Defense rules the day

HUBBARD – All-star games are supposed to be high-scoring with both offenses rolling over the defenses for tons of yards.

Apparently, the players at the 2014 Mahoning Valley Coaches Association Jack Arvin Classic sponsored by didn’t get the memo.

During Trumbull County’s 27-15 win over a combined team from Mahoning and Columbiana counties, the squads combined for just eight points at halftime and neither team eclipsed 300 yards of total offense, which was a shock to Chalker and Mahoning County coach Ryan Slone.

“Actually, I thought it would be a little more high-scoring, but the defenses played really well,” Slone said. “Both offenses were able to move the ball in the first half, but the defense was able to shut down when they got past the 50.”

Both defenses imposed physical play from start to finish, and one of the biggest hits of the night came at the 10:30 mark in the second quarter, delivered by Howland’s T.K. Fortson.

Coming off the right outside edge, the 6-foot, 180-pound linebacker rushed Mahoning and Struthers quarterback Gary Muntean on his blindslide untouched and popped him before Muntean could let loose a throw.

“I seen it coming,” Fortson said. “The way their line was set up on the edge, I knew I was coming free, and as soon as the quarterback stepped back to throw it, I knew it was a home run shot. So, I had to take it. It felt great. It’s like winning a Super Bowl when you get a big hit.”

The Trumbull defense had a couple of nice interceptions, starting with Howland’s Trey Bryarly picking off a lob from Jackson-Milton quarterback Jeremy Fitzpatrick with 3:13 remaining in the first half. The Mahoning receiver managed to grab the ball off a fade route along the sideline, but his possession of the ball didn’t last long. As the receiver came back to earth, the 5-7 Bryarly stole the ball before both landed.

Niles linebacker Nick Sanchez also grabbed a nifty interception himself early in the fourth quarter, jumping up to nab a screen pass and return it to Mahoning’s 8-yard line.

“He caught it at first, and I was like, ‘No, you can’t have it,’ ” Bryarly said of his pick. “So, I just ripped it out of his hands – just my DB instinct came out of me. Just ripped it right out and got lucky with it.

“That’s thanks to my coach at Howland, coach (Mike) Echols. He told us, ‘Always rip it – that’s your ball, that’s the DB’s ball and never let the receiver have it no matter what.’ “

With the physical nature of the game, there came a few extracurricular activities after plays and penalties, but both coaches said it never got too far out of control.

“It has to get a little chippy,” Niles and Trumbull coach Brian Shaner said. “They’re both competing, both teams want to win and it happens every year. I thought both teams did a great job of holding back and not letting it get out of control.”

Despite the defensive dominance, there were individual plays of brilliance from the offense, including a 75-yard touchdown run by Canfield’s Kimu Kim a left-side sweep at the 11:02 mark in the third quarter to give Mahoning its last lead of the game, 9-6.

Champion’s Jacob Rasey also stepped into the backfield late in the third quarter and popped off a couple of runs, including a 27-yard touchdown run that gave Trumbull the lead for good. Rasey broke a tackle along the sideline inside the 5-yard line before powering into the end zone.

“He is the prime example of why you should not look at size to judge a player,” Shaner said of the 5-5 Rasey. “He’s a great football player, and he did a great job to give us a little bit of a spark tonight.”

Although the game was a violent one with not a lot of love lost between the two teams, afterward, the players were jovial with each other, showing they had bonded throughout the experience.

“In the two to three weeks that we did have to practice, we all bonded together greatly and came together as a family as we showed it out on the field in the way we played,” Fortson said.