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Howland falls to Chardon

November 3, 2012
By MIKE McLAIN - Tribune Chronicle (mmclain@tribtoday.com) , Underthelights

CHARDON - If he could do it over again, Howland Tigers football coach Dick Angle might have chosen to not defer the kickoff until the second half after winning the coin toss.

It probably wouldn't have mattered. Not the way the Chardon Hilltoppers took care of business in winning a Division II, Region 5 first-round playoff game, 42-16, on Friday.

Take away 80 yards in penalties, and it was a near perfect effort by the 10-1 Hilltoppers. Chardon had a 359-185 advantage in total yards, with 325 of its yards coming on the ground.

Orchestrating the magical show was senior quarterback T.J. Benenati, who looked like Houdini by the way he concealed the ball with each hand off or fake. Benenati had 141 yards and three touchdowns on 19 carries. He also threw a touchdown pass.

"The quarterback had a tremendous game against us," Angle said. "It's been a long time since a quarterback ran like that against any of our defenses. It shows you what a good team they are and what a good player he is."

The Tigers, who finished with an 8-3 record, couldn't get untracked offensively. Running back De'Veon Smith finished with 131 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries, but he wasn't able to break off any of his patented long runs.

"We said the best football player on the field is going to be number 4 (Smith)," Hilltoppers coach Mitch Hewitt said. "They rose to the occasion. It's been a long time since we played championship-caliber defense."

The last thing the Tigers needed on a night when their defense struggled from start to finish was a couple of costly turnovers. The first was a squib kick by the Hilltoppers that wasn't fielded cleanly. Teddy Gould IV fell on the loose ball for the Hilltoppers at the Tigers' 21.

Having just scored on a 13-yard run by Benenati to stretch its lead to 21-9, Chardon needed just five plays to make it 28-9 on a 7-yard touchdown pass from Benenati to Andrew Gray 12 seconds before intermission.

"Football is a game of big plays and momentum," Hewitt said. "For awhile there in the first half it started going their way after our long snapper booted one (a punt snap out of the end zone for a safety). Those possessions after a score are so critical. We have great athletes. It's been a long time since I've been able to say that about Chardon athletes, but we have them here."

The safety came after the Hilltoppers had taken a 14-0 lead on touchdown runs of 24 yards by Benenati and 27 yards by Matt Bolden, who rushed for 117 yards on 23 carries. Prior to the safety, Howland kicker Kyle Noble was wide right on a field-goal attempt of 28 yards.

The Tigers followed the safety with an eight-play, 46-yard drive that produced a 2-yard touchdown run by Smith to cut the Hilltoppers' lead to 14-9. Chardon then marched 57 yards on 10 plays to score on a 17-yard run by Benenati.

Any chance of a Howland rally ended when Benenati scored on a run of 4 yards in the third quarter. The 33-yard drive began when a pass by Tigers quarterback Eric Lockney was tipped and intercepted.

"That goes to show you what kind of day you're having," Angle said. "You're throwing a ball down the line and they bat it. That told the story right there."

Roger Davis capped the Hilltoppers' scoring with a 6-yard run in the fourth quarter. Smith scored on a run of 5 yards in the late going.

"I'm as proud of this football team as any of the undefeated teams we had because there were a lot of people that didn't think we could win two games," Angle said. "To go 8-3 is a good thing."

The Hilltoppers advance to the Region 5 semifinals to play Kenston.

mmclain@tribtoday.com