Black Rivers Riley Bartolic (7) and Alex Vormelker walk off the field after losing their Regional final game to South Range. Aaron Josefczyk / Chronicle
LAWRENCE TWP. — The risk of being a ground-and-pound football team is that one momentum-swinging mistake can lead to life support.
A second is almost always fatal.
That was the story of Black River on Friday, as turnovers at critical junctures provided the Aniello Buzzacco- and Peyton Remish-led South Range Raiders all the ammunition needed to pull away for a 40-16 victory in the Division V, Region 17, championship at Northwest’s Dr. Martin Smilek Stadium.
The top-seeded Raiders (13-0) advanced to the state semis for the second time (2005) and will battle Pemberville Eastwood (13-0) at a site to be determined Sunday, while the third-seeded Pirates (11-2) fell to 0-4 in regional finals.
“Man, they’re skilled. They’ve got crazy skill,” Black River two-way lineman Cole Haswell said. “No. 44 (Remish) is a helluva back. They’ve got a bright future ahead of them, and they can really make a run at it.
“Overall, it was just execution, execution. We didn’t go down without a fight, though. (Turnovers) were costly. That’s how turnovers always are, you know? Between winning and losing, that can be the pivotal point.”
Despite a two-touchdown momentum swing early in the second quarter, Black River trailed 19-16 at halftime and received the kickoff. The Pirates were moving the ball well despite a virtuoso performance from linebacker Remish and moved into South Range territory on a Spencer Constable 21-yard reverse.
Then the game changed permanently.
Quarterback Riley Bartolic (2-for-8, 78 yards, two TDs) fired a pop-pass over the middle, and Buzzacco picked it off on the 24-yard line and returned it 32 yards with 9:03 left in the period. Buzzacco (15 carries, 167 yards, three TDs and 5-for-14 passing for 87 yards) scored from 24 yards on a power read three minutes later and the score was 26-16.
Black River followed with a three-and-out and nothing else went right the rest of the night. The physical and deceptively nimble Remish (29 carries, 130 yards) pushed the ante to 33-16 late in the third quarter — the Raiders converted five consecutive third downs and two fourth downs during the second half — and speedy receiver Mathias Combs capped the scoring on a 7-yard reverse with 6:30 to play.
“(Turnovers) helped us a lot,” Buzzacco said. “We got that momentum switch, and we thrive on that --when we get a big play, a big sack, a big tackle or a turnover. We’re ready to go. We’re ready to get back on offense and just get going."
While the second Black River turnover was the dagger, the first forced the Pirates to play catch-up.
Black River led 8-6 midway through the first quarter due in part to Justin Zacharyasz blocking an extra point after Buzzacco scored just four plays and 49 seconds in. The Pirates again were driving after a 33-yard rumble by fullback Jacob Campbell (13 carries, 84 yards) and faced second-and-5 from the 11.
Bartolic attempted to hand off a jet sweep to Travis Sexton (nine carries, 50 yards and one catch, 29 yards, TD) but lost the ball, which scooted backward as a scramble ensued. Buzzacco finally gained possession and sprinted 75 yards to the house, though Black River linebacker Alex Vormelker blew up a stretch run by Remish on the 2-point conversion.
Instead of leading 14-6, at worst, the Pirates trailed 12-8. Then a snap-count mix-up on third-and-2 forced a punt near midfield — Buzzacco soon weaved for a 54-yard score — but Bartolic nailed Gibbs over the middle for a 49-yard TD and Sexton added his second 2-point conversion to salvage the 19-16 deficit.
“(The Raiders) were a great team. Take nothing away from them,” Pirates coach Al Young said. “What we did in the first half really come back and bit us. It hurts. It stings.”
Unfortunately for the Pirates, they had nothing left to give emotionally after falling behind 26-16. The defense wore down noticeably in the second half, though it still made Remish earn every yard.
Buzzacco proved simply too much to stop on either side of the ball, especially when Black River kept giving him opportunities to make more plays.
“Emotional. I thought we had it,” Black River defensive end Jeff Owen said. “It just slipped away from us. We practiced all week for it, and we just weren’t ready. We didn’t execute.
“It was a great season. It’s one of the best Black River’s ever had, and I’m glad to say that.”
“We fought,” Haswell said. “We fought as hard as we could, and we left it all out there on the table.”
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
South Range 40, Black River 16
Black River 8 8 0 0 — 16
South Range 12 7 14 7 — 40
S — Aniello Buzzacco, 24 run (kick blocked).
B — Travis Sexton, 29 pass from Riley Bartolic (Sexton run).
S — Buzzacco, 75 fumble return (run failed).
S — Buzzacco, 54 run (Levi Taylor kick).
B — Riley Gibbs, 49 pass from Bartolic (Sexton run).
S — Buzzacco, 24 run (Taylor kick).
S — Peyton Remish, 2 run (Taylor kick).
S — Mathias Combs, 7 run (Taylor kick).
First downs 13 19
— by rushing 10 15
— by passing 2 3
— by penalty 1 1
Yards rushing 174 320
Yards passing 78 87
Total offense 252 407
Passes att./comp. 8/2 14/5
Intercepted by 0 1
Fumbles/lost 3/1 0/0
Penalties/yards 3/27 4/35
RUSHING — (B) Jacob Campbell 13-84, Sexton 9-50, Gibbs 10-32, Spencer Constable 1-21, Justin Zacharyasz 3-6, Trevor Scott 1-(-5), Bartolic 6-(-14). (S) Buzzacco 15-167, Remish 29-130, Combs 2-16, Anthony Delucia 1-7.
PASSING — (B) Bartolic 2-8-78-1. (S) Buzzacco 5-14-87-0.
RECEIVING — (B) Gibbs 1-49, Sexton 1-29. (S) Brennan Toy 2-41, Ryan Davenport 1-33, Trent Harrold 1-9, Combs 1-4.