids play so well and put our offense in great situations to capitalize. Our whole defensive unit played well as team."   

Nordonia, which improved to 4-3 on the season, will now travel to a familiar foe in Mayfield Oct. 16 in a second-round tilt in Region 5.

The Knights spent nearly 80% of the first half (39 of 50 plays) in Dragons territory and the Knights' average starting field position was the visitors' 44-yard line.

That gave Nordonia senior running back Sal Perrine and senior quarterback Billy Levak prime real estate to do damage, and they did just that.

In playing only the opening 24 minutes, the 5-foot-10, 200-pound Perrine rushed 23 times for 115 yards and found the end zone on four occasions.

Levak, who has put up some big numbers through the air so far this season but wasn't required to throw the ball a lot, still connected on 7-of-15 throws for 94 yards and a pair of TD strikes before calling it an early night himself.

"We define balance as being equally able to run or pass, depending on what the defense is giving us," said Fox. "Their game plan early in the game was to take away our passing, and Billy did a great job of leading our offense."

Three Perrine scoring runs of four, two and 12 yards, respectively, combined with an Andrew Lastovka field goal of 26 yards to stake the hosts to a 24-0 lead after one frame.

Levak then hit Cooper Rusk and Matt Hayes on TD strikes of 26 and 27 yards, respectively to extend the gap to 38-0.

Perrine, who averaged 121 yards in his team's first six games, then crossed the goal line for the final time from six yards out with 3:12 remaining in the half to make the count 45-0 at the intermission.

Lakeside (1-6), which was making its first postseason appearance since 2002, did not cross midfield in the first half and had only one first down.

The Dragons finally made their way into Nordonia territory when junior A.J. Raffa rambled 78 yards for a score on the second play of the third period.

Lastovka later added a career-long 47-yard field goal to complete the scoring. His six PATs on the night also made him 36 of 37 for the campaign.

Fox said he is looking forward to next week.

  "We are excited, it's a challenge," said Fox of the impending battle against the Wildcats, who easily defeated Akron Kenmore-Garfield to set up another chapter in this series.

"They are a rival. We play them year in and year out. Our coaching staffs have played against each other multiple times and we have even played them in the regular season and playoffs before. We said when we saw the bracket, it's fitting we get to play Mayfield in 2020. It's a rivalry, we know them very well. They are a worthy opponent and we are going to have our hands full. We are really excited at the challenge."