The Falcons had just cut Chagrin Falls’ 17-point lead to three and the fans who made the hour-plus trip were roaring.
But before they had a chance to get too excited, the host Tigers reeled off four unanswered touchdowns in the second quarter alone and seven overall to put the kibosh on any chances of a Firelands upset.
Final score: Chagrin Falls 66, Firelands 14.
Firelands (10-1), which reached the postseason for the first time, saw its season come to a bitter close.
Chagrin Falls (11-0), the top seed in Division III, Region 9, advances to take on fourth-seeded Ravenna next Friday at a site to be determined.
“It’s definitely not what we wanted,” Firelands coach Mike Passerrello said. “But we were able to go out and compete and give the seniors one more chance to play football. That’s a good football team we played, and I’m sure they’re going to go far in the playoffs.
“I just wish we would have given them a little more run for their money.”
Chagrin Falls quarterback Tommy Iammarino misfired on his first passing attempt, then completed 15 of his remaining 16 throws — the lone misfire during that streak was an interception by Kyle Smith, who returned it 44 yards to the Tigers 22.
Iammarino finished with 212 yards passing in just under three quarters.
Smith, who also plays quarterback for the Falcons, threw for 213 yards.
However, he was picked off five times by a ballhawking Tigers defense.
“It was a great experience, being the first Firelands team to ever make the playoffs,” Smith said. “Chagrin Falls is a really tough team and they showed that tonight.
“One mistake just kept leading to another and another. We just shot ourselves in the foot, and they capitalized on those mistakes. They have a really explosive offense and they could score anytime they wanted.”
Smith’s interception return set up Firelands’ second touchdown of the game — a 24-yard completion to fellow senior Jake Myers with 7:55 remaining in the first half. That cut the Tigers lead to 17-14 after they had scored 17 unanswered points to start the game.
Smith’s first interception was returned 97 yards for a touchdown by Everett Dishong early in the second quarter with Chagrin Falls clinging to a 10-0 lead.
That 14-point swing could have spelled doom for the Falcons.
However, Smith capped the ensuing six-play, 74-yard drive with a 6-yard touchdown scramble, and his own pick two plays later began to give Firelands real hope they could hang with the Tigers.
“That was a huge swing for us,” Passerrello said. “We grabbed the momentum there and tried to run with it. Some things just didn’t go our way from that point. We just had to make a couple more plays.”
That momentum swing quickly ground to a halt.
Firelands’ next three possessions in the second quarter all ended with interceptions by three different players — Bradley Munday, Andrew Winkelman and Michael Munday. Chagrin Falls turned all three picks into touchdowns.
“We told our kids, ‘This is the playoffs,’” Chagrin Falls coach Mark Iammarino said. “‘Everybody here deserves to be here. They’re going to make a run, and you’ve got to be able to answer that run and not panic.’
“They hadn’t shown a lot of empty backfield prior to (this game), so we had to make a little bit of an adjustment, because you can’t just play back in coverage and forget about an elusive quarterback. I thought we did a much better job getting pressure on him and then covering.”
On Chagrin Falls’ four touchdown drives to end the second quarter, the average starting position was its own 49. Throw out the eight-play, 87-yard drive in the final three minutes of the half and the Tigers’ average starting position was the Firelands 39.
When the dust settled in the wild second quarter, Chagrin Falls held a seemingly insurmountable 45-14 lead.
It only got worse for the Falcons after that.
“Field position really hurt us,” Passerrello said. “One of the things we wanted to do with our defense was make (Chagrin Falls) drive the field. When it’s a short field, it causes us some problems.”
An attempted onside kick by Firelands to start the second half was recovered by the Tigers at their own 49. Once again with a short field, they drove the 51 yards in just five plays, capped by a 6-yard touchdown pass from Iammarino to Anthony DeCamillo.
With regular punter Cody Northeim on crutches on the sideline after getting injured during the game, the Tigers kept getting great field position. Their next touchdown drive covered just 30 yards, which made it 59-21.
Sophomore Matt Iammarino, who helped set up the Tigers’ first two touchdowns of the game with long punt returns, put the exclamation point on this blowout with a 52-yard punt return for a touchdown with 4:29 remaining in the third quarter.
“When you have a team that’s won 10 games and has a lot of momentum, you can’t let them hang around,” Coach Iammarino said. “That’s why we went fast a lot in that second quarter and we had them on their heels. I wanted to get the game decided before we went into the locker room because I knew they were going to make their adjustments.
“We wanted to make it as difficult to defend by getting the ball to a lot of different players.”
Senior Nick Deichler couldn’t get much going on the ground, gaining only 36 yards on nine carries. Smith was also harassed plenty from the blitzing Tigers defense and was credited with minus-18 yards rushing thanks to the many sacks he took.
“No matter what, these kids will take this (experience) away with them the rest of their lives,” Passerrello said. “I’m just very happy to be able to coach them.”
Contact Dan Gilles at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chagrin Falls 66, Firelands 14
Firelands 0 14 0 0 — 14
Chagrin Falls 10 35 21 0 — 66
CF—Bradley Munday 16 run (Alex Hallwachs kick)
CF—FG Hallwachs 25
CF—Everett Dishong 97 interception return (Hallwachs kick)
F—Kyle Smith 5 run (Smith kick)
F—Jake Myers 24 pass from Smith (Smith kick)
CF—Tommy Iammarino 9 run (Hallwachs kick)
CF—Jack Cambell 21 run (Hallwachs kick)
CF—Munday 26 pass from Iammarino (Hallwachs kick)
CF—Munday 12 pass from Iammarino (Hallwachs kick)
CF—Anthony DeCamillo 6 pass from Iammarino (Hallwachs kick)
CF—Michael Hageman 10 pass from Iammarino (Hallwachs kick)
CF—Matt Iammarino 52 punt return (Hallwachs kick)
First downs 8 19
— by rushing 2 10
— by passing 5 9
— by penalty 1 0
Yards rushing 34 187
Yards passing 213 212
Total offense 247 399
Passes att./comp. 28/12 17/15
Intercepted by 1 5
Fumbles/lost 0/0 1/1
Penalties/yards 5/25 5/45
RUSHING — (F) Nick Deichler 9-36, Joe Kudela 5-16, Kyle Smith 17-(-18). (CF) Bradley Munday 5-61, Jack Campbell 5-47, Tommy Iammarino 6-35, Billy Cale 3-17, Joey Casarona 9-14, Ed Shelley 3-18, Mario Sahlani 3-(-5).
PASSING — (F) Kyle Smith 12-28-213-1-5. (CF) Tommy Iammarino 15-17-212-4-1.