Saturday, September 8, 2018
By Brian Dzenis
Get ready to hear the bell in Leetonia on Friday nights.
After every Bears home victory, all 30 players on the roster take a turn ringing a bell in a tower near their stadium. Three games into Paul Hulea’s coaching tenure, that bell has rung 60 times as his Bears (3-0) have now won more games in one season than the previous three seasons combined after beating Southington, 14-13, Friday night.
“Seeing [Hulea] believe makes us believe and it really carries over on the field,” Leetonia senior Brock Simpson said.
Hulea credits the team’s upperclassmen buying into his program for the team’s resurgence. The hype leading into the contest with the Wildcats and the win was the reward of that buy-in.
“It was fun and we told the kids this week that you guys got yourself in a big game and you deserve it,” Hulea said. “You worked hard to get here.”
Friday’s game was a meeting of two teams in rare form. Historically, victories are as frequent as Bigfoot sightings for both teams. Southington (2-1) was looking to become 3-0 for the first time in the 21st century. Leetonia is undefeated after three games for the first time since 2008.
“It’s why you coach. It’s what you dream of as a coach to play in big, meaningful games. Leetonia is a great community and they were packing the house tonight,” Wildcats coach Tom Conrad said. “Southington is a great community too and any time two fantastic communities get together and celebrate like this for 48 minutes, this is what it’s all about, man.”
Trailing 14-7 at the half, the Wildcats couldn’t convert opportunities in the red zone. In the third quarter, kicker Ryan Johnston missed a 28-yard field goal attempt and the road side lost the ball at Leetonia’s 1-yard line. The snap bounced off the hands of Southington’s Jacob Baker up in the air and Simpson came down with the ball.
“I saw the ball and I thought ‘I have to get on it. I have to get on it. It has to be ours,’” Simpson said.
Southington’s misfortune carried over into the fourth quarter when a 28-yard Baker touchdown run was called back by a penalty. With 1:53 left in regulation, the Wildcats caught a break with quarterback Trystan Mollohan’s 10-yard touchdown run, but the Wildcats couldn’t tie the game when the extra point attempt went wide.
“Those are self-inflicted wounds, but that’s part of learning how to win football games. That’s part of building a program,” Conrad said. “Our guys have nothing to hang their heads about.”
Southington recovered the onside kick attempt at the Leetonia 38. On a fourth-and-10, Mollohan connected with Logan Regal, but he was about three yards short of a first down.
“We were telling them that in a big game, you have to just keep playing,” Hulea said of the game’s final minutes. “You can’t control what just happened, you focus on what happens next.”
Roman Ferry rushed for 126 yards and two touchdowns for Leetonia before exiting the game in the third quarter with a knee injury.
Mollohan passed for 153 yards and was the Wildcats’ top rusher with 81 yards. Chase Iser had a 1-yard TD on his lone carry. Aiden Ricks caught three pass for 67 yards.