MASSILLON, Ohio As a 37-yard field goal sailed left of the goal posts, the realization hit Chardons football players, coaches and fans inside Paul Brown Tiger Stadium.
The Hilltoppers came back Saturday night from a double-digit deficit to win the OHSAA Division III state championship from Columbus St. Francis DeSales, 31-28, in double overtime.
Chardon is not used to playing close football games. The Hilltoppers (12-0), ranked No. 1 in the state, won every game this year by at least 21 points. Their previous five playoff games ended with a running clock and at least a 30-point margin of victory.
As coach Mitch Hewitts players gathered around him and their newly won state championship trophy, he told them he was as calm as hes ever been during a game. One of his assistants concurred.
Its because of who youre with, said Hewitt, drenched from a cold bucket of water that his players snuck up and dunked on him. At the end of the day, win or lose, I know theyre giving their heart and soul. The brotherhood tonight won.
That brotherhood Hewitt cited started with a heady senior quarterback, Drew Fetchik, who threw for 249 yards not common in Chardons run-heavy Wing-T offense with another 100 yards rushing and three total touchdowns.
Chardon found itself in a 28-14 deficit late in the third quarter, when DeSales quarterback Whit Hobgood hit Jordan Johnson on a 31-yard TD pass. The Hilltoppers had yet to lead, as Quintell Quinn led heavy running game for the Stallions (9-2).
Quinn, a 6-foot-1, 220-pound senior, rushed for 228 yards and DeSales first three TDs on 28 carries. He helped them to a 14-7 lead, which Chardon answered early in the third on Fetchiks swing pass that fellow senior Blake Barker took 63 yards for the score.
However, Quinn answered with a 60-yard run a few minutes later.
Chardon then trailed by 14 until midway through the fourth quarter, when Fetchik and Barker hooked up again.
I told my guys, were staying level, Fetchik said. Like Aurora last year (in the regional finals), we were too high and we lost. I knew we were going to come back. I kept my guys in it. Were state champions.
The defense buckled down after DeSales passing touchdown late in the third, and following Barkers 36-yard reception in the fourth quarter from Fetchik, Chardon tied the score on Evan Ashs 9-yard TD run with 2:13 left.
This all came after Chardon had a kickoff return by Barker called back on a hold earlier in the game and a fourth-down play in the fourth quarter, a hook-and-ladder for a touchdown, overturned when Brady Toths knee was ruled down on video review of his lateral.
We kept telling each other were going to win this game, said junior safety Nathanael Sulka, whose fourth-quarter interception with 2:02 left in the fourth quarter gave Chardon a chance to win.
However, a 49-yard field attempt fell short and wide of the uprights. Sulka came back onto the field with the defense and needed help off one play later when his shoulder popped out after making a tackle.
A 6-4, 205-pound junior, Sulka said it was the same shoulder he hurt two weeks ago in the third quarter of the regional championship. He returned for Chardons first defensive stand of overtime.
I thought to myself, This is the state championship game, Sulka said. I cant miss it. It took like 10 minutes for them to pop it back in. Once it did, I was ready to go.
Overtime began with both teams blocking each others field goals, starting with sophomore Trey Liebhardts play on a 24-yard attempt by DeSales on the opening possession.
DeSales then blocked a 35-yard field goal by Chardon junior Nathan Tager, who returned after the Hilltoppers next possession in the second OT to hit a 33-yard try.
That became the difference, as DeSales stalled on its possession. Chardons tough defense, which kept eight opponents to single digits this year, stuffed Quinn on two runs. It then forced Hobgood into a high throw out of bound on third down, setting up the missed field goal that sent Chardon into a frenzy.
Thats a pretty remarkable game on this stage, Hewitt said. Im glad our community for a few hours got to put away all of the things that have gone on in the last nine months.