Cleveland Heights Tigers Fall to Defending State Champions St. Edward

Errors, missed chances bring halt to school's first taste of playoffs

Beating a state champion is one thing, but beating two state champions in two weeks may have been asking too much.

The Cleveland Heights football team captured an entire city’s hopes after and earning the last week, but the Tigers looked every bit like nervous first-timers in facing Division I state champion St. Edward on Saturday night.

Despite falling behind early, the Tigers overcame the Eagles’ early dominance and rallied to within a touchdown in the third quarter, but crucial errors down the stretch left them short, 28-14, in the Division I, Region 1 quarterfinals at Crawford Field.

The third-seeded Tigers’ season ends at 9-1 after finishing up a perfect regular season with a Lake Erie League title. St. Edward, seeded sixth, improves to 8-3 and will face its arch-rival, St. Ignatius, next Saturday.

Cleveland Heights head coach Jeff Rotsky had no interest in so-called moral victories after losing to a team some thought would beat his team by three touchdowns. In the immediate aftermath, it’s the missed chances and mistakes that burned hottest in his mind.

“I’m proud of my kids, but I’m not a moral-victory guy and never will be,” Rotsky said. “It’s 21-14. We have the ball one or two times with a chance to tie the game up. We don’t get it and they score late. So it’s very, very, very disappointing because we had a chance.”

Down, 21-14, the Tigers defense smashed down Eagles running back Kenny Butler for a 3-yard loss at the Cleveland Heights’ 25 on a third-and-2 play with 2:23 remaining. The Eagles lined up for a 42-yard field goal, but the Tigers jumped offsides and gave the Eagles a first down. Four plays later, Butler ran off right tackle for a 7-yard touchdown to effectively end the game.

“At the end of the day, we left some monstrous opportunities on the board,” Rotsky said. “Defensively, we didn’t play well in the first half. We played great in the second half, I thought. We made some adjustments that helped. Offensively, we had chances, and we didn’t convert. At the end of the day, you’ve got to convert against a team like this.”

For a long time, Cleveland Heights senior quarterback Bryce Jones will probably remember just missing a wide-open Marcus McShepard streaking open down the sidelines at 4:30 of the third quarter. Had he hit him with the pass, the Tigers would have tied the score at 21.

“I wish it could have ended better. I love this team, this school, this city. I wish we could have given them more, but it wasn’t that kind of year. I just wish them the best for next year,” Jones said.

St. Edward dominated the early going by using its massive offensive line to uproot Cleveland Heights defenders from the Crawford Field grass as Dwayne Aaron finished off a six-play opening drive with a 7-yard run for a 7-0 lead at 9:39.

On the Eagles’ next possession, Aaron ran on 14 of 15 plays as St. Edward drove from its 13 for another touchdown, this one finished up by Aaron’s 1-yard run with 47 seconds remaining in the first quarter.

St. Edward’s bludgeoning ground game continued on its third possession and knocked down Tigers defender Anthony Simmons at the Tigers’ 4, keeping him on the ground for 25 minutes at 10:22 of the second quarter.

Simmons didn’t move initially but was soon able to shake his arms and legs and was placed on a cart and taken to a hospital. Coach Rotsky had no further word on his condition but believes he just had his bell rung, as the old saying goes.

Although Butler swept right for a 6-yard TD run two plays after Simmons’ injury, the delay seemingly gathered the Tigers.

Cleveland Heights held Aaron for no gain on a 4th-and-goal run at the Tigers’ 2 to finally blunt the Eagles’ advances and regained the ball at 5:31 of the second quarter.

On that possession, Cleveland Heights reached its 46 when quarterback Jones threw a backward pass to Shelton Gibson who then launched a forward pass to a wide-open and in-stride McShepard for a 54-yard TD pass that drew the Tigers to 21-6 with 2:21 left in the first half.

Marcus Bagley’s 8-yard run finished off the Tigers’ eight-play opening drive of the second half. Jones hit Gibson for a two-point conversion that pulled them within 21-14 at 9:34, but the Tigers never scored again.

Coach Rick Finotti came away impressed by the Tigers.

“Being an East sider my whole life, I’m very familiar with the program coach Rotsky runs. They do a great job. They have a lot of heart, a lot of pride. They played a good game,” Finotti said.

St. Edward              14  7  0  7  28

Cleveland Heights  0   6  8  0  14

First quarter

St. Edward - Aaron 7 run (Wilhelm kick)

St. Edward - Aaron 1 run (Wilhelm kick)

Second quarter

St. Edward - Butler 6 run (Wilhelm kick)

Cleveland Heights – McShepard 54 pass from Gibson (kick

Third quarter

Cleveland Heights – Bagley 8 run (Gibson pass from Jones)

Fourth quarter

St. Edward – Butler 7 run (Wilhelm kick)

Glinda Smith November 07, 2011 at 02:17 PM
The all-city musical production, which had been planned for months, involved 600 kids, 300+ of which were there that night, and could not be put off easily. Also, it was just as important at the football game. I watched the game on TV and would like to congratulate the Tigers for a great effort. It was their first playoff game ever and I thought the acquitted themselves well. I'm sure there were many who thought that the Eagles would effortlessly rollover Heights, but that certainly did not happen!
Glinda Smith November 07, 2011 at 02:19 PM
I would like to add that I watched playoff highlights on Friday night and clip after clip showed kids playing their hearts out to half-empty stadiums. Well, that sure did not happen in Cleveland Heights and I am sure that it will never happen in the future!
funguy November 07, 2011 at 07:58 PM
The heights administartion knew there was a possibility of a playoff game game 4 weeks ago. The school should have moved the play to a different time. If the play was going on for more than 1 day it was okay to move it. Rather than having people not have parking and then make the baseball outfield a parking lot, which was a horrible idea.
Glinda Smith November 08, 2011 at 02:44 AM
Next time you plan an event that involves hundreds of people you tell me how easy it would be to move the date. *eye roll* THE FOOTBALL GAME WAS NOT MORE IMPORTANT THAT THE MUSICAL!
Jake Crouse November 08, 2011 at 01:25 PM
Actually, Glinda, it kinda was -- especially when viewed within the context of the entire community and what it meant. Also, a heckuva lot more people saw the game, either in person or on TV. Not that there's anything wrong with musicals.


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