By tom Williams
Despite three turnovers, two long kickoff returns allowed and two fourth-down conversions against, the South Range High football team was still in Friday’s Division VI, Region 19 playoff game against Mogadore until the final play.
Brendon Schrock ended the Raiders’ season when he intercepted Raiders quarterback Ryan Miller’s final pass in Mogadore’s 35-28 victory in a regional semifinal at Minerva High School.
“That’s our seniors, they never quit,” South Range coach Dan Yeagley said. “We still had a chance. That shows the tenacity of our players and how they rebounded.
“[But] we made a couple of mistakes and you can’t do that against a good football team.”
What looked like another typical South Range (11-1) game morphed into a nightmare in the second quarter.
Ahead 14-7 in the second quarter, the Raiders were soon in trouble as Wildcats kick returner Dominik Pizzino zipped 48 yards to the South Range 34. Four plays later, Pizzino scored from the 11.
On the Raiders’ next play, Wildcats defensive back Alec Tarter intercepted Miller and returned the ball 27 yards to the 17. On third-and-goal, Wildcats quarterback Anthony Ricci found Pizzino running along the back of the end zone for a 9-yard scoring toss and 21-14 halftime lead.
Pizzino returned the second-half kickoff 49 yards to the South Range 31. Six plays later, Ricci hit Jonathan Miller for a 17-yard score and 14-point lead.
“They had a good attack, they’re a good football team — they get in your way and don’t let you make plays,” Raiders senior lineman Garrett Sorley said.
Ryan Miller’s next pass was picked off by Jeremy Hugg but the Raiders dodged the knockout punch when Riley Jones’ 30-yard field goal attempt went wide.
South Range reverted to form, as junior running back Joe Alessi gained 44 yards on the next seven runs, then senior Billy Goodall scored from 36 yards for a 28-21 score.
Momentum was in the Raiders’ corner four plays later when defensive tackle Jake Ruiz stuffed Ricci on a fourth-and-1 at the South Range 44.
“They had tried the QB sneak before and we knew it was coming,” Ruiz said. “He ran right behind the center — took him out.”
Four plays later, it was Yeagley’s turn to gamble on fourth-and-6. Goodall was stopped for a 1-yard gain. But the Raiders held, forcing a punt.
Yeagley admitted the Raiders don’t normally take such risks.
“[But] we were punting to [Pizzino],” the Raiders coach said. “He did a great job on those kickoff returns. We had to gamble a little bit. I had faith in my kids.
“We needed every break we could get and we didn’t get them.”
With 2:04 remaining, Wildcats running back Brandon Berry scored on a 3-yard run. The Raiders responded with a 69-yard drive and a 38-yard Miller touchdown pass to Bryce Allen just 47 seconds later.
Alessi rushed for 134 yards on 28 carries. He scored on a 22-yard run and caught a short pass from Miller for a 41-yard score.