Crawford Field- In a heart-stopping matchup that kept fans on the edge of their seats, the Cleveland Heights football team faced a devastating blow as they allowed Paramus Catholic to score two late-game touchdowns in under one minute during the fourth quarter to travel back to North Jersey with a win they desperately wanted. The game that began with promise and fierce determination ultimately ended in a 43-41 loss for Cleveland Heights, leaving both players and fans stunned by the sudden turn of events.
"Give credit to them, they got the win after what was an 8 hour bus ride. We should've won that game. We made a few mistakes towards the end, but it's OK we got a good football team, we just have to tighten some things up," Tigers head coach Mac Stephen said postgame.
Throughout the first three quarters, Cleveland Heights had showcased their prowess on the field, executing well-planned plays and capitalizing on Paramus Catholic's defensive weaknesses. The team's offense, led by senior quarterback Ammaar Lakes, managed to put up an impressive 41 points on the scoreboard against the hard-hitting Paladins defense who wasn't afraid to voice their toughness . With a combination of well-timed passes and strong rushing plays by seniors Marquise Davis and John Gordon Jr, Cleveland Heights looked poised for victory.
The Paladins jumped on the board first with a 54 yard pass from junior quarterback Colon Crew to fellow junior wide receiver Xavier Williams for one of his three passing touchdowns on the days.
Both team's offenses started to warm up in the second, as Gordon Jr. tied things up with a 14-yard power run into the end zone. Lakes then followed up the next series with a 54-yard touchdown pass to WR Henry Perrymond, giving the Tigers their first lead of the game. Paladins sophomore running back Achylles DuPont immediately tied the game one play later with an 80-yard dash to the end zone.
The Tigers jumped out to a two score 35-23 lead in the third quarter after Gordon Jr. intercepted a pass from Crews intended for junior wide receiver Kenyon Massey and ran it 92-yards the other way.
"I seen the play before on Instagram before. They ran a fake motion and I seen it out my peripheral vision, I jumped it and I just had to score from there," Gordon Jr. said post game.
Two plays later, Crews and Massay connected on 55-yard pass, trimming the Tigers deficit to one score quickly.
The momentum for Cleveland Heights shifted dramatically in the final minutes of the game. As the clock ticked down and tensions rose, Paramus Catholic's offense and special teams seemed to find a renewed sense of urgency. The Cleveland Heights defense, which had been solid for most of the game, began to show signs of fatigue and vulnerability. Paramus Catholic Head Coach, Greg Russo, masterfully exploited these weaknesses, trusting in his special teams coach for calling a pooch high-bounce kick at this point in the game helping his team to two consecutive lightning-fast touchdowns that turned the game in their favor.
"My special teams coach Blake Costanzo told me that if I like the play then I got to call it so we went with it," Russo said postgame. "I almost called it off at the last second, but they hit it just right."
For Cleveland Heights (1-1), the loss served as a harsh reminder of the importance of maintaining focus and composure until the final whistle. Despite their remarkable efforts earlier in the game, the team's late-game miscues proved to be their downfall. As they regroup and analyze the game tape, they will undoubtedly work to address the lapses in defense and special teams that allowed Paramus Catholic to snatch victory from their grasp.
The Tigers will travel to (2-0) Hudson next week for a matchup with the Explorers looking to get back in the win column.