The Cardinals built an early lead, then halted a late Aviators' rally.
By ERIC HAMILTON
ALLIANCE -- Coming off a disappointing loss to Canton South, the Canfield High football team needed a spark Friday against former Metro Athletic Conference rival Alliance.
The Cardinals received a boost from several unexpected places, using a timely interception, a blocked punt and a strong kick return game to seize a 20-6 lead.
Then the Cardinals held off a furious fourth-quarter rally by Alliance, en route to a 34-22 win at Mount Union Stadium.
"We outexecuted a good Alliance team on special teams and our defense did a tremendous job against a great quarterback [Charles Baab]," Canfield coach Mike Pavlansky said. "That long kickoff return when we expected an onside kick was huge in that it gave us a chance to go ahead by two scores.
"A one touchdown lead isn't enough against a team like Alliance," Pavlansky said.
Canfield broke open a close contest late in the third quarter, taking advantage of a blocked punt by Colin Hoelzel. Stephen Ruhl recovered the loose ball at the Alliance 3.
Sean Baker barreled into the end zone on the first play to give the Cardinals a 20-6 cushion heading into the final quarter.
But that's when things got exciting. The teams combined for 30 points in the final period, setting up a scintillating finish.
On Alliance's first drive of the fourth quarter, Baab went to the air with precision. First he connected with Chris Bivins for a 39-yard strike.
Four plays later, on fourth-and-12 at the Canfield 26, he found Coty Bates for a 17-yard gainer to the Cardinals 9.
On the next snap, Baab connected with Jon Andrews in the back of the end zone for a 9-yard TD strike. Jeff White's two-point conversion run cut Alliance's deficit to 20-14 with 9:51 left in the fourth quarter.
After a Canfield punt, Mike Hoelzel intercepted a Baab pass attempt with 6:30 left to give Canfield the ball at the Alliance 44.
The Cardinals converted on the opportunity in hopes of putting things away. On the third play of the drive, Carrocce tossed a screen pass to Baker who did the rest. He weaved his way through the secondary for a 41-yard score to put Canfield ahead 27-14 with 5:06 left.
But Baab wasn't finished. He drove the Aviators into Canfield territory for another score.
With 3:25 left, receiver Coty Bates caught a tipped ball in the end zone for a 22-yard score. Baab hit Andrews for the two-point conversion to cut the lead to 27-22.
On the ensuing kickoff, instead of going for an onside kick, Alliance booted the ball deep. Backup running back Pat Fenning made that decision hurt, returning the ball to the Aviators‚ 28.
Four plays later, on fourth-and-2, Baker put the game out of reach when he broke loose for a 20-yard touchdown -- his third score of the game.
"This is a great win going into league play," said Pavlansky. "I thought our defense contained Baab well and played with a sense of urgency and passion. The defense we played last week against South was not the kind of defense we're used to seeing. Our performance tonight is more like Canfield defense."