Springfield prepares for Week 12 showdown vs. Kirtland
By Tom Williams
Over an entire football season, it’s hard to believe that one play can mean so much.
But for the Springfield High School team, senior Frankie Centofanti’s game-saving play against archrival South Range helped propel his teammates to Week 12.
The Tigers are one of five Mahoning Valley football teams still alive this weekend (Warren Harding, Warren JFK, Cardinal Mooney and LaBrae are the others).
In the final seconds of the Tigers’ Week 6 game against South Range, the score was tied 27-27 late when the Raiders attempted a field goal. Centofanti, a safety, lined up on the outside and raced in to block the kick, forcing overtime.
“It was exciting,” senior Jake Ford said of the game-changing play.
The Tigers went on to win the game, 34-27. That victory enabled them to go unbeaten against Inter-Tri County League Red Tier opponents.
Centofanti wasn’t surprised he accomplished his mission.
“In that game, I got a finger on one [kick], I got my palm on [another] but it still [was good],” Centofanti said. “I knew I had to get it.”
The attempt hit “my whole facemask,” he said. “I blocked it pretty good.”
Centofanti credits his teammates.
“We faced a lot of adversity and none of our guys gave up,” Centofanti said of the seesaw game. “Sure, it came down to one play but leading up to that, for me to get the opportunity, all of our guys had to put in a lot of effort.
“It took all of us.”
It’s not the first time Centofanti has succeeded at stopping conversions. He had a blocked kick in each of his sophomore and junior seasons, and two this fall.
Without the block, the Tigers might not have won the South Range game and might not have gone on to win the final ITCL Red Tier title.
And they might not have hosted their Week 11 playoff game against Columbia last Friday.
Once again, the Tigers were magical when it came to bonus football.
This time, the Tigers won in double overtime. Ford caught a 12-yard scoring pass from sophomore quarterback Brannon Brungard and Patrick Flara’s conversion kick were the difference in a 40-39 victory.
“We’ve been talking about winning a league title and making a run into the playoffs since [summer],” Ford said during Wednesday’s practice on the turf field at Poland’s Dave Pavlansky Field. “It’s a good feeling we’ve achieved some of those goals.”
Tonight in the Division VI Region 21 semifinals, the second-seeded Tigers (9-2) will travel to Austintown to play third-seeded Kirtland (10-1) at Fitch Falcon Stadium.
“It’s a great feeling,” Centofanti said. “I’ve never gone this far in my career and it feels great being out here practicing.
“We want to [represent] the ITCL and hopefuly those guys will be backing us.”
The three-tiered ITCL is disbanding in the spring because the smaller school superintendents feel Crestview and South Range have competitive advantages. Ironically, East Palestine and Springfield were the only winners of the league’s big-school division in its two years of existence.
After losing two of their first three games to open the season, the Tigers have won eight straight. The Hornets have won two straight since losing to Cuyahoga Heights, 21-0, in Week 9.
The Tigers know that feeling — their last loss was to Cuyahoga Heights, 45-21.
“We would like to keep it low scoring,” Centofanti said of Kirtland. “If we can just do our jobs [on defense], I think it will be a low-scoring game. With our offense, we feel that we can put them in some bad situations.”
The Tigers went 4-6 in 2015. Their quarterback was Graham Mincher, The Vindicator’s Male Athlete of 2015-16 for his efforts in football and basketball.
Centofanti said the Tigers began summer camp “with high expectations [from] bringing back a lot of guys on defense. Our offseason was one of our best — we got a lot better.
“And if you asked Graham, he’ll tell you how good Brannon [Brungard] is,” Centofanti said. “He’s really done a great job this year.“
He’s not the only Brungard on the team. Brannon’s father, Mark, joined head coach Sean Guerriero’s staff after resigning at Poland after the 2015 season.
“He had a good record at Poland, did a great job,” Centofanti said. “My cousin played for Poland and said he’s such a great guy. He’s close to Brannon, I knew he’d bring a lot of energy.”
It’s a Springfield traditions where former head coaches are willing to be assistants. Bill Miller, Salem’s former head coach, is one of Guerriero’s assistants. Eric Fender, the Tigers varsity basketball coach, is assisted by his father Tom, who was Fitch’s long-time varsity coach.
“We have a great coaching staff who has worked hard to give us the best chance to win,” Ford said. “I’ve had great coaches in every sport I play.”
Centofanti hopes to play football next fall at a Division II or III college program.
“You can’t beat this feeling,” Centofanti said. “I’m just not ready to let it go.”
NEW MIDDLETOWN CONNECTION
One of Kirtland’s players, tight end Brandon Samsa, is the great-grandson of Frances Cernyar, the New Middletown postmaster (then postmistress) in the 1950s and 1960s.
Brandon’s grandfather, John Samsa, 96, was Mohawk High School’s long-time basketball and assistant football coach. He lived in New Middletown for 15 years and now lives in Bessemer, Pa.