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GENOA — Eastwood orchestrated a stunning late rally to snap Genoa's historic winning streak in a classic contest Friday night that played out before a standing-room-only crowd at Comet Stadium.
The Eagles trailed by 10 points with less than six minutes left, but they rattled off 12 unanswered points to win the first Northern Buckeye Conference title in jaw-dropping fashion. In the battle of unbeatens, Eastwood emerged with a 25-23 win to finish the regular season undefeated (10-0 overall, 7-0 NBC).
PHOTO GALLERY: Eastwood defeats Genoa 25-23.
The unlikely comeback also denied the Comets (9-1, 6-1) a fifth straight league title and snapped the program's 48 straight regular-season game winning streak.
"This a great win for our program and for our kids," said Eastwood coach Jerry Rutherford as his players raised the new trophy and students swarmed the field. "It's pretty amazing. I'm proud and happy for them."
Just moments earlier the home portion of the crowd, which was estimated at 4,500, was in full throat, sensing another undefeated season. But then the Comets' momentum fizzled.
With less than two minutes left and the Eagles down 23-19, Eastwood quarterback Jake Schmeltz found Zach Conkle open, and he took it in from 33 yards out. The point-after attempt was missed, but Eastwood still had a 25-23 lead with 1:29 left.
"This is unreal. We wanted this so bad," said Conkle, with tears welling in his eyes. "We worked so hard for this. We were down, but we came out on top. They were really tough, but we fought through it and did our best. It was amazing. That was the best feeling ever."
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The Comets had the ball at their 25 with 1:24 left. But an incomplete pass was followed by an intentional grounding call. They picked up 21 yards on a screen play from Josh Bryer to Kyle Nutter, who had a game-high 145 rushing yards and two TDs. On fourth-and-5, Andrew Nutter was wide open behind the Eagle defense, but the pass was overthrown, and the Eagles celebrated.
"Even at the end we had a receiver five yards behind their secondary, and if we connect, he's in for a game-winning touchdown," Genoa coach Mike Vicars said. "We just felt snake-bitten all night."
Genoa appeared to be in terrific shape when it took a 23-13 lead with 5:47 left. Kyle Nutter scored on four-yard run after a 33-yard pass from Bryer to Joey Newland set up the score.
But Zach Conkle responded for Eastwood with a 40-yard run that set up his five-yard TD run with 3:56 remaining. The extra point was shanked, but the Eagles had pulled within 23-19.
Yet Genoa, which averaged 5.5 yards per rush in the game, still could have won the game by running the clock out.
"It was there," Vicars said. "All we had to do is come out and get some first downs and the ball game is over. That's what makes it tougher is that we had a 10 point lead with six and half to go. You're feeling pretty good then. Then we lost our edge there. But that's a good football team, and they made some plays."
Eastwood forced a three-and-out to get the ball back down 23-19 with 2:28 left. Senior linebacker Kris Hayward came up with a two-yard tackle for loss on third down.
"We wanted to go out with a bang, and that's what we did," said Hayward, who also returned an interception for a touchdown "This feels amazing. Coming together as a team and doing something that hasn't been done in a while. We just wanted to keep fighting."
On the Eagles' first play from scrimmage, Genoa was called for a 15-yard penalty for a helmet-to-helmet hit to put Eastwood on the Comet 35. Two plays later Schmeltz found Zach Conkle open for the game-winning TD.
"We thought the waggle would be there, and it was just a matter of when we were going to run it," Rutherford said. "Of course, Jake made a great throw, and Zach made a great run. We knew we would break one."
Vicars said the quick score made his players lose their focus.
"We lost our edge there mentally. We were like, ‘Oh my gosh what happened?' We couldn't get it back," Vicars said.
Vicars said he felt the first two Eastwood touchdowns were "gift wrapped."
Hayward intercepted a pass and returned it 40 yards for a 7-0 Eagles lead with 2:31 left in the first quarter.
Genoa tied it on a five-yard run by Kyle Nutter, who set up the score with eight straight runs. With it tied 7-7 with 2:47 left in the first half, Eastwood's Chase Beam came up with an interception on a deflection by Skylar Dierker. Three plays later Alex Keyes, who had a team-high 92 rushing yards, scored on a 33-yard run as Eastwood led 13-7 with 7:00 left in the third quarter.
Genoa quickly answered with a 56-yard TD run by Tyler Pickard. But Pickard then missed the extra point, and the game was tied at 13 with 5:56 left in the third quarter.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Pickard nailed a 27-yard field goal as Genoa took its first lead. Kyle Nutter carried eight straight times for 45 yards to set up the score that made it 16-13.
Genoa finished with 363 yards (236 passing), while they held Eastwood to 239 (204 rushing).
Zach Conkle, who came in averaging 10.2 yards per carry, was held to 86 yards (5.7). Schmeltz completed 3-of-4 passes for 75 yards.
Bryer completed 8-of-20 passes for 127 yards, and Pickard rushed for 94 yards on six carries (15.7) for Genoa.
Rutherford said he never discussed ending the Comets' streak with his players.
"It wasn't about ending their streak. It was about this group of guys finishing the season 10-0. That never entered our mind," he said. "This group wasn't expected to do what they've done. We're proud of that."