For the first time in school history, North’s football team will play a Week 11 game.
The Rangers defeated Chardon on Friday, 28-7, to lock up a berth in the Division I, Region 5 playoffs.
“It is definitely emotional,” said a teary-eyed North coach Shawn Dodd. “The guys make fun of me because I’m a crier. I’m not going to hide it, I’m secure enough that I can shed a tear in front of these guys.”
North had a chance to qualify for the postseason even with a loss to the Hilltoppers, but Dodd, his coaches, and each player preferred to end the regular season with a victory.
“You want to go in (to the playoffs) with the win,” Dodd said. “We knew as coaches, and the kids might have known, but we never talked about it; it was never brought up. They wanted to earn their way in. They wanted the celebration; they wanted the fans to run the field. As coaches we wanted to see that, we didn’t want to just tell them at the end, ‘Hey guys, we lost but we still might be in, we’ll see you Sunday.’ We wanted to do it the right way and for these kids, you couldn’t have scripted it any better.”
The Rangers couldn’t have done it without their defense, which has allowed just 63 points during their five-game winning streak.
Senior linebacker Brad Burrows, who recorded 12 ½ tackles and scored a defensive touchdown against Chardon, has had a lot to do with that defensive success.
“I think you can make the argument to be the Defensive Player of the Year in the conference, he’s just that good,” Dodd said. “He hit harder than I’ve seen him hit all year. He really wanted this game bad. He’s been outstanding.”
For Burrows, the payoff was worth the effort.
“The fans were unreal sticking with us all through the season,” Burrows said. “There’s no better feeling than this, especially coming from 1-4 to winning five in a row, words can’t even describe what this feels like. I’ve never felt this much joy and the coaches were going crazy. I just don’t have words to describe it.”
Jake Tanski’s 29-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Streb gave North a 7-0 lead with 4:42 to go in the first quarter.
Tanski finished the game 4-of-5 passing for 77 yards and also added 39 yards on the ground.
“It feels amazing to be the first team in North’s history to go to the playoffs,” Tanski said. “Our success on offense doesn’t start without the dudes up front blocking their tails off. Our defense has definitely stepped up these past five games. We just have to stay focused this week and have a good week of practice and I think we’ll be good on Friday night.”
Burrows pushed the lead to 14-0 when jumped on top of a blocked punt in the end zone with 10:08 left in the first half.
Chardon cut its deficit in half late in the third quarter when Andrew Kobuszewski plunged into the end zone from the 1 but the Rangers wouldn’t be denied their rightful place in the postseason.
Brett Payne scored twice in the fourth quarter, first on a 2-yard run with 11:44 to go and he closed out the scoring with a 9-yard run midway through the period.
Payne finished with 109 yards on 21 carries. It was his fourth straight game with over 100 yards rushing.
Streb hauled in three passes for 41 yards, including the first quarter touchdown.
“It’s the greatest feeling,” Streb said of making the playoffs. “We were 1-4 and coach made the statement that after that South game we were going to win out and we did just that. Being the first team in Eastlake North history to go to the playoffs is just unbelievable.”
The Rangers finished the regular season with a 6-4 mark. Their playoff opponent will be announced on Sunday.
North senior Sam Pirosko contributed to this story.