Hoover 14 - Akron Buchtel 7
August 30, 2003
Scrappy Hoover surprises Akron Buchtel, 14-7
Todd Porter, Canton Repository
NORTH CANTON The air in the postgame North Canton Hoover High School locker room was as thick as a London fog. On a small bench in the center of the musty concrete floor, senior quarterback Sam Cerreta should have felt like he was left in a fog.
The 6-foot-3, 165-pounder struggled to change into his street clothes in the wake of a 14-7 win over Akron Buchtel. He had a hip pointer on his right side and an injured left ankle. A doctor wrote him a prescription, he said, for pain. At the moment, all Cerreta could feel was his teammates coming together.
While not many, including the Vikings, were sure how talented the team would be or how strong they were, there is one thing no one can question about them today.
A scrappy Hoover team subdued Buchtel’s athleticism and speed as North Canton pulled out a last-second win over a Buchtel (0-2) team many observers expect to be a playoff team.
When it was over a few minutes after Cerreta drilled a 9-yard touchdown pass to Brian Drukenbrod with eight seconds left Cerreta walked off the field and wiped tears from his eyes.
“Those were not really tears of pain,” Cerreta said, “as much as they were tears of joy. Tonight was awesome. Our team, everybody, stepped up and everything came together. This is one of the best nights of my life.”
Cerreta and pint-sized tailback Mike Wright embodied the kind of toughness Hoover head coach Don Hertler Jr. needs to see this year. In the fourth quarter, Wright caught a screen pass from Cerreta for 2 yards. He tried to cut back in the middle of the field when a Buchtel defender whacked Wright so hard, his helmet bounced forward five more yards and spun on the slippery field like a top.
Instead of lying on the grass, Wright popped up and jogged to the sideline. A teammate sent his helmet there.
“Mike wasn’t hurt,” Hertler said. “He walked to the sideline and was a little stunned. All he said was, ‘I’m all right.’ Mike Wright made a great run (47 yards to set up Hoover’s first score). Mike Wright made a touchdown-saving tackle. Mike Wright is a tough kid.
“Our kids may not be the most talented kids and they aren’t the biggest, but they are a together group, and they play hard. They were scrappy.”
After a first quarter in which each team shot itself in the foot, Hoover took a 7-0 lead midway through the second quarter. Wright took a counter play 47 yards down the Buchtel sideline and was tackled by Jalem Cutting to save a touchdown. But Cutting dragged Wright down by the facemask, and the Vikings had the ball first-and-10 at the Griffin 13. Two plays later, Cerreta rolled right and hit tight end Chris Zaluski in the right flat. Zaluski ran over a Buchtel defender to get into the end zone, and Andrew Dahl’s PAT made it 7-0.
Buchtel had a chance to tie the game before halftime. Talented Roland Mclane (three sacks) blocked a North Canton punt on the next possession from about four yards from the punter. The Griffins had the ball at the North Canton 29. On fourth-and-3 from the Hoover 10, Ohio State recruit Antonio Pittman took a handoff around the right side. However, Pittman pulled up to throw a halfback pass on the fourth-down play, and the ball was deflected at the line of scrimmage before it hit the receiver in the end zone, but was dropped.
Buchtel did finally tie the game in the third quarter when running back Bryan Williams scored from 40 yards out on a toss sweep. Williams finished with 138 yards on just eight carries.
In the fourth quarter, Buchtel had the ball inside the North Canton 20 once and inside the Hoover 35 another time, and came away empty when fourth-down passes fell incomplete. The Griffins did not complete a pass in the second half.
The game-changing play was not an incredible run. It was a punt. With less than two minutes to play, Hoover senior J.C. Heighway nailed a 45-yard punt that pinned Buchtel inside its 5 with 1:28 to play.
“That was it,” Griffins head coach Claude Brown said. “That was a crucial play. There aren’t many plays in the playbook to call to save the game, especially when it’s 7-7 and you can’t move the ball out of there. … We were playing for overtime.”
Cerreta was playing to make a statement.
In the second half, he completed 12-of-17 passes for 128 yards. Cerreta finished with 181 yards through the air, and hit on 17-of-27 throws. He was 5-of-7 on his final two drives.
“I didn’t really surprise myself,” Cerreta said. “It was a matter of getting relaxed. Once I settled in, and in the second half, I didn’t even see their defense. All I saw was my guy cut, and I threw the ball to him.”
A couple of times, he winced in pain as he tried to move. It doesn’t hurt on a night like this. Not when he looked around the Hoover sideline and saw it coming together.
At least for one night in the second week of the season.
“I know people are saying we don’t have talent and we don’t have size,” Cerreta said. “That doesn’t matter as much as how tough you are.”