Twinsburg football sees playoff run end at Austintown

Steve Batko
Correspondent
Twinsburg linebacker Joe Bova returns a fumble recovery during the Tigers' playoff win at Brush Oct. 9. Twinsburg was eliminated from the playoffs with 35-0 loss Austintown-Fitch Oct. 16.

As disappointing as the team’s playoff loss was for Twinsburg – especially after recent progress – this football season is not lost at all.

In an odd way, both Twinsburg and second-seed victor Austintown Fitch got their way after the 35-0 week-eight decision in the second round of the Division II Region 5 playoffs.

Ranked seventh in Ohio’s state poll, undefeated Fitch (7-0) got its wish by virtue of the win.

Fitch had its first playoff win since 2014 when the Falcons beat Wadsworth and hosts seventh-seed and rival Warren Harding (5-3) for the second time this fall in the third round of the playoffs Oct. 23.

The 18th seed, Twinsburg (1-5), saw its post season end with the loss at Fitch in the team’s first-ever meeting at Falcon Stadium.

However, the Tigers still have three games scheduled to play and possibly a fourth thanks to some work by Twinsburg officials.

As the Falcons finished the regular season undefeated for the first time since 2013 with a thrilling 42-41 win over Division III perennial Ohio powerhouse Steubenville (5-2) in overtime, Fitch did not dominate Twinsburg early on.

In fact, it took a 21-0 second-quarter blitz by the Falcons, who amassed 398 total yards while the Tigers had 177.

Despite senior Aidan Corrigan still hobbling from a pesky high ankle sprain, Twinsburg came out ready as the offense drove the ball down the field.

Senior Dylan Crouch has shined on special teams, H-back and helping out at linebacker this fall.

Recently, due to injuries, Crouch has made an even larger impact at linebacker and at running back.

“We moved Dylan to tailback and he is just a tough competitor who plays football the way it is supposed to be played,” noted Bell.

Crouch had a nice first down run to the Falcon 15 on the first drive, but it stalled and junior Banerjee Shantonu missed a 35-yard field goal attempt.

Fitch responded as a long catch and run by Donnie Ellis and a pass to Ty Evans pushed the ball to the Tiger two.

However, Twinsburg’s defense held off Fitch in the red zone. On fourth down, senior safety Antoine Brown defended a pass attempt.

“Our defense came up big with a great goal-line stance,” emphasized Bell.

“We opened up with a really nice drive as the guys were ready to play and we did a great job moving the ball and on defense, but we needed to convert that into points,” pointed out Bell.

Tyree Mitchell fought through the line for a 9-yard touchdown burst early in the second quarter to give Fitch a 7-0 lead.

While Fitch drove the ball again, Tiger senior Jordan Maxwell stopped Mitchell on third down at the Tiger 7, but an encroachment penalty against Twinsburg gave Fitch a first-and-goal.

On the next play, junior QB Devin Sherwood rolled right and hit an open Evans in the corner of the endzone on a 4-yard TD pass to make it 14-0 midway through the second stanza.

Twinsburg attempted to open up its offense with an option pass attempt by senior wide out Logan Genos, but had some more success on a first down toss to Genos and then junior QB Trevor Horvath converted on fourth-down with a first down scamper.

Driving to the Fitch 30, Twinsburg came up short on downs as Horvath scrambled out of the pocket and was stopped on another fourth-down run.

Fueled by a horse collar penalty against the Tigers, Fitch sophomore back Jamel James caught a 15-yard pass in the flat from Sherwood and broke a tackle for a score to make it 21-0.

With some more success in a hurry-up offense, Twinsburg moved the ball again as the clock winded down. Shantonu missed a 37-yard field goal attempt.

Twinsburg’s offense never recovered against a Fitch defense that posted its first shutout of the fall after returning 10 starters from a 5-5 club in 2019.

Sherwood connected with Jaden Murray for a 21-yard TD strike to push it to 28-0 early in the second half.

Quietly, Sherwood had a stellar game going 14-18 passing for 194 yards and four touchdowns.

A year ago as a sophomore, Sherwood tossed for 1,445 yards and ran for 787 yards and had just four interceptions on 149 attempts.

With over 2,200 total yards and 23 TD’s, Sherwood became Fitch’s top dual-threat QB since Antwan Harris, who had over 1,000 yards rushing and passing six years ago.

“We ran into a very good football team,” said Bell. “He (Sherwood) is a competitor.”

Sherwood scored again midway through the fourth on a 17-yard toss to James to make it 35-0 and force a running clock with 8:19 remaining in the contest.

James had a big game with 110 yards on 18 attempts, plus 32 yards receiving and two TD’s.

Bell was disappointed after the loss, but is still excited for his senior and young athletes as Twinsburg still has games on the schedule.

In addition, Twinsburg did post its first state playoff win in almost a decade with the 42-14 win over Lyndhurst Brush.

The last playoff win came Nov. 6 in 2010 when placekicker Jake Russell booted a 20-yard field goal in overtime as the seventh-seeded Tigers beat second-seed and previously undefeated Sylvania Southview (10-1) 24-21.

Besides the playoff win, Tiger seniors still have more chances to succeed in a unique season schedule.

On Saturday, Twinsburg picked up a game for Oct. 23 as the Tigers will host Kenston, plus will have home games against Cuyahoga Falls Oct. 30 and against Lakewood Nov. 6.

This unique opportunity will lend more grid time for seniors, but also more reps for underclassmen as well – so there is purpose.

“I think we’re all excited to still be playing and have opportunities to improve,” said Bell. “Experience is the best teacher.”

One of those exciting underclassmen who is coming on strong is sophomore defensive end and tight end Declan Malenchek.

The 6-foot-5, 195-pound Malenchek has had increased roles on both ends of the pigskin, providing a much-needed pass rush and improving defense against the run from his end post.

As the team’s H-back and tight end, Malenchek can block and is a nice target for Horvath.

“For a sophomore, Declan really is doing a nice job and he doing it on both ends,” said Bell. “He is becoming a nice route runner and he has soft hands.”

Kenston, a Division III unit, is 3-3 overall this year and is a longtime rival for Twinsburg going back to the days in the Western Reserve Conference.