COVENTRY TWP. Plenty of people around the United States were playing football on Thanksgiving.
Not many of them were able to put on a uniform and compete alongside friends and teammates one final time before ending their high school careers.
Coventry senior quarterback Andrew Arnold and teammates Kaleb Shank and Graham Evans got that opportunity with the Thanks 4 Giving All-Star Game, played at Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy..
"It was fun all around playing with a lot of new guys from different schools," Arnold said. "It was a little bit overwhelming, but I also had a great time and it was an honor because there were only three players picked from my school."
The three Coventry players competed on the victorious West squad that topped the East 14-13 in a game played in 25-degree weather. Revere coach Jamie Boyeas coached the West team, which fell behind early after Green quarterback Kage Williams threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Mogadore’s Gavin Christy and Nordonia’s Evan Wiehe kicked the extra point to give the East Stars a 7-0 lead.
Christy played with Mogadore teammate Rhett Brodie, bringing with him one of the linemen who helped lead him to a 1,000-yard rushing season.
Williams played alongside Green teammates Jacob Gonzalez, Logan Jacobs and Ben Timmerman, while Springfield sent Conner Beatty, Noah Constantino and DeAntoine Pickett to the game for the East.
Coventry was the lone Suburbanite-area team to have players on the West roster and Arnold appreciated having Shank and Evans with him as they put on the Coventry uniform one final time. After injuries derailed what was shaping up to be a solid season for the Comets, the three seniors tabbed for the game were able to emerge victorious in their last chance to play together. The win didn’t erase the disappointment of a 3-7 season, but it was enjoyed nonetheless.
"It was fun and great to be playing with them again," Arnold said. "The most challenging part of the game was getting down a new offense and learning the plays we were supposed to run with new people."
The West team was able to rally as Russell Cooper III of St. Vincent-St. Mary returned the ensuing kickoff 96 for a touchdown at 10:46 after Christy’s end zone visit, and Revere kicker Sam Webster made his first of two extra points.
A 24-yard touchdown pass from Buchtel quarterback Mychael Leno to teammate Zayir Keen and the extra point put the West ahead for good. A late East touchdown wasn’t enough as the West held on for the one-point win.
Arnold, playing on defense, combined with Barberton’s Jordon Hayden for a sack and Williams completed 11-of-21 passes for 101 yards, and gained 62 yards on nine carries for the East stars. Gonzalez snagged an interception for the East, giving the Bulldogs and their supporters who attended the game plenty to be proud of after struggling to a 1-9 record this season.
The game may have been an exhibition and the players on the field would likely all have preferred to still be alive in the OHSAA playoffs with their teammates as opposed to suiting up for an all-star game, but the smiles as they posed for photos with teammates, family and friends suggested that there was still plenty of joy in being able to play the game they loved one final time at the high school level.
Some will go on to play college football, while others won’t have any future chances to put on their pads and take to the gridiron.
For Arnold, who has been a part of a few backyard football games growing up and on holidays, it was a chance to compete and walk off the field knowing he’d given his best effort one more time as a football player.
"It was a different feeling than playing in the back yard and it was a great experience to be able to play in a big game like this on Thanksgiving," Arnold said. "It was sad in a way, but I was also satisfied with how I performed and how hard I played this season, so I wasn’t mad or really sad walking off the field after the game."
As the 14 teams still alive in the playoffs and vying for state titles this weekend in Canton can attest, it’s good to still be playing high school football even after the leaves are done falling.
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