by Colin Harris | Reporter
Hudson — In a battle of opposing offensive strengths, it was defense that came out with the victory.
Aurora turned two second-half turnovers into touchdowns as the third-seeded Greenmen defeated second-seeded Kent Roosevelt 27-13 in a Division II, Region 5 semifinal contest Nov. 9 at Hudson High School’s Hudson Memorial Stadium.
With the win, Aurora improved to 11-1. The Rough Riders finished 10-2. Aurora was scheduled to play fourth-seeded Chardon in the Region 5 championship game Nov. 16 at Twinsburg High School. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
“This game was all about defense,” Greenmen head coach Bob Mihalik said. “All week, we heard about Roosevelt’s offense and [Kent senior quarterback] Tra Chapman, so I think our guys came into this game with a chip on their shoulders.”
After a hard-fought first half that resulted in a 13-13 draw, Aurora senior linebacker Zach Smierciak delivered the game’s momentum-changing play early in the third quarter.
The Rough Riders (10-2) took over after a Greenmen punt at the Aurora 35-yard line. After a short pass to senior receiver Trei Thomas, Chapman was baited by Smierciak into a pass that hit the senior linebacker right between the numbers.
Smierciak reacted quickly, taking the ball 75 yards the other way for a Greenmen touchdown and 20-13 lead for his team.
“I just tried to read Tra’s eyes on that pass and then I just cut back and ran my heart out,” Smierciak said. “My lead blocking really helped me out on that return.”
Kent had its best chance to get back in the game late in the fourth quarter after forcing an Aurora punt with 4:51 remaining in regulation.
The Rough Riders quickly marched the ball down the field, powered by an 18-yard pitch and catch from Chapman to senior Zach Janus that got Kent down to the Greenmen 37.
After a short pass to Thomas and a pair of incompletions, Chapman found himself with fourth and six at the Greenmen 34 with 3 minutes, 16 seconds remaining.
Chapman took the shotgun snap and scrambled toward the Kent sideline before turning upfield for what would have been a first down — had it not been for Aurora senior Frank Sivillo, who put his helmet on ball and jarred the football loose.
With the ball bouncing on the turf, senior teammate Jake McVay recovered the ball at the Aurora 23 just before it rolled out of bounds to give the Greenmen possession and deny what looked like a promising drive for the Rough Riders.
“I was just in the right place at the right time,” McVay said. I actually thought I might have been out of bounds on the recovery because it was so close to the line, but the refs ruled me in.”
Whatever hope Kent had left for a come-from-behind victory was crushed on the very next play as senior Zach Quinn took the first handoff from scrimmage 77 yards for a touchdown that put Aurora up 27-13.
The Greenmen ran the ball efficiently all evening, taking 42 carries for 306 yards. Quinn was Aurora’s leading ball carrier, toting the rock 18 times for 157 yards and a touchdown. McVay had the evening’s first touchdown, a 51-yard score on Aurora’s third play of the game.
Kent head coach John Nemec said he was proud of his team’s effort in the first half, but costly mistakes were the difference in a loss.
“We did a great job hanging with a physical, well-coached Aurora team in the first half,” Nemec said of the game’s 13-13 halftime tie. “But we made a couple of mistakes there in the second half that really cost us.”
Chapman finished his two-year career at Kent with a 19-of-42 passing performance for 243 yards and one touchdown, which was a 16-yard second-quarter strike to Thomas.
The University of Pittsburgh-bound Chapman also rushed the ball 19 times for 66 yards.
Kent senior kicker Jose Rocha kicked field goals of 43 and 34 yards, respectively, during the Rough Riders’ 13-point, second-quarter effort.