By Lynn Saternow
Herald Sports Editor
ERIE — Life goes on and so do the Sharon Tigers. But not until next season!
The Tigers played with heavy hearts Monday night in their District 10 Class AA playoff opener against Girard, delayed from Saturday after the tragic fatal crash that killed two players and left two others in the hospital. Corey Swartz and Evan Gill were killed in the accident and the Osmon twins, Greg and Craig, both hospitalized with injuries.
But school officials said the families were “adamant” that the game be played and the Tigers and coaching staff voted to play it in honor “of those who couldn’t be here.”
But even in losing a heart-breaking 22-19 game to Girard at Veterans Memorial Stadium, the Tigers still came away as WINNERS in the eyes of their fans and the Shenango Valley community.
“We fought hard and I’m proud of these kids,” said Coach Jim Wildman. “This is a resilient group. And I’m especially proud of my seniors. … We’ll use this game as motivation for the future. … And this week, we’ll bury two of our own.”
The Tigers suffered a much bigger loss than a game last Friday night when four senior starters and team leaders, were involved in a tragic fatal accident. And they played it well. The Tigers were leading 19-14 with about 21 seconds to go and Girard had a 4th down and no timeouts at the 22-yard line. Quarterback Joe Dunn hit Cody Pound with a pass at the 7, and Pound broke a tackle and went in to score. A 2-point pass followed with 13 seconds left and Girard had the victory.
“We were one tackle away from winning,” said Wildman. “If we make a tackle, the game is over. But Girard is the second-ranked team from up here and some people didn’t think we belonged. But despite everything that happened over the weekend, on Sunday when we held practice, these kids were ready to play.”
Sharon held Girard on the opening series of the game and it only took slightly more than 2 minutes before the Tigers were up 7-0. Carnell Hawkins, who ripped off a brilliant 51-yard run on the drive, scored the first TD on a 5-yard burst over the right side. Andrew Tomko booted the point after.
But the Tigers’ defense was tested immediately after Yellow Jacket speedster Bryan Divido returned the ball to the Sharon 12. Four plays later, Nason McCall carried 1 yard into the end zone. A 2-point PAT run by Cody Dinger on a broken play off an attempted kick jumped Girard into an 8-7 lead.
“You can’t give up 70-yard kick returns, especially in the playoffs,” lamented Wildman.
Sharon went right back to work on offense as Hawkins ripped off a 42-yard run on the first play from the Sharon 31. Six plays later, fullback Da’mon Rudolph plowed to paydirt on an 8-yard run. A run for points after failed, but Sharon was back on top, 13-8.
With snow starting to cover the field early in the 2nd quarter, Girard marched back down the field into the lead. Dunn carried 22 yards over the left side for the score, but the PAT kick went off the upright and the margin for the Yellow Jackets was 14-13.
That score held until halftime, but it wasn’t without a tense moment.
With about 29 seconds left in the half Sharon had the ball at its own 13 and 4th down. Rather than punt into the heavy wind, “Gamblin’ Jim” Wildman called Tomko’s number on a quarterback sneak and Tomko picked up the 1st down and the Tigers ran out the clock.
At halftime, a snow-plow driver was hard at work clearing snow off the yard lines. But it was a futile effort as the white stuff continued to fall.
Sharon controlled most of the 3rd quarter and appeared to score on a 38-yard interception return by Trenton Mosley, but a penalty moved the ball back to the 20. Four plays later, Rudolph carried 3 yards for his second score. A pass for PAT failed, but Sharon was back on top, 19-14.
But late in the game, Girard pulled out the victory and will move on to face unbeaten Greenville next Saturday at a site to be determined.
Notes: Four Tigers wore the numbers of the players lost to the accident. Troy Hejazi wore 9 (Corey Swartz); Beau Dignal 67 (Evan Gill); Kendall Sheffield 73 (Craig Osmon); Jay’Quan Jackson 70 (Greg Osmon). A moment of silence was held prior to the game for Swartz and Gill as well as John Zdelar of Brookfield who was also killed in the crash.
CLASS AA QUARTERFINALS
SHARON 13 0 6 0 19
GIRARD 8 6 0 8 22
S — Hawkins, 5 run (Tomko kick)
G — McCall, 1 run (Dinger run)
S — Rudolph, 8 run (run failed)
G — Dunn, 22 run (kick failed)
S — Rudolph, 3 run (pass failed)
G — Pound, 22 pass from Dunn (Dinger pass from Dunn)
10 First downs 9
202 Rushing yards 102
11 Passing yards 96
2-1-0 Att-comp-int 14-7-1
213 Total yards 198
1-0 Fumbles-lost 0-0
7-55 Penalties-yards lost 3-35
Rushing: SHARON — Hawkins 21-162, Rudolph 11-43, Tomko 5-(-3); GIRARD — Dunn 11-63, Barnes 12-38, McCall 1-1, Edder 1-0.
Passing: SHARON — Tomko 2-1-0-11; GIRARD — Dunn 13-6-1-83, McCall 1-1-0-13.
Receiving: SHARON — Ali 1-11; GIRARD — Dinger 3-43, Pound 1-22, Little 1-20, Divido 1-7, McCall 1-4.