The inability to stop a rushing attack and some big plays cost the Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy football squad in a 40-13 league loss to Tuslaw on the road.
Battling wet and muddy conditions, CVCA traveled to William E. Kurtz Stadium in Massillon and fell short in the Tuslaw Homecoming game Sept. 30 in a Principal's Athletic Conference clash.
The loss dropped the Royals (0-6) to 0-3 in league play while Tuslaw (2-4, 2-1) won its second straight and also played well in a 43-42 loss to Orrville in week four.
Three long touchdown runs -- 54, 46 and 40 yards -- vaulted Tuslaw to a 20-0 first quarter lead and the hosts never looked back.
"There was no quit with our guys," said CVCA mentor Dan Larlham. "We were down big in the first half and our guys came out punching (in the second half). We were right in the game at the start of the fourth quarter.
Mustang back Hesus Himes rushed 31 times for 203 yards and three touchdown.
Himes helped Tuslaw to a 341-64 edge in rushing and a 26-0 lead at the half.
With scoring runs of 54 and 46 yards, plus a 1-yard plunge, Himes scored three big touchdowns.
That performance spoiled the impressive debut of junior quarterback Elijah Payne.
Payne, a transfer from Manchester, played in his first game for CVCA and the 6-foot-1, 175-pounder played well.
Attempting 35 passes, Payne completed 20 for 262 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions. On the ground, Payne ran for 47 yards on seven carries.
"Elijah has been preparing each week to be the starter if his number was called," noted Larlham. "It's something we ask all of our guys to do. So he looked very comfortable out there for us."
"I think the field conditions limited some of our offense, but we were able to get some big plays from time to time."
In third stanza, CVCA sliced the lead to 26-6 on a 58-yard TD pass from Payne to sophomore wide receiver Tre Tucker. It was a go-route to the speedy Tucker. The two-point pass failed.
"Elijah is a natural leader and great athlete," said his coach. "He studies the game well and it showed. He is totally at home in our system and we want to be able to build around him as a player."
Thanks to another big play, the Royals cut the lead to 26-13 early in the fourth quarter when Payne tossed a screen pass to junior tailback Jack Atwood, who broke loose for a 78-yard TD.
"Jack (Atwood) got the pass and our O-line got out in front of him and sprung him for a big one," said Larlham. Atwood also had 10 carries for 23 yards rushing.
CVCA's 4-2-5 defense then had a huge stop and the Royals returned the Mustang's punt for a TD, but a questionable penalty flag negated the score.
Momentum changed toward Tuslaw.
Zach McCormick had a 19-yard TD run in the fourth period to answer and put the Mustangs up 33-13. He had 67 yards for Tuslaw, which overcame 11 penalties.
Tuslaw added a 52-yard interception TD return on CVCA's final drive. Chase Woods added 71 yards and a TD on eight carries for Tuslaw. His score came on a 40-yard scamper.
Tucker caught six passes for 112 yards and one TD, plus added two punt returns for 79 yards, and added 19 yards rushing.
Junior wide out Isaac Strausser had a career high seven pass receptions for 31 yards.
Senior Jay Woodlee added three catches for 21 yards and had three kickoff returns for 82 yards. Junior wide receiver Ryan Kovar had two catches for 14 yards, and sophomore Christian Decipeda had a catch for six yards.
With Payne as the signal caller, sophomore quarterback Brock Simmons is now getting some action at defensive end. He also could see time on offense elsewhere, but defensive is a position he had limited play at Trinity Catholic (Ocala, FL).
CVCA plays a PAC game at Wooster Triway Oct. 14. Final results of the home PAC contest against Gnadenhutten Indian Valley weren't available as of press time.
Larlham also had praise for freshman Breslin Walker on defense as well as the special teams play of return men like Woodlee, sophomore Jacob Decatur, and Tucker.
Freshman Breslin Walker continues to be unblockable at tackle as he has been a pleasant surprise."