By Doug Chapin
HOWLAND — Events which occurred in Week 10 of the high school football season greatly impacted Howland High’s 28-21 victory Friday night over Medina Highland in the first round of the Division II, Region 5 playoffs.
Highland senior Kory Wiita suffered a serious neck injury in the Hornets’ game final regular season game and has since undergone two surgeries. The two teams gathered on the field after the game as a prayer was said for Wiita.
Another injury in the same game, a broken hand suffered by sophomore quarterback Jeremy Scholle, forced Highland into a makeshift offensive attack.
“I couldn’t be more proud of our kids, the way they played,” Highland coach Tom Lombardo said. “Under the circumstances … we didn’t have a quarterback. We just practiced that [offense] this week, but the kids fought like crazy.
“We had a tight end playing running back, we had a running back playing quarterback.
I’m not trying to make excuses, it’s the reality of what it was. But our kids never said, ‘Woe is me.’ We just tried to find a way to do it and we almost did.”
Howland coach Dick Angle expected a great effort from the Hornets.
“They had a community cause. The young man was hurt and they were playing hard for him and their program,” Angle said. “We expected a great game. We didn’t realize the quarterback had broken his hand. But still, here’s a guy with a broken hand playing the wing and causing us fits on the jet play in the second half.”
Howland’s senior running back Mike Mangiarelli rushed for 200 yards including touchdown runs of 33, 25 and 24 yards, and freshman Deveon Smith added 102 yards on the ground.
Howland (10-1) opened a 20-0 lead in the first half but twice saw Highland (6-5) make it a one-score contest. The key, according to Angle, was the Hornets’ successful onside kick to start the second half.
“It still comes down to us not fielding the onside kick. It was the last thing we talked about going out,” he said. “Special teams cannot make those mistakes, we practice too long on special teams.”
Things started well for the home team as Highland’s Aaron Maslowski, went down to a knee to field a low punt snap on the Hornets’ first possession. The ball was whistled dead, giving Howland possession at the Highland 33.
Mangiarelli took just one play to score, starting left with a pitch and then cutting back to the right and outrunning the defense into the end zone.
The Tigers drove 98 yards in 11 plays, using up the first five minutes of the second quarter to increase the lead to 14-0. Smith ran the ball on the first eight plays, moving the ball to midfield. The touchdown came when senior quarterback Matt Preston hit Matt Chambers on an out pattern and Chambers raced down the sideline for a 36-yard scoring play.
Howland followed up with a 64-yard, seven-play scoring drive keyed by runs of 16 yards and 25 yards (for the touchdown) by Mangiarelli. The Hornets blocked the extra point.
“We thought we were bigger and stronger than them and we thought we had speed on them to the outside,” Angle said. “I think the first half we dominated. We’re up 20-6 and we are going to get the third-quarter kickoff. If we put another drive together and it’s not a dogfight. But instead they got the onside kick and went down and scored.”
Highland scored late in the first half, then followed up the onside kick recovery with another score, taking 14 plays to drive 48 yards.
The Tigers’ Cody Reesman recovered a Highland fumble on the Hornets 34-yard-line and Mangiarelli took over from there, running 10 yards and then 24 for the score. A pass from Preston to Chambers for the two-point conversion made it 28-14 with 9:18 remaining.
“We said, ‘Protect the ball, don’t turn it over,’ and we didn’t,” Angle said. “Their turnovers hurt them. In a close game that’s going to be the difference.”
Highland scored its last touchdown with 1:16 remaining and Howland was able finish off the victory.
But there was a lot more than football on the minds of most Friday night.
“As I told the kids, football is a microcosm of life, really,” Highland‘s Lombardo said. “We’ve got another game left and we’re going to battle in that one, for Kory, just as hard as we battled tonight.”