Pilots Rout Falcons, 41-8
HANNIBAL – With its offense trying to figure out Cleveland Heights Lutheran East’s defensive schemes early in the second quarter, River turned to its defense for a spark.
Back-to-back interception returns for touchdowns in a 40-second span was just the spark the state-ranked Pilots (7-1) needed to make Homecoming 2015 a memorable one in a 41-8 rout of the visiting Falcons (4-3) at Martin Flannery Field.
The hosts led 7-0 after one quarter on the strength of a 4-yard run behind the left side of the line by sophomore sensation Lukas Isaly. It capped a 5-play, 40-yard drive.
“We sputtered (on offense) early because we respected them,” River head coach Mike Flannery explained. “You don’t know much about them. You only have two films to go with, so we used the first quarter just to get an idea of what we’re going to do the rest of the game.
“We had a gameplan and an idea, but that could change,” he added. “That’s what it was. It wasn’t sputtering. It was just getting a feel for the game.”
River threatened to make it 14-0 late in the second quarter, but a drive stalled on fourth-and-goal from the 5. Two plays later, Braden Whetsell stepped in front of a Kalen Heard pass and returned it 15 yards to the house. Grant Williams converted the second of his half-a-dozen PATs for a 14-0 lead.
On Lutheran East’s next possession, Heard was looking for a receiver in the right flat, but found River’s Dakota Smith who raced it back 60 yards to paydirt as the margin quickly increased to 21-0 in less than a minute.
“Those two kids took them to the house,” Flannery said of the interception runbacks. “We need kids to step up like that, and we’ve been getting that.”
All told, the Pilots pilfered four passes, with Whetsell snagging two and Drew Wagnild adding the other in the end zone just before the half.
“Our defense played well,” Flannery praised. “The one big play they had was a missed assignment. We missed some tackles, but other than that, I’m really proud of those guys.”
In addition to the two interceptions, Whetsell also recovered a fumble, as did Wagnild. Luke Matusik, Mason Ladyga, Cody Saksa, Zac Talbott and Tyce Felton also had their names called a lot.
The offense got untracked in the second half with senior quarterback Joey Flannery hooking up with Isaly on a pair of scoring strikes in the third quarter.
The first came from 53 yards out down the left sidelines as Isaly easily beat a Falcons defensive back. The second was a 23-yarder that Isaly hauled in in the right corner of the end zone as the margin ballooned to 34-8.
“We felt we could go deep,” Flannery said of the offensive strategy in the second half. “They were playing up on us and we adjusted well.”
Lutheran East had scored on a 1-yard run by Heard, the Falcons freshman quarterback. He set the score up with a nifty 65-yard scamper.
Whetsell concluded the scoring with an 8-ran jaunt around left end in the fourth quarter.
Isaly finished with 17 carries for 55 yards and the aforementioned touchdown. He also caught five aerials for 107 stripes and the two scores. Flannery completed 13 of 18 attempts – including 11 of 12 during a stretch than spanned the second and third quarters – for 142 yards and the two touchdowns. He was also named Mr. River at halftime, while Abby Caldwell was named Miss River.
The Pilots entered the contest ranked sixth in Division VI, Region 21. They were behind No. 4 Fort Frye, which defeated Caldwell, and No. 5 Chesapeake, which routed Portsmouth.
“It’s a little different than it was a couple of years ago,” Flannery noted of the playoff watch. “Then we were relying on other teams. Now, we control our own destiny. That’s all. We have to win out.”
River closes out the home portion of its regular season next week when Buckeye Trail visits Hannibal. A trip to Frontier looms in week 10.