It was win or go home for the Twinsburg Tigers.
The Tigers faced their toughest challenge of the season when they hosted the top-ranked and undefeated (9-0) Mentor Cardinals at Tiger Stadium. In order to reach the state playoffs and win the Northeast Ohio Conference's Valley Division, the Tigers had to do the unthinkable and knock off the Cardinals, who had seemed nearly unbeatable during much of the 2011 season.
That all changed Friday night.
In a game that will likely be remembered for years at Twinsburg High School, the Tigers defeated Mentor, 38-35. The game was a thrilling shootout, as junior quarterback Jalen Washington completed 27 of 38 passes for 300 yards and three touchdowns for the Tigers.
"I'm so proud of our guys and how hard they fought," Twinsburg coach Joe Schiavone said. "You know, it's about time we wound up on the right side of a scoreboard of a game like this."
Following Mentor's furious comeback attempt to tie the game at 35, Twinsburg kicker Frank Candau converted a 22-yard field goal attempt with 2:41 remaining in the fourth quarter to give the Tigers a three-point lead. It was up to the Tigers' defense to secure the victory, and they did just that by forcing Mentor to turn the ball over on downs.
Twinsburg took control of the game midway through the third quarter when Washington and wide receiver Tre Jones connected on a pair of 30-yard touchdown passes to extend the Tigers' lead to 21 points. Mentor appeared to be out of the game until early in the fourth quarter, when quarterback Mitch Trubisky sparked the Cardinals offense with a 39-yard touchdown run. Mentor quickly forced a three-and-out by Twinsburg, and wasted no time on the ensuing possession, when Trubisky engineered a three-play drive that culminated in a touchdown pass to wide receiver Cameron Kavan from three yards out.
"We knew that they could throw it like that at any second, so we reminded them, stick to the gameplan, stay in coverage," Schiavone said.
Trubisky led a quick, 64-yard drive that resulted in a one-yard Warren Ashton touchdown run, and just like that, Mentor had clawed its way back to tie the game, 35-35.
Washington and the rest of the Tigers' offense took the field with 5:55 left in the fourth and drove down inside the Cardinals' 10-yard line before being faced with a crucial decision: go for the first down, or kick the field goal.
Schiavone called a timeout and elected to kick the field goal, which proved to be the correct move, as Candau's conversion was the difference in the game.
"Our kids are not afraid to play anybody," Schiavone said. "...Our kids will line up and play football every snap, and they'll fight to the very end."
Mentor still had one more chance to win the game. With two seconds remaining and the ball on their own 21, the Cardinals attempted to make history by performing multiple laterals in order to score a miraculous touchdown. However, the final lateral of the game sailed over a receiver's head and into the Twinsburg sideline, and it was time for the Tigers to celebrate.
"My hat's off to Mentor, they're a dangerous team, they're going to make a great run in Region I," Schiavone said. "Hopefully, the chips fall where they may for us. We just gotta hurry up and wait, and hopefully we get in."
Running back John Barton continued to find success on the ground and finished the game with 137 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries.
"On our side, it was the same thing," Schiavone said. "We kept it simple, and let them play."
Twinsburg finished the regular season with a 7-3 record and their fourth-straight NOC Valley Division championship. Their state playoff fate, however, is still up in the air. The Tigers will have to watch the area scoreboard over the weekend to see if they get the necessary help to qualify for the Division I, Region II playoffs. Currently
"As I told them in the huddle, I said regardless of what happens, the seniors, I'm so proud of," Schiavone said. "We're conference champs, four years in a row, and nobody takes that away."