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by Frank Aceto
Associate Sports Editor
Ravenna --°First-year Tallmadge head football coach Alan Vanderink may be a little young to have some gray hairs.
Well, then again, maybe not.
"I already have some," Vanderink said. "I have two young kids."
While his debut on the sidelines as Tallmadge's head football coach may have been a bit stressful, Vanderink certainly couldn't stop smiling after the game.
That's because his Blue Devils had a night to remember.
Tallmadge opened its season in grand fashion with a thrilling 27-24 victory over host Ravenna in overtime Aug. 26.
Trailing 24-21 in overtime, left-handed sophomore quarterback Sam Seeker found junior running back Ty Shannon on a screen pass.
Shannon had some open room down the sideline and dove into the end zone for the game-winning score from 16 yards away.
"It was just a feel thing," Vanderink said. "It worked for us a few times earlier in the game, so we thought we'd try it."
Seeker, who completed 7-of-15 passes for 100 yards and two touchdowns, got some pressure as he rolled to his right before finding Shannon on the left side.
"They caught us in a zone," Ravens head coach Jim Lunardi said. "We blitzed off the edge. It's a credit to them. Sometimes, it comes down to just making a play."
The fact that Tallmadge (1-0) trailed in overtime seemed unthinkable at one point.
The Blue Devils had a two-score lead (21-7) when junior fullback Seth Baker scored on a 24-yard touchdown run.
The score took place just 56 seconds into the fourth quarter. Baker finished with 71 yards on 14 carries.
But Ravenna, which defeated Tallmadge 37-14 last year, stormed back with two scores in a span of a little more than eight minutes.
Ravenna, using the Wildcat formation, had a plethora of running backs get huge chunks of yardage that nearly wore down the Tallmadge defense.
"We battled," Lunardi said. "We had a lot of sophomores and juniors out there. Some of them never played on Friday nights. There were some first-game jitters. We had some dropped balls. That's why we have a 24-hour rule. We have to focus on our next game."
Ravenna cut the Blue Devils' advantage to eight (21-13) when Tony Lewis took the snap, cut to the left and outran everyone down the sideline for a 59-yard touchdown.
Tallmadge got a break when senior kicker Brady Starkey, who boomed several kickoffs into the end zone, missed the point after try.
But the Ravens didn't flinch.
Ravenna pinned the Blue Devils near their end zone and got a huge break when Shannon's punt traveled just 11 yards.
As a result, the Ravens got the ball at Tallmadge's 24-yard line. Four plays later, Lewis, who led all ball carriers with 97 yards in 15 attempts, struck again with a 11-yard TD run to make it 21-19 with 1:52 left.
With so little time remaining, Ravenna needed a 2-point conversion. The Ravens got it when Lewis took the snap and squeezed into the end zone in traffic to tie the game.
It looked like the Ravens had all the momentum. However, the Blue Devils' defense, which seemed to be running on fumes after dominating the first three quarters, answered the call in overtime.
On third and 5 from the Tallmadge 15, senior linebacker Josh Todd knocked Lewis backward for a 2-yard loss. As a result, Ravenna could only hope for three points and Starkey delivered with a 34-yard field goal on fourth down to give the Ravens their only lead (24-21).
Prior to the theatrics, late in the game, the Blue Devils struck first late in the first half.
Tallmadge got good field position after a long punt return by Shannon, who actually raced into the end zone for a 52-yard score.
However, a block in the back was called, and the touchdown was nullified. Instead, the Blue Devils got the ball at Ravenna's 23.
Tallmadge's drive didn't start out so well.
The Blue Devils were called for three penalties during the possession.
But Tallmadge converted two third-and-long passes, including a 14-yard TD aerial from Seeker to senior tight end Jake Davis. Sophomore kicker Garrett Ansley booted the first of his three point after tries to make it 7-0 with 1:52 remaining in the half.
The Ravens had an answer.
They tied the game with an eight-play, 54-yard drive that took a little more than a minute to complete.
The big play of the drive was a third-and-10 17-yard pass from junior quarterback Bowen Brown to junior running back Austin Fox, who caught the ball despite being surrounded by a bevy of Blue Devil defenders.
Three plays later, Lewis tied the game with an 11-yard TD run on yet another third-and-10 play. Starkey booted the first of his two extra points.
The Blue Devils appeared to take control in the third quarter.
Senior defensive lineman Caiden Genovese recovered a fumble after teammate Matthew Kieke, a junior defensive lineman, forced the pigskin loose.
Tallmadge's offense took advantage of the turnover with a 5-play, 41-yard scoring drive. Shannon, who had 3 receptions for 56 yards, concluded the possession with a 13-yard TD run.
The Blue Devils got their next score, thanks to a turnover.
This time, junior defensive back Lawrence Benning intercepted a long pass to give the ball back to Tallmadge's offense.
The Blue Devils, who outgained Ravenna 256-188, didn't squander their opportunity. Tallmadge built its lead to 14 with a 5-play, 62-yard drive.
"I really liked how the defense played," Vanderink said. "The offense can fine-tune a few things, but I really like how they battled. Getting their first win is a little stepping stone for the program."
The Blue Devils were scheduled to host Ellet Sept. 2 at Thomas Rossiaky Stadium. Results were not available at press time.
Tallmadge is set to entertain Akron Garfield Sept. 9 at 7 p.m.