By CHRIS EASTERLING
Independent sports editor
SPENCER Black River seemed poised to wrap its hands around the throat of momentum in its Division V Region 15 quarterfinal against Fairless on Saturday.
Both times, though, the Pirates had to then kick off to the Falcons after gaining that momentum.
And Fairless stole all of the momentum Black River had worked so hard to get going its way with a kickoff return for a touchdown.
No two plays may have better symbolized the way the Falcons answered throughout their 51-42 playoff win against the Pirates than those two kickoff returns. For, without either of those returns, who knows how different the script may have played out.
“The special teams made the difference,” said Fairless coach Don Wilson, whose team will meet Principals Athletic Conference rival Manchester in a regional semifinal Saturday at Central Catholic. “I was very fortunate to work with some guys in college ... who always said special teams make the difference. This big, important game, guess what, they made a heck of the difference.”
The first came after Black River had methodically marched down to take a 6-0 lead on its first possession. But Jeremy Mahaffey took the subsequent kickoff, found a crease and then raced 77 yards for the score that gave Fairless a 7-6 lead after the point-after kick.
“It was really big,” Mahaffey said. “It showed that we knew we could come back from behind. We were still in the game early, because sometimes it’s really hard, because if you get down in a game early, it can be hard to come back from that.”
The second one may have been even bigger, considering the point in the game when it occurred.
Black River had just given its fans reason to stand up and roar when Andrew Vaughn raced away for a 50-yard touchdown run to pull the Pirates within 30-26 with 48 seconds left in the third quarter. It had been the second time in three possessions Vaughn, Medina County’s all-time leading rusher, broke loose for a 50-plus-yard score.
But again, Black River had to kick to Fairless. Only this time, it was Carter Casperd who quieted the black-and-gold clad fans while bringing the blue-clad partisans to their feet.
Casperd ran up the middle of the field, bounced outside to the left and sprinted 80 yards for the touchdown. With Matt Bair’s extra point, the Falcons were back in front by double digits at 37-26.
“Those are just momentum busters,” Wilson said. “You just drive the ball down the field. You get great momentum, and then, all of the sudden, bang. It comes right back and then you’re losing by a point.
“Later on in the game, they had just gotten momentum, they were within four points of us, and then, bang, another return. Now they’re back on offense and they have to go back to the grind. That is a mental thing that’s tough to overcome.”
Something Black River couldn’t overcome. And that’s a big reason why Fairless finds itself in the second round of the playoffs for the first time.
Reach Chris at 330-775-1128
On Twitter: @ceasterlingINDE