Just like that — in the blink of an eye, a snap of the finger and a down-by-contact call — it was over.
A Wadsworth football team that rewrote school and Medina County record books lost 21-20 to Olmsted Falls on Friday night in a Division II, Region 6 semifinal at Brunswick Auto Mart Stadium.
There will be no more team meetings or dinners for the second-seeded Grizzlies (11-1), no more film sessions or practices. There will be only the turning in of equipment and a postseason awards banquet.
It will be third-seeded Olmsted Falls (11-1), a deserving winner if ever there was one despite being an 11-point underdog on the website Fantastic50.net, that will meet a storied Avon program in Week 13 with a regional title on the line.
“We always go in thinking we’re going to win,” Wadsworth senior defensive end Joey Fernholz said. “We’re a confident team, but we know we’re always playing for our lives. We’re always prepared for it (to possibly end). We just didn’t expect it end.”
And it ended because the Bulldogs, who left anywhere from 12 to 28 points on the field, were the better team for much of the night.
“We prepared all week and we played as best we could,” Wadsworth sophomore linebacker Jack Grice said. “But they came to play as well. They just got the best of us.”
The game was tied 7-7 at halftime after a 32-yard field goal by Wadsworth’s Ryan Larj was short on the last play of the second quarter, but the Grizzlies easily could have been behind by double digits.
The Bulldogs turned the ball over on downs at the Wadsworth 7-yard line with 7:14 left in the first quarter, fumbled at the Grizzlies 2 with 10:55 left in the second period — Clay Wagner recovered for Wadsworth — and had a pass completion that would have given them a first down near the Grizzlies 15 called back by holding on their next possession.
“I did like our chances,” Grice said of being tied at halftime. “I was confident in how our defense was playing, and I was confident our offense was going to come back and score some points.”
The Wadsworth offense managed 13 points in the second half — a Jack Simmons fumble at the Olmsted Falls 3 after a long pass reception ended its first drive of the third period — but the defense gave up 14.
Were it not for that defense, however, the final score would have been worse, because the Bulldogs’ failed opportunities continued in the second half.
A Brock Snowball fumble gave Olmsted Falls first-and-goal at the Wadsworth 9 with 5:08 left in the third period. Again, the Bulldogs came away with no points.
A third-and-9 throw from Teddy Grendzynski to Braden Galaska could have been ruled simultaneous possession and a touchdown, but Wadsworth’s Brett Randolph alertly jarred the ball loose out of bounds after Galaska appeared to get a foot down in the end zone as both players clung to the ball.
The Bulldogs then disdained a field goal and threw another incompletion on fourth down.
“I always want to hold the opponent to zero points,” said Fernholz, refusing to come anywhere close to suggesting the defense did its part. “We did all right. We just didn’t do enough.”
That’s because the Bulldogs defense held Wadsworth, which came in averaging 51.7 points a game, to 21 points fewer than it had scored in any of its first 11 games.
The Grizzlies had taken a 20-14 lead on a 70-yard run by quarterback Joey Baughman with 9:16 left in the game, but a low snap resulted in Larj’s extra point being blocked.
It came back to haunt Wadsworth in a big way, as Olmsted Falls scored and made its PAT to go up 21-20 with 3:28 to play.
In a battle of players wearing uniform No. 4, the Bulldogs’ Josh Jaeckin then made arguably the biggest play of the game, pushing an airborne Mitchell Blackburn out of bounds before he could land on a fourth-and-3 catch that would have given Wadsworth a first down near midfield with 1:49 to go.
Controversy followed soon after, as the Bulldogs’ Jack Spellacy appeared to have turned the ball over with a fumble at the Wadsworth 25 with 39 ticks on the clock, only to be ruled down by contact.
Given Baughman’s otherworldly performance all season, a remarkable TD drive or game-winning field goal certainly could have occurred, but the Grizzlies, who had not trailed in the fourth quarter all season, didn’t finish nearly enough drives.
“This year was a blast,” Fernholz said. “It was the best year of football I’ve ever played in my life.”
But just like that — in the blink of an eye, a snap of the finger and a down-by-contact call — that season was over.
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @RickNoland on Twitter.