Story by Lisa Gayle Grayson
Photos by David Kantor
Video by Rob Trautman
The Berea-Midpark football program is a year older, a year wiser and certainly a year more skilled.
It took less than 24 minutes to demonstrate all of these improvements in the season opening victory over North Royalton.
The Titans blew open the non-conference win with four touchdowns in the second quarter as they romped to a 47-7 win at Tressel Field in Berea. The program, in its second season of reorganization following the merging of Berea and Midpark high schools, rode the talents of several athletes as five different players reached the end zone that game.
"There's always a rhythm to the game," Berea-Midpark coach Ray Hradek said. "You're good when you find that rhythm."
The Titans found their groove in the second quarter when it took a 14-7 lead and never relinquished control at George Finnie Stadium on the Baldwin Wallace University campus.
Junior running back Joey Bachie's 4-yard run less than 30 seconds into quarter initiated the scoring rampage. From there, Berea-Midpark did a little bit of everything as it grabbed a 33-7 advantage going into the intermission.
Matt Owens ran the ball back 97 yards on a punt return. Junior quarterback and first-year full-time starter Nick Gassman threw a 32-yard completion to 6-foot-6 junior wide receiver Brett Swinnerton. Then senior Ryan Montanari pounced on a loose ball that squirted into the end zone after a Titans fumble with 38 seconds to go in the half.
"Our athletes were making plays," Hradek said. "Our major objective is to get those guys that ball. They won't be targeted because we have a number of them.'
The Bears weren't without their share of athletic efforts either.
In particular, sophomore quarterback T.J. Hoffman made his debut. Beating out two other teammates for the starting role, Hoffman showed potential as he looked for open teammates while scrambling behind his productive offensive line.
"He did great," Bears coach Nick Ciulli said.
North Royalton also saw the emergence of leading rusher Shane Tyson, who carried the ball 19 times for 58 yards, and that senior tight end Joey Davidson is Hoffman's most reliable target so far. Davidson had three receptions for 50 yards.
What proved most costly for North Royalton, however, was the nearly 100 yards in penalties they were flagged for during the first half. One of those penalties broke up the Bears' first possession of the second quarter, a drive that proved to be the turning point of the game.
Down a score, North Royalton made it as far as the Titans 8. A holding call two players later found the Bears lining up on the Berea-Midpark 31. Hoffman then was sacked for a loss of another 15 yards.
"If we scored, it's a different game," Ciulli said.
North Royalton punted to Owens, who returned junior Cory Smigel's boot the length of the field. Junior kicker Connor Kahl converted his third extra point of the night to give the Titans a 21-7 advantage with 4:23 to go before the break.
From that point, North Royalton's confidence took a hit, while the Titans' confidence thrived.
"That's something I could be fighting all year," Ciulli said. "Something went bad and all of the sudden, it's a slippery slope. The score was 14-7, then all of the sudden, it's 33-7."
Berea-Midpark was the initial team to score in the game. Junior running back Shawn Epps ran in his first of two TDs, a 13-yard carry that capped the Titans' six-play drive on their opening possession.
A fumble recovery by North Royalton junior Nick Milich on the Titans' ensuing drive led to the Bears' only TD and a 7-7 game. Senior RB Kevin Gilligan crossed the goal line on a 1-yard carry to end a six-play, 42-yard drive.
"One of the things I said to the players after the game is we've got talent," said Ciulli, who started five sophomores. "We don't know how to handle things when things go back. We've got to learn how to do that."
A year ago, Berea-Midpark dropped its opener to North Royalton, but showed much growth 12 months later. Hradek said his program's merger required an adjustment period.
The Titans made it clear this time around they were the more veteran squad on the field.
"As a coach, when you know what your guys can do and what they're good at, you place them in the right positions," Hradek said.
Berea-Midpark didn't let up much in the second half, with Epps scoring a TD late in the third quarter on a 5-yard reception from Gassman. Montanari scored his second touchdown of the night, a 44-yard run, and the final TD of the game with 3:29 left on the clock.
Epps' second-half score gave the Titans a 33-point lead and initiated a running clock for the rest of the game.
The new Ohio High School Athletic Association rule is implemented when a team goes up by 30 points and returns to regular operation when the deficit drops below 30 points in a game.
Running clock or not, the Berea-Midpark program was pleased to take the opener as proof that it is headed in the right direction in Year 2.
"Last year, we were all new and didn't realize how much of a process it would be," Hradek said. "Now, we as coaches, know where to place our guys, and they're excelling."
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