Despite another tough loss, the Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy football team continues to embrace teamwork and change as the program matures and strives for rewards in the win column.
Whether it's position changes or spreading the ball around on offense, CVCA's young club has a positive outlook under head coach Dan Larlham.
However, the youthful Royals are trying to learn how to finish games.
Searching for its first win, CVCA allowed another early lead to slip away in a 30-14 home loss to Gnadenhutten Indian valley in a Principal's athletic conference clash Oct. 7.
The Braves (3-4) moved to 3-1 in the PAC by using a physical ground attack led by hard running Cory Carlisle, who ran for 233 yards and three touchdowns on 23 carries.
Indian Valley amassed 366 yards rushing and a 7.6-yard average.
"I think Indian Valley was able to come right at us in the second half and our lack of size hurt us," noted Larlham.
"Our guys are not the biggest or most experienced, so they need to be the most prepared and win the mental game. We need to read keys and trust the scouting report."
The Braves scored on their first possession of the game against the young Royals defense. Carlisle scored on an 8-yard run, but CVCA blocked the extra point.
Tailback Mason McKeown hit the end zone for Indian Valley on an 11-yard jaunt in the first period to lead 12-0 after 12:00 of play. CVCA thwarted the two-point play.
CVCA responded like a veteran team.
Firing back, the Royals punched in two scores in the second period as junior running back Jack Atwood capped a scoring drive with a one-yard touchdown plunge.
Later in the quarter, junior quarterback Elijah Payne connected with senior Jay Woodlee through the air for a 28-yard touchdown pass.
Freshman Chris DeLucia made both extra points as the Royals had a 14-12 lead at the half.
Unfortunately, that would be all the scoring for the CVCA offense, which did produce 19 first downs and 332 total yards.
Indian Valley would then take the lead in the second half on a 59-yard TD burst by Carlisle to make it 18-14.
A crushing blow came when the Braves' outside linebacker Wyatt Garabrandt picked off a CVCA pass and returned it three yards for TD to push the lead to 24-14.
Carlisle, a 5-9, 170-pound first-team All-Eastern District back in Division IV in 2015, would later add a 9-yard TD run.
Atwood rushed for 84 yards on 23 carries to pace CVCA.
The Royals brass moved Woodlee, a standout two-way player with loads of versatility, to wide receiver. The move was predicated by the recent success of Atwood, who also helps on defense.
"Atwood is a very natural runner," said Larlham. "He doesn't have breakaway speed like Woodlee, but he sees some things very well. Plus, with his emergence, it allowed us to move Woodlee to wide receiver."
"It was a great opportunity for us to put our best 11 players on the field at a time," added the mentor.
CVCA played at Wooster Triway Oct. 14, but final results weren't available as of press time. The Royals close the season with home game against Navarre Fairless Oct. 21 and rival Manchester Oct. 28.
Junior inside linebacker Joe Morales forced a fumble for CVCA and veteran senior standout 2-way lineman Pat Butler recovered it. Butler is a tackle on defense.
Payne tossed a career high 43 passes and completed 19 for 232 yards. Continuing to improve, Payne had one TD pass, two interceptions and rushed for 12 yards.
In all, seven receivers had a catch. Sophomore wide receiver Josh Junko and junior wide receiver Daniel Griffith had big receiving games along with junior wide out Isaac Strausser and sophomore Tre Tucker.
Junko had three catches for 42 yards while Griffith had a big 23-yard reception and finished with two catches for 28 yards.
Woodlee had two catches for 46 yards and a TD while Strausser had four catches for 44 yards. Tucker had five catches for 45 yards and had a 57-yard kickoff return against the Braves.
Junior receiver Ryan Kovar added two receptions for 16 yards and Atwood had an 11-yarder.
Sophomore Jacob Decatur added 34 yards in kickoff returns and had a 10-yard run.
CVCA converted a respectable 33-percent (5-of-15) of their 3rd down conversions against a solid defense.
"When our offense is clicking, everybody should have productive touches."
The Royals connected on two fourth down plays in the loss and 10 first downs through the air by Payne.