Buzzacco, South Range overwhelm Black River
By ToM WILLIAMS
Shiver me timbers! After Friday’s “buccaneerfest” at Northwest High School, the undefeated South Range High School football team has another date after Thanksgiving.
Senior quarterback Aniello Buzzacco rushed for three touchdowns and scooped up a fumble and scored another as the Raiders overwhelmed the Sullivan Black River Pirates 40-16 in the Division V, Region 17 final.
South Range (13-0) will play Pemberville Eastwood (13-0) in a state semifinal Friday at a site to be announced.
Buzzacco said winning the regional crown has not yet sunk in.
“It’s crazy, it still feels like the beginning of the season,” said Buzzacco, who ran for 169 yards and passed for 87. “This is my dream, to be at this point.”
It will be the Raiders’ first state semifinal since 2005 when they lost to eventual state champion Hamler Patrick Henry on a frosty night in Fremont.
“It’s awesome practicing on Thanksgiving morning,” South Range head coach Dan Yeagley said, “We’re looking forward to it.”
The first half was a nail-biter. Once again, the Raiders started strong, taking the lead in just 49 seconds on Buzzacco’s 24-yard run.
But the Pirates quickly responded with a touchdown drive capped by quarterback Riley Bartolic hitting Travis Sexton for a 29-yard scoring pass. Sexton’s conversion run gave the Pirates an 8-6 lead.
After a Raiders punt, the Pirates were threatening at the South Range 11 when Buzzacco made the play of the game. Bartolic dropped the shotgun snap and knocked the ball backward when he tried to cover it, The ball squirted into the open where Buzzacco picked it up and raced 72 yards for a 12-6 lead.
“I picked it up and I didn’t know who was near me, who was around me,” Buzzacco said. “I just ran for my life. I was scared I was going to get caught.
“It was a great feeling knowing we got that momentum swing.”
Black River head coach Al Young called it a two-touchdown swing.
“They are a great team,” Young said. “You’re not going to [succeed doing that] against these guys.
“[Buzzacco] is fantastic and Remish is probably one of the best backs we’ve seen all year,” Young said. “He’s a load and he’s quick. He’s very fluid and he’s flanked with athletes.”
Bolstered by the turnover, the Raiders forced a punt and started exuding confidence against the Pirates’ three-pronged rushing attack.
“We just calmed down,” Raiders senior linebacker Peyton Remish said. “We were all worked up, a little jacked up. We just had to do our assignments.”
Early in the second quarter, Buzzacco escaped for a 54-yard touchdown and 19-8 lead.
“It’s a great feeling,” said senior lineman Matt Brooks of watching long scoring runs, “I think he’s the best quarterback in the area.
“I love blocking for him and Remish. It just makes my job easy.”
The game was far from over when Bartolic hit Riley Gibbs for a 49-yard touchdown on the next offensive play, slicing the Raiders’ lead to 19-16 at halftime.
But that was the Pirates’ last sustained offense. Buzzacco picked off Bartolic on the Pirates’ first possession in the second half and returned the ball 25 yards. That set up his 24-yard touchdown for a 10-point lead.
“We really imposed our will on them in the second half,” Brooks said. “You can tell as an O-lineman when you are wearing guys down. Midway through the third quarter, I knew we had this game.”
Remish, who rushed for 157 yards on 33 carries, scored from the 2 late in the third quarter. Wideout Mathias Combs scored on a reverse in the fourth quarter.