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Frontier’s playoff run comes to close at Shadyside

Photo by Kristin Mazgaj Frontier’s Preston Stamp (89) runs with the ball as teammate Liam Benson (21) blocks during a high school football playoff game against Shadyside Friday night.

SHADYSIDE — It appears that Shadyside has turned the corner.

Once sitting at 1-3 on the season with a lot of head scratching going on, the Tigers have seemingly righted their ship and it’s the perfect time of the year to do it.

Shadyside opened what it hopes will be a lengthy stay in the Division VII, Region 27 tournament with a convincing 48-14 victory Friday night at chilly Fleming Field.

Despite the lop-sided final, which is the Tigers’ third straight victory, head coach Mark Holenka wasn’t totally pleased.

“There were times when we were our own worst enemy because for some reason prosperity kills us,” Holenka said. “We’ve done the same thing at times against Bellaire and River earlier this season where we get a lead and then just go into a daze at times. We have to clean that up.”

Shadyside will need to clean up its issues quickly because its headed for a lengthy road trip in the regional quarterfinal. The Tigers will trek to Howard to take on East Knox, which is the second seed in the region and advanced by virtue of ousting Toronto.

“We’ll have our work cut out for us,” Holenka said. “We will need to play efficiently and play emotionally. They have great team speed and they like to fling the ball around, so I think it will be a great matchup.”

Before all attention could shift to East Knox, the Tigers had to deal with a Frontier squad (5-3) that was coming off its first playoff victory in school history last week.

On the opening drive, the Cougars took advantage of some of some mistakes by the Tigers and marched to the Shadyside 13, eating 7:13 off the game clock in the process.

However, Frontier came away with no points.

“We did some good things and put together a nice drive to start the game, and I think if we could have scored, it would have been great for our momentum,” Frontier head coach Russ Morris said. “But, Shadyside has an excellent football team, and we knew that coming in. I believe they’re one of the top teams in our region.”

Seemingly itching to get their hands on the ball, it didn’t take Shadyside long to flex its muscle. Capping a 7-play drive, junior quarterback Rhys Francis found classmate Mason Vannest for a 43-yard touchdown pass.

The same combination struck again as the first-quarter clock turned to all zeroes. Vannest — coming in motion — took the touch pass from Francis, weaved through the Cougar defense, cut back all the way across the field and out-raced the defense for a 65-yard touchdown. Francis ran in the 2-point conversion and it was 14-0.

“We didn’t have the ball much in the first quarter and still ended up with 14 points, but we can’t let teams sustain drives because of our mistakes,” Holenka said. “We have to make offenses earn what they get.”

Shadyside’s defense got into the scoring act after the teams traded punts. Senior linebacker Jacob Visnic, who was also a force on offense, stepped in front of a Frontier pass and went the other way for a 60-yard touchdown.

Frontier made it 20-6 when Breckin Hoff caught a 69-yard touchdown from junior Tanner Bills on a gadget play.

Shadyside didn’t let Frontier’s momentum go any farther. The Tigers proceeded to score the game’s next 22 points. Visnic did the bulk of that. He scored on runs of 7, 2, and 10 yards. All told, he rushed 15 times for 149 yards. Jordan Joseph and Karl Tsoras caught bookend 2-point conversions around that trio of touchdowns.

“The team played well and we did what we had to do,” Holenka said.

Bills stopped the Frontier bleeding with a 17-yard touchdown run, but Shadyside capped the scoring when speedy freshman Andrew Osman ripped off a 58-yard touchdown.

Francis posted a solid game for the Tigers, who finished with 429 yards of total offense. He completed 5-of-11 passes for 131 yards. He also rushed for 64 yards on 9 carries.

Along with Visnic’s interception, Joseph — a standout at corner — picked off a pass, too. Shadyside was plus four in the turnover category.

While the Tigers are preparing for the regional quarterfinal, Frontier will return to regular-season play. It is expecting to play Monroe Central, which fell to Trimble on Friday.

“I am very proud of our kids because they never quit,” Morris said. “I thought we came up here and showed, for at least a good part of the game, that we belonged. I am proud of our effort and we’ve still got a couple of more weeks we can play football.”

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